Is anyone else starting to get the feeling that on the national stage "Alaska'' is becoming a synonym for "freak show"?
The image problem was bad enough when phonied up quote-unquote "reality TV'' was leading the charge, but now the lamestream media has jumped on the bandwagon. The Washington Post sent a couple of reporters north "to find romance'' in the land where women have remarked more than once that "the odds are good, but the goods are odd.''
Why, pray tell, would a once-respectable newspaper, do this? Because some editor says, "Man, with Alaska being the freak show it appears to be on TV, we've got to get a few web hits out of a story like this?"
Let's not even get into what sort of quote-unquote "journalist" would take off on an Alaska "manhunt.'' Maybe "Alaska State Troopers," the reality show, which is to most Alaska law enforcement what "Deadliest Catch,'' the reality show, is to most Alaska fishing, should have investigated.
Inquiring minds want to know why these investigative reporters came more than 3,000 miles north. Or surely we must, if so-called reality TV is any guide.
Too few freaks
"On the evidence of 'Alaska State Troopers,' a reality series ... on the National Geographic Channel, the 49th state as a whole is extremely 10-56 (police code for publicly intoxicated),'' The New York Times reported when Alaska State Troopers first hit the little screen in 2009. "People ride their snow machines while drunk. Men put chokeholds on their wives while drunk. A drunk refuses to leave his friend's house when asked, leading to this suggestion from a trooper: 'You can go to jail in your underwear or you can go to jail in your pants. I'd like to take you in your pants.'"
Three years later, Alaska State Troopers, the reality show, is still going strong.
While on the Copper River near Chitina several weeks ago, a friend and I noticed a trooper helicopter flying up and down through Wood Canyon. We immediately feared some dipnetter had fallen into the river while trying to catch salmon and a search was underway to get him before he drowned. We were ready to volunteer to help, but a local at the O'Brien Creek campground assured us not to worry.
Just the troopers filming for another episode of Alaska State Troopers, he said.
Wild parties in blizzards?
Obviously they needed what is called the "B roll'' (great scenery) to intersperse between the freaks.
"Embed with officers as they respond to high-intensity situations, '' as Monsters&Critics.com reported, "often facing violent realities and deadly criminals in extreme elements. Whether it's wild parties in blizzards, a man in a bear suit selling psychedelics, a lost woman who may have hypothermia, tourists causing chaos or poachers shooting fish on a thrill ride to kill, being prepared for anything is just part of the job."
"Wild parties in blizzards!" "Poachers shooting fish on a thrill ride to kill!" Yee-haw! You won't find these kind of people just anywhere.
Well, not just anywhere in America.
In Alaska, judging from the unreal reality TV, the freaks are everywhere. Can you say, "Bering Sea Gold,'' "Gold Rush Alaska,'' "Alaska: The Last Frontier,'' or the latest escapade featuring the state's former first family -- the Palins. "Bristol Palin's: Life's a Tripp?'' makes folks living north of Dixon Entrance look even worse than freaks; it makes them look like a bunch of pathetic whiners.
"....We're left with a show about two sisters, temporarily billeted in a Beverly Hills mansion, mostly complaining about Los Angeles, each other and their lives,'' wrote Los Angeles Times television critic Robert Lloyd.
That's me crying for all of us. Can you imagine the mental picture someone would form of the "average'' Alaskan if all they did was watch TV?
Let's leave out the incessant whinings of the Palins, and look at the rest of the composite portrait, as described by others:
• Gold minin': "Every summer, as the glacial ice melts around Nome Alaska, a handful of fortune seekers hunt for gold in the most unlikely of places: the bottom of the Bering Sea. Meet the salty and unique characters who dive to the frigid ocean floor, spending hours hunting gold from custom-built, sometimes barely seaworthy rigs." Hint, hint: There are no glaciers around Nome. Oh, never mind.
• Gun totin': "Everyone is armed, the weather is treacherous and there are always wild animals nearby."
• Beer drinkin': "'Deadliest Catch' paid tribute to co-star Justin Tennison in the season finale Tuesday night. ....Tennison....was found dead in an Alaska hotel room in February. A small amount of marijuana and several bottles of alcohol were discovered in the room; police believe he had hosted a party there the night before."
• Bar fightin': "Nome looks more like a slice of the Wild West on this week's new 'Bering Sea Gold' episode when two Christine Marie crewmen get into a bloody brawl at a local watering hole."
• Bear fearin': "On 'Alaska Experiment,' frostbite is a real danger, as is bear attack and plain old hunger."
• Beard sportin': "...Tara Bahrampour and Annie Gowen, self-described 'harried' reporters with dismal D.C. love lives, do not find romance in Alaska, even though the state has the highest man-to woman ratio of any in the country. They do, however, find a plethora of bearded men with tattoos, fur-draped jewelry and ties to reality TV shows."
• And brain dead: "'Gold Rush Alaska' depicts what has to be the dumbest group of guys since the Keystone Cops, stumbling their way through a search for gold during the current big gold rush revival. I'm certain the entertainment value it provides is not the one intended: We spend a lot of the show watching the screen in disbelief as they do one stupid thing after another....'Bering Sea Gold' is all about dredging for gold and the characters are just as stupid. Really." And the same writer says this about 'Alaska State Troopers': "Think 'Cops,' with more drunk people, more knives and guns, and people who get high and wear bear suits."
A dude on drugs in a bear suit at Girdwood's Forest Fair, the same sort of hippiefest you'll find happening in every other state this summer? Nope, in Alaska, this is the typical animal that lives in our zoo, folks. Or so it seems from a national perspective.
Living in a cage
Remember when the media focus was on the other Alaska wildlife -- the moose, the Dall sheep, the whales, the grizzlies? The human wildlife seems to have shoved most of them aside.
Have you strolled the streets of downtown Anchorage lately? Have you noticed the tourists looking at you funny, like they expect some sort of bizarre behavior? Has it left you feeling a little like a bear in a zoo?
All I can give you is a quote from Emerson, Lake & Palmer: "Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends, so glad you could attend. Come inside, come inside....''
Now, go out and hug a tourist.
Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com