A Retrospective View Of The Alaskan Bush People
On May 6th, 2014, the Discovery Channel introduced the American public to it’s new programming, Alaskan Bush People, a basic run of the mill reality show. I watched the commercials leading up to this show as did many others. The show was advertised as a look at a family ‘recently discovered’ that had lived in the Alaskan bush their whole lives. Cool! It was a Tuesday evening when it was finally unveiled, and seems to have drawn a large audience. I think most people like to see shows, reality or not, about life in Alaska, for the sole reason that most people haven’t been there, and no plans to go there, so we watch to see what living, fishing, gold mining, trapping, flying bush planes and anything else is like in the Alaskan State. It seems that Discovery was making a semi-documentary and was looking at about 5 episodes or so when they quickly realized that an audience was eating this stuff up, so they tapped the show for future seasons and that is where we stand now.
The very first show was actually kinda credible in that it was in Alaska (as far as I could tell, I’ve never been there), the family seemed to be in the bush, and they were people. They were shown in the first episode driving a beat up SUV with a trailer attached, from somewhere in Alaska to somewhere else in Alaska. We met the family. Billy Brown, the father, Ami the mother and their seven children. Nine people in this car going 1500 miles (according to the narrator Asa) to their new property up north. They claimed the place they lived in was burnt down by the government because they (the Browns) were living on federal land. This raises a few questions right off the bat. Why would the federal government do that, were the Brown’s not notified about living on federal property and given a chance to move in a prescribed time period. And why did the government burn down the house or cabin instead of just kicking them out? Did they burn all the family’s possessions (cause it seems everything the owned was in the SUV and the trailer, not that much stuff)? Where was the family while the government was torching the place? All their clothes, bedding, furniture, tools, toys for the kids went up in flames? That’s a lawsuit waiting to happen that even the most inexperienced attorney would lick his chops to be in on. We are never given any more details on this fire
The Brown’s have a flat tire on the trailer and right away we see the total unpreparedness of this group. No spare, no clue and nothing but dread and despair from Billy and group. They decide to go to nearest town to find a replacement tire and manage to get the wrong size, but somehow get it on and moving again. We are introduced to some of the boys in this scene. So let’s take a look at the children and their roles in the show.
Matthew Jeremiah Brown – Oldest boy, Matt does a lot of talking about being a bush person, seems like a likable guy, yet given no real clear picture of his role.
Joshua Bam Bam Brown – Goes by name of Bam, another likable fellow, even though he is second oldest, seems to be the guy in charge of a lot of things bush.
Solomon Isaiah Freedom Brown – Goes by nickname of ‘Bear’. Portrayed as a person who runs when everyone else walks, rolls on the ground in forest for no reason, likes to climb trees and howls like a wolf a lot. Seems a bit of a low intellect individual and likes to talk about how ‘extreme’ he is and how ‘extreme’ he does everything.
Gabriel Starbuck Brown – Goes by the name Gabe, portrayed in first episode as a comedian and ultra strong guy who carries around trees on his shoulder. Also seems to be a little low on intellect and as far as being a comedian, he really isn’t that funny to listen to.
Noah Darkcloud Brown – Goes by his name Noah, is portrayed as the guy who can fix anything from chainsaws to trailer wheels that don’t fit. Probably the most annoying character in later episodes, his first appearance was rather subdued. Later he compares his knowledge to being a genius who can create anything you want or need from garbage dump throwaway items. He is shown limping around in first episode due to an injury.
Amora Jean Snowbird Brown – Oldest daughter, goes by the name of ‘Bird’ or ‘Birdy’. Her role is described as a crackerjack hunter and first class shootist with a rifle. What most people see is a dental mess in her mouth that needs to be addressed immediately.
Merry Christmas Kathryn Raindrop Brown – Youngest of the Browns, goes by the name of ‘Rain’. She is shown in first episode but never referred to at all. You see her standing around watching as the others do their thing.
Small talking head segments are shown where the ‘kids’ are shown to be totally separated from the mainstream American way of life. Matt is shown an iPhone and acts bewildered by it, another one says he doesn’t know who the Chicago Cubs are, and another one says he has no understanding of the word ‘Tiger Woods’. They also ruminate on how people ask about their unusual speaking accents, with folks asking if it is Australian or what.
After arriving at their new home in the middle of nowhere, they get to work setting up a makeshift shelter among the dire mention of freezing to death if the shelter isn’t up by nightfall. A ramshackle lean-to is made that looks like it will last about 2 days, even less if it rains, and two of the boys educate us on how to sleep on a dirt floor, in wintertime, in a joke of a shelter that has no running water, no heat, and no protection from the constant mention of wild animals. To prove the point of wild animals, Discovery starts the first in a long line of ‘night vision’ shots of stock footage bears wandering around. Once the dangers are told to us in frightening bits of dialogue, the family begins to cut trees for their new home to be built.
The show takes on the ‘unreality’ angle soon after the trees are felled. Billy announces these trees he just cut will not do, as they are the wrong kind to build a house. It occurred to me watching this scene, that it was absolute chaos at the way they cut the trees down, even so far as dropping a tree on Bam’s head. And to add to the incredibility, was how come a family who has lived in the wild for years and years, would cut down the wrong trees? Seemed kinda like an experienced painter trying to make a masterpiece out of mud and straw. After Billy realizes he screwed up, he decides to head to town for supplies to build a house. If they are so close to a town and have a car to drive there, I wouldn’t call that living in the wild.
