Once there was fact, and then there was fiction, and finally along came something called reality TV to marry the two into some new, bastardized product one might just call bizzarotainment.
As first defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, this was reality TV: "Television programming that features videos of actual occurrences (as a police chase, stunt, or natural disaster) -- often used attributively 'reality TV'."
At least that was the definition before reality TV journeyed to Alaska and went into the wild. Clearly the original definition is now outdated.
Reality TV as defined in the north these days is Aesop's Fables written by someone sent on a trip by questionable acid. Reality TV is the so-called "Alaskan Bush People" running around in the green light of a night-vision lens trying to confront fictional shooters in the night in the woods near Glennallen and then supposedly fleeing for their lives.
Actual reality -- which is waaay different from TV reality -- is the Bush People getting busted on charges of falsely filing for Alaska Permanent Fund Dividends. And never mind what people can get away with on that phonied up "Alaska State Troopers" show; there are some realities Alaskans take seriously. Lying about living in Alaska in order to collect a PFD is one of those realities.
This is the crime of which six members of the Brown family -- better know as simply the "Bush People" -- stand accused. A Juneau grand jury indicted chief Bush Person Billy Brown and children Amora, Snowbird, Joshua, Bam-Bam, Solomon, Gabriel and Noah on multiple counts of second-degree theft and unsworn falsification for fibbing on their PFD applications.
As if any Alaska reality TV star would ever fib. C'mon, it's not fibbing if it could be real.
Take it from Stan Zuray, one of the stars of "Yukon Men": "All these storylines come from the town's people and the cast. Some are impossible to get everything on camera as they happen so get re-created in parts and interviews added etc. But all these thing have happened."
Certainly they have. They have either happened in reality or in someone's imagination. Either way "all these things have happened."
What was it Ernest Hemingway once wrote about the best fiction? Oh yeah:
"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer."
All fiction happened. Jack London's short story "To Build A Fire," a northern classic, was something that happened. So what if it only happened in London's head. It was a great story.
The difference between then and now was that the storytellers were good enough to run with the story. Reality TV, lacking the ability to hook an audience with a story, tries to sell people on the idea that what they are watching is "reality," even when ... Well, here's Zuray again: "They dramatize them, but it's also reenactments of what they really do. The drama is absolutely needed to hold the audience who has a remote ready to click at the slightest lack of excitement...."
That is what is called a rationalization. It's how you defend making things up and calling them real. It's the first step onto a dangerously slippery slope.
Now, in fairness to Zuray, "Yukon Men" appears truer than a lot of Alaska reality TV, which tends toward fake, more fake and most fake.
"Wild West Alaska" shot an elk, or pretended to, on a farm in the Susitna Valley and portrayed this as a hunting the wilds of Alaska. Years after mushers Kristy and Anna Berington moved north, "Living Alaska" came to the 49th state to supposedly house-hunt for the sisters so they could finally leave Wisconsin to "move to Alaska and pursue their dream of becoming world-class dog mushers." Both sisters were already multi-year veterans of the Iditaord Trail Sled Dog Race.
And then, of course, there are the Bush People: "Deep in the Alaska wilderness ... a recently discovered family that was born and raised wild ... They formed their own customs ... and their own laws of survival."
Yeah right. There is only one law of survival, and it is uniform: The strong and/or smart survive; the weak and/or dumb die. End of story. Any other laws of survival are make-believe, like the family living "deep in the Alaska wilderness."
They weren't. They were living along the Richardson Highway. The also weren't "recently discovered." They were packed up and moved to a lot in a rural subdivision, which they left a mess, to star in a unreal reality TV show. And they hadn't formed any customs; they just acted like a bunch of morons for the video cameras.
This is what reality TV, or at least Alaska reality TV, has become. People acting like a pack of morons for a camera. But that's OK.
What's not OK is the rest of it, the pretending that what's put on is real. It's one more step into what is becoming an Orwellian world where real is phony, and what is or isn't doesn't matter as long as it holds someone's attention long enough to keep their fat butt planted in front of the TV long enough to catch the next ad for a McDonald's Quarter-Pounder.
So Alaska prosecutors now think some of the Bush People aren't only faking it as Bush people but also faking it as Alaskans. So what?
Certainly the Bush People are Alaskans in their hearts, and isn't that close enough for reality TV?
Craig Medred is a reporter and columnist for Alaska Dispatch News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.