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Reality Check: Woolly mammoths and guilty consciences -- when readers write back

  • Author: Emily Fehrenbacher
    | Reality Check
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published April 8, 2015

It's spring, and in spring you try new things. My new thing is going to be answering reader mail. Let's dig into some gems from the past couple of weeks.

I received an email with this subject line: "Emily, I just read your column this morning. Any advice about turning 'Alaska's Ice Age Mammoths Return' into a feature film? Any interest in actually reading it? Thanks, Tom." First thing Tom, subject lines are typically shorter and to the point, maybe next time just go with "Alaska's Ice Age Mammoths Return?" and anyone with a TV-addled attention span will open your email immediately.

Tom wants to make a film or TV show about "an old, Yupik Eskimo shaman in Nome" who accidentally brings a family of woolly mammoths back from the Ice Age back to life in modern-day Alaska. Tom asks, "What if the same old, washed-up shaman figured out how to thwart the trophy hunters and miraculously save the mammoths from their second extinction this time? Think TV and movie audiences would go along for that improbable ride?"

I don't know about everyone, but I would absolutely go along for that improbable ride, Tom. Without a doubt.

Next up, I received an email from someone who reads this senseless column that ended: "Thank you for making me feel less guilty about my TV watching choices." And I'd like to dig in here as I would like to dig into a character study of the "old, washed-up shaman."

First, you shouldn't feel guilty for things that bring you joy. Unless the things that bring you joy harm or offend others, then you should feel bad about them and probably stop doing them.

I acknowledge that some things about TV are bad. Despite Michelle Obama's best attempts, kids are watching too much TV and not going outside enough. Advertising turned us all into mindless consumers decades ago. Generally there is too much violence, suffering and fear. And don't even get me started on the 24-hour "news" networks and their impacts on elections and public policy.

But beyond that, watching TV brings me happiness and sometimes actually teaches me things and motivates me. Whenever I'm feeling down, I just watch "Friday Night Lights" so Kyle Chandler can remind me that "clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose." I legitimately learned a few wilderness tricks on "Ultimate Survival Alaska" and how to avoid ending up on "Alaska State Troopers."

I rarely watch TV alone, it's typically something I do with other people. A few weeks ago my husband and I were sitting on our couch as I sobbed through the last episode of "Parks and Rec" (a silly comedy sitcom) and I felt all the feels. We didn't have to talk about how all the characters grew up, married/had kids, moved away, got different jobs and therefore the party at the parks department was over. We didn't have to actually talk about how similar things were happening with our real-life friends, and sometimes it feels like our party is over. Instead we just watched, cried and went to dinner. And it made me love those real-life friends and family a little more that day.

Every week I get together with my "Reality TV Book Club" to watch stupid competition shows like "Bachelor," "The Challenge" or the long dead but not forgotten "Jersey Shore." And we sit around talking about who we love or hate each week. It's just fun. It doesn't always mean something deeper, but sometimes it does.

And for all these reasons I never feel guilty about my TV watching choices, nor should you. Now let's all pitch in and figure out how to fund "Alaska's Ice Age Mammoths Return."

Emily Fehrenbacher lives in Anchorage, where she reviews Alaska reality TV. You can reach her at or on Twitter @ETFBacher.