If you haven’t seen National Geographic’s series “Doomsday Preppers” yet, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s a reality show that profiles the lifestyles of the “prepper” community, highlighting the preparations being made by individuals who are convinced that an apocalyptic scenario is on the verge of breaking out across America. The tone of the show is stark, with a typical promo going like this: “An economic collapse could mean total chaos for the U.S. – looting, riots and civil unrest are top concerns.”
The preppers highlighted on the show tend to have divergent views over what exactly might precipitate the impending collapse of society, but most seem to believe that it will be the result of a financial meltdown, hyperinflation and/or the rapid decline of the dollar. Many point to the unrest in the Middle East as an example of what is probably coming soon to the United States, without specifying exactly how that situation will make the intercontinental leap. Some worry that it could be an environmental disaster that leads to the looming catastrophe, but climate change is rarely cited as a likely factor. While they might disagree on what precisely will lead to the end of civilization as we know it, all the preppers are in agreement that this collapse is coming and coming soon.
There also seems to be an unspoken agreement among all the preppers highlighted on the show that there is nothing that can be done to change the path that we’re on, or to alter the government’s fiscal policies that will eventually crash the economy. The tacit acknowledgment is that democracy is broken and rather than attempting to organize for change, a wise person is better off stocking up on food, water, and other basic necessities for when it all comes crashing down. All preppers seem to also agree that a key component of being “prepared” for the impending doom is to arm yourself to the teeth with an arsenal of guns and ammunition. The weapons are necessary, preppers believe, to defend themselves from their neighbors who will naturally try to steal their food and water supply when society collapses.
While most National Geographic viewers probably see the series as “just a show” with little substance behind it, there is another possibility – that someone in a position of authority has decided to popularize the notion that societal collapse is coming soon and that mass chaos will ensue. What’s perhaps most striking about the show is that the entire focus is placed on how individual people, and in some cases their immediate families, are getting ready for what is seen as inevitable: the utter collapse of society and with it, any semblance of moral order. There is no room for the possibility that people could in fact provide each other mutual aid in a crisis situation or even develop community-based alternatives to the current socio-economic system — the assumption is that human nature is rotten to the core and if you can’t defend yourself, then you will likely perish in a doomsday scenario. It’s a highly Darwinian and Hobbesian worldview based on a survival-of-the-fittest assumption about society at large.
Perhaps it would be naïve to think that in a crisis people would band together for the common good, but what’s remarkable about the show is that even though the preppers disagree about what exactly will cause the collapse, they are in total agreement that when the shit hits the fan, entire communities will implode and their neighbors will suddenly turn into mindless looters and killers. Neighbors are seen not as potential allies in a crisis situation, but as likely enemies, hence the need to stock up on guns and ammo.
Maybe the preppers are right; maybe it is best to assume the worst about people and take steps to provide for and protect oneself and one’s family from the marauding hordes of the apocalypse. It is interesting though that not a single person on the show ever talks about how we might as a society bring ourselves back from the precipice at which we find ourselves, or failing to do so, how we might come together as a people to face the upcoming challenges after the inevitable collapse.
The preppers not only have no faith in democratic governance or in their own countrymen, they also lack faith in themselves to do anything to prevent the collapse that is rapidly approaching. Meekly acknowledging their powerlessness in the face of unaccountable economic and political power, the preppers find some degree of power (or at least solace) in their ability to stock up on food, guns and ammo. And for some reason, an executive producer has decided that this is the sort of entertainment that they want to provide at National Geographic.
While the National Geographic brand has long been well known – and widely respected – for its factual and scientific broadcasting and publishing, it’s worth noting that the National Geographic company is now only a minority partner in the TV channel Nat Geo. It is actually News Corp (the owner of the right-wing propaganda network Fox News) that owns a majority stake (52.5%) of Nat Geo. Is it any surprise that the same company that employs the likes of Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity would be pushing a show that reinforces feelings of political powerlessness, sows the seeds of paranoia and isolation, and promotes the idea of gun ownership as the only defense against a global economic juggernaut that is about to wreak havoc across the country?
Put another way, could you imagine News Corp/Fox News/Nat Geo promoting an alternative approach to dealing with these problems that involves political empowerment, citizen engagement and community organizing? Instead of “Doomsday Preppers,” how about a show called “Community Organizers” or “Agents of Change,” programs that would promote practical and pragmatic activism rather than isolation and paranoia?
A reality show that traces the hard work of community organizers and the challenges they face on a daily basis, highlighting both their victories and defeats, could be just as entertaining as a reality show that profiles gun-toting hoarders living in bunkers, but unfortunately the show about activism would probably be a non-starter with the News Corp execs.
Considering all this, it’s hard not to draw the conclusion that there is indeed a political motive behind the show “Doomsday Preppers.” It seems that the viewers are the ones actually being prepped, being told in no uncertain terms that hard times are coming and being indoctrinated that human nature is essentially evil. There’s nothing you can do about it, the show’s producers seem to be saying, so you might as well stock up and arm yourselves for life after the apocalypse.
Or then again, maybe it’s “just a show.”