Saturday, January 16, 2016

Reality Check of Alaska Reality Shows – My Experience

I read recently that there are 36 Alaska Reality Shows at one time! What? Doesn't anyone want to see characters in Wisconsin or Maine? How about Puerto Rico?

My experience with these shows is limited to conversations with seven – count 'em: seven - producers who have contacted us over the past three years.

We have (politely, I hope) declined them all. Often we suggested other people we thought might be more interested in them or more interesting to viewers. Below, I'll share my observations from those discussions.

Since we don't own a TV, I have seen only a smattering of random episodes when I have visited relatives and friends in the Lower 48 who invariably ask, “So, do you know the guy/gal on this show?” However, I am as entertained as any Alaskan in local feedback on programs by people who are more “in the know.” Occasionally, writers for Alaska Dispatch News review a show, usually by humorously panning the obvious fakery of the situation.  Then, locals chime in at the bottom of the on-line article to add more details. For example, one show looks like it is remote but apparently the camera is planted in the parking lot of a pizza joint! It points across the road to an empty stretch of woods where that show's “hero” does whatever he does to look like a mountain man. In general, Alaskans accord a loss of credibility to participants. On the other hand, I viewed one episode of an ongoing series (Building Alaska) that depicted realistic experiences directly analogous to our real-life endeavors, and in our neck of the woods, too, so maybe there are some other realistic ones out there.

In our case, we have been contacted by two producers each in LA, NY, and Europe (UK and Netherlands) as well as the National Geographic (two producers, one in Singapore and one in Hong Kong). Four of the seven were independent producers rather than name brand shows. Each small firm seemed to toss out story ideas, film an episode or two and then endeavor to sell the idea of a series to a distributor. 

The topics broached by these producers with us included the following:

*Mistakes we made, as city slickers who moved out to a remote home in the Alaska woods.
* An “average week” with us in the winter/ in summer
Life skills we could teach their host to demonstrate
Life skills a rural child could teach a child host
* “Alaskan-type jobs” of people living remotely
* Pretend we were shopping for a remote property and then choose ours
* Compare/contrast our life in Alaska with a family living in someplace tropical, I think it was Costa Rica

Monday, January 11, 2016

Utility Usage: Off Grid Alaska vs. India and South America

Because we live in Bush Alaska with limited power and few modern conveniences, most Americans of our acquaintance think our lifestyle difficult or at least odd. But after reflecting on our past five winter visits to India and South America, we have concluded that our modest carbon/utility footprint is not that much different than homes we visited in India, Argentina, Paraguay, and Peru (some affluent and others very modest). Many readers have read that the average U.S. Household produces about 3 times the carbon of European homes and 10 times those of India. The examples below may indicate how they do that, and how readers can live well with lower utility bills and expectations.

We rely on an outhouse and interior chamber pot, which is certainly more primitive than all but one home we stayed in (on an island in Lake Titicaca, on the border of Peru and Bolivia). In fact, that part of the world is “decorated” with identical colorful metal outhouses, gifts of the government. But even in Peruvian urban areas, with populations of 500,000 to 12 million, each bathroom with flush toilets instructs users not to put ANY paper down the toilet, but to deposit the noisome tissues in an adjacent trash can. In this way, presumably, old sewage systems can accommodate burgeoning populations.  (I did not encounter this in Ecuador or Chile.)  Each wash area usually has a much used cloth towel hanging on a nail for use by one and all.  

Throughout India, one needs to carry one's own toilet paper into most public facilities or pay a person kneeling outside. Inside, some offer western style toilets, usually with a bidet wand instead of toilet paper, but many offer instead a tiled floor, with an oblong hole surrounded by textured foot markings and a bucket of water nearby for rinsing the hole and floor (no flushing mechanism). Increasing numbers of U.S. homes and restaurants are starting to install low water toilets, particularly in water starved and high cost areas.  To encourage such proactivity, my parents' suburb in San Francisco publishes and distributes a “wall of shame” list naming “water hog” property owners. 

 As a side note, Indians who have visited the U.S. are startled by the lack of privacy in our public stalls. I can see their point! Our “peekaboo” panels are indeed much less private than the floor to ceiling walls and doors common throughout India, but found only in the better restaurants and clubs in the U.S.