Sunday, December 30, 2012

National Geographic Channel's Doomsday Preppers : The Scariest Thing on TV

Article first published as National Geographic Channel's Doomsday Preppers : The Scariest Thing on TV on Blogcritics.

I recently discovered National Geographic Channel’s Doomsday Preppers, and I have to say that it is scarier than any episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead. No, we don’t get blood thirsty zombies crawling across the screen, but there is a palpable sense that this kind of life altering event is exactly what these “preppers” are getting ready to face, or maybe even something more grim than imaginable.

I have seen only a few episodes, and they shook me up quite a bit. You get to see these regular people, some of whom you probably work with or know socially, who by night are preparing parts of their homes to be underground bunkers in case of disaster. The prepping involved is extensive and, in most case, seems carefully thought out and executed. The problem is that NGC’s “experts” then evaluate the preppers, and the results are not always positive.

In all of these episodes I have seen these people are working their butts off to get things right. They stock potable water, tons of food, and all the other necessities. Many of them are armed to the teeth with all sorts of weapons. Despite all the prepping, there always seems to be a flaw in the plan that the experts reveal at the end. Many of the preppers then respond to these experts, and some seem to try to make up for deficiencies in their planning.

I guess the thing that scares me the most about this show is not all the difficulties of planning or even all the expense incurred, but rather that no matter how carefully these folks prepare, there is bound to be something to get in their way. One family planned to stick it out in the bunker over a period of time and then hightail it to a boat to escape to an island. The experts picked at the flaws in this plan that seemed obvious: they had to avoid obstacles on the road to the boat and then had to hope their boat was still there.

All the preparation in the world seems to only help people for a certain time. Whether it is six months or a year, supplies will run out. If there is some kind of “zombie apocalypse” to deal with, it seems that everyone will eventually be forced to do what the characters on The Walking Dead must do – find a way to survive off the land and what has not already been foraged. It would seem that this planning will bring everyone back to square one, so you wonder about what good it is to do it in the first place.

I remember in the great George A. Romero film Dawn of the Dead (1978) one character tells his girlfriend: "We have to survive; someone has to survive!" It is not like I don't get that attitude, but my fear would be survival at all costs only to be overwhelmed by the post event realities. If only you and your family survive, what kind of life will that be? If you run out of food and water, do you start eating contaminated food and drinking spoiled water? What happens to the children when they grow up and you die?

All of these questions and more run through my head as I watch these episodes. I think the answers are ones that should make all of us feel uneasy. In the old days when the Soviet Union was in an arms race with us, kids were told to cover their heads under their desks in school in case of an nuclear attack. We all know how that scenario would have turned out in a real attack – there would have been a lot of kids found dead under their desks. In this case I think these people feel they need to do something to survive, but when the event is over and they come up out of their bunkers, they might be shaken by what's left of the world, if there is any world left at all.

If you visit the Doomsday Preppers website, a free preppers’ app is available. I don’t know about you, but even this benign little cartoon scares the heck out of me. Who wants to look at their phone and get a daily reminder of how unprepared they are?

One thing is for certain: this is a show that can be addictive, but it also sets up the premise that it is better to be prepared than not, but in the end there may be not much of a difference for any of us, and that is why I find this show to be the scariest thing on TV.

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