I’ve been writing about Alaskan Bush People for a number of months now. Since I started, I’ve continuously noticed how the Brown family, the stars of the show, continually stir up some pretty strong emotions. Like, serious “love” or “hate” feelings.
There seems to be very little middle ground when it comes to Alaskan Bush People. You either “love” the theme of wilderness survival and family drama or you “hate” that the Browns are a bunch of “fake” bush people who aren’t even “real Alaskans.”
Even more curious than the divisive nature of the hit Discovery Channel reality TV show is the very real possibility that some people are indifferent to Brown’s alleged dishonesty. Despite the Alaska Dispatch News reporting in January that members of the Alaskan Bush People cast was headed off to jail, interest in the series was as high as ever. In fact, People reports the Discovery Channel fully intends to exploit the Browns’ infamy in the upcoming season.
When Alaskan Bush People returns May 6, it’s expected to introduce the “dark cloud” that is the family’s legal troubles. If you didn’t know, the Bush People were in hot water after claiming thousands of dollars in dividends they weren’t entitled to since they technically weren’t Alaskan citizens.
Yep, the Alaskan Bush People weren’t Alaskan as far as the state was concerned. Even more shocking, the family weren’t even in the state at the time the news went public. I confess to being especially baffled at the news these people weren’t even in Alaska and had called the “lower 48 home” for a huge chunk of their lives.
The further I dug into the Brown family’s history, the more I realized just how “made for TV” their entire shtick was. I distinctly remembered the first episode (and a few subsequent episodes) going out of its way to highlight just how unaware the family was about pop culture and how they had no concept of what an iPhone was.
If you know where to look, you can find members of the Brown clan online discussing their father’s book. It was patriarch Billy Brown’s book One Wave at a Time that reportedly captured the interest of the Discovery Channel in the first place.
The kids were all given makeovers befitting “bush” people, and a hit television series was born.
Do reality TV audiences mind being lied to? It would seem that the clamoring for a brand new season suggests that people are so in love with the idea of the Browns and their wilderness lifestyle that the authenticity of their story isn’t even a factor. Heck, even the legal drama — brought on by actual fraud — has not derailed a genuine interest in seeing Alaskan Bush People back on the air.
To understand the disconnect between the values of the show and the values demonstrated by the Browns in reality, you’ll have to understand a concept known as the suspension of disbelief.
The suspension of disbelief is a phenomenon that occurs when the audience psychologically puts aside any acknowledgment that what they’re viewing isn’t real. It’s why people can enjoy shows like Game of Thrones without being hung up on the fact that there are no dragons in the real world. When a show is taken with a “grain of salt” (or with the acknowledgment that editing and acting is a fixture of so-called “reality TV”), there’s no need to be emotionally invested in its realism.
The people most invested in the authenticity of Alaskan Bush People happen to be the ones who (a) “hate-watch” the show to better point out its flaws or (b) don’t watch the series but are dedicated to pointing out the fraudulent nature of the cast at every turn.
When you’ve suspended disbelief regarding the reality of a show, you don’t need to gripe about how fake it is; you consciously take it as a given.
What about the people walking around thinking Alaskan Bush People is completely authentic? Well, there’s a saying: Ignorance is bliss. Some people are happy with the show primarily because they do not possess the savviness or the research capabilities that would allow them to know it’s basically scripted television.
All things considered, this leaves us with the question that is at the heart of this article: Did the Alaskan Bush People stars effectively “con” their way into the hearts of impressionable viewers?
Yes and no.
There is deception, but it’s the sort of deception that comes with the territory that is reality TV. You are expected to believe these people are all alone in the remote wilderness while ignoring the camera crew that’s following them around. If that wasn’t bad enough, there are numerous camera crews for multiple Alaska-based reality TV shows practically tripping over one another.
With that in mind, it’s easy to see how promising an “isolated wilderness” experience that doesn’t exist could be seen as a blatant lie.
On top of that, the court drama and conviction both raise the issue of moral hypocrisy. The Browns are sold as a wholesome family, but stealing thousands of dollars out of the pockets of Alaskan citizens certainly seems to go against such claims.
In defense of the Alaskan Bush People series, I will say that they aren’t exactly representing a lifestyle that is false. There are actual “Alaskan bush people” and Americans who prefer to live life off the grid. I’ll also say that there seems to be a genuine connection and love between the Browns that is hard to replicate for the sake of the cameras.
Perhaps that goes to the heart of the series: A loving family working hard to overcome incredible odds and controversy and never giving up no matter what comes their way. With such a premise that’s exceedingly rare, it’s easy to understand why so many people overlook the flaws and willingly let the Alaskan Bush People and its cast into their hearts.
Do you think the Alaskan Bush People series is one big con? Share your thoughts below!
[Image via the Discovery Channel]