Billy and Matt arrive in town to seek out the best help and advice they can get. So they stop in the local run down dive bar. They ask for drinks (Dr. Pepper in a can) and proudly inform us that no one in the Brown family touches alcohol. A guy is found that can provide them with the timber and whatever for $10,000. Billy balks as he doesn’t have that amount, and we are now introduced to the well known ‘barter’ system that is prevalent in Alaskan society. He gets the guy down to $5,000 and a promise that his kids will work off the rest of the debt.
As we follow along in this first season, the trade for the lumber (quoted at $10,000) is now $5,ooo and the boys do some work. The barter work turns out to be bagging a Caribou, cleaned and butchered and delivered to the guy. I find it hard to fathom that is actually worth $5,000, but I really don’t know. later on, they help an old English lady tear down some windows on a greenhouse. The beginning work on the cabin is started and right off the bat, mistakes are made. Billy wants to build on top of stray rocks found around the site, but finally a group vote leads to the digging of holes to place posts in. Bear is shown climbing a tree to scout for a clear area to put the cabin, and he proudly points the others in the right direction. Later on when they are working on the foundation for said cabin, we see the ‘trapper’s shack’ they built in the first night, to be about 25 feet in the background. They couldn’t just walk over there and see it was a good spot? Must be a chance to show off the excellent tree climbing skills of Bear.
A trip into town to chase some skirts pretty much ends badly, when the young girls all claim to be married and not interested in unemployed bums.
Also included in the first season is the continuing depiction of Billy as an accident prone person, at just the right moment, to exclude him from doing any work. He then proceeds to boss the kids around to do his bidding, which the kids seem to have been programmed to gleefully abide to. This is an ongoing occurrence in the show, he is seen sitting around while the others work their tails off to get the work done. But then again, in later shows, the kids are given a job, we see the beginnings of work started, and then magically we see the finished project. This has, of course, led many to suggest that the Browns aren’t doing the work, but others, so as to speed up the filming and production. And for good reason, the Browns seem incapable of doing the easiest chore without some major issues of incompetence.
The cabin is finally finished when the local people visit and finish the job for them, they were apparently afraid of the family freezing or starving to death in their backyard. Then in the big dramatic scenes from the first season, unseen and unnamed ‘mean’ folks start shooting guns in their little homestead, so they flee the north of Alaska and head back to where the government burned their cabin down in the first episode. They load the car up and head down the highway. Billy explains they sell the car and take only what they can carry, and we see them walking onto a ferry to go somewhere. Then they use the proceeds from the car sale (looking at the beater, I would say maybe $1,000 at most) to buy a used 42 foot fishing boat and skiff. They sail south for 5 days and scout new locations to live, and immediately find a place they can be squatters. With new quarters arranged, they start to set up camp, but after traveling with what they can only carry, we see them with pots and pans, shotguns, rifles, tents, axes, and all sorts of stuff we didn’t see carried on the ferry when they left the north. And now they seem to have all acquired leather biker jackets to wear in the bush.
Within a couple of days, they manage to sink the boat and are left with nothing at all, they stand on the dock and whimper as the boat slowly sinks in the harbor. I am guessing the skiff went down also as we never see it again.
One last episode of the first season is dedicated to trying to explain the complete absurdity of what we have just seen in the first season. Most of it is flashbacks and interviews with the family trying to convince us that they are real bush people doing real bush things. Even with that, most viewers came away with a sense of either they are completely ignorant hillbillies, that can’t take care of their simplest needs without complete failure, or it is staged by the production company to feed us unending BS. Again the kids are asked about the most simple things like ‘selfies’, ‘Justin Bieber’, ‘apps’, and they are clueless to what modern civilization is all about, except that they want nothing to do with it. Even with that said, some viewers are completely taken in by their story and accept everything shown as Gospel. A whole cottage industry on the internet is born either debunking the family or defending them. Facebook pages explode with online fistfights as to what is to be believed. And of course the recaps that spread, looking at every episode and calling out the continuity, the unbelievable, and the goofiness of the show and its’ characters.
After the first season, most viewers were ready to see more of this show to try to make sense of where it would lead, and we were not disappointed. Another season was announced to follow this group of ‘bush’ people as they trudged forward without any direction or money or home or jobs or self respect. And we watched.
But before that second season was even shown, the Browns were formally indicted with 60 counts of first-degree unsworn falsification regarding Permanent Fund Dividend forms for their residency, and first- and second-degree theft that took place between 2009 and 2012. It appears the state of Alaska was following the show also. It seems the crux of the matter is that they were not full time residents in the state, but accepted repeatedly the dividends associated with being a full time resident, going so far as to filling out the forms to get the money. So much for the stupid premise of being Alaskan Bush People. How anyone could believe their nonsense and story from then on was beyond me and a lot of other viewers. Watching the show to see silly mistakes was now a full on investigation as to how far the Discovery Channel, and the morons in the family, could explain away that little tidbit. So we watched.
With the ending of the first season, one other point has to be made. In the 4th episode we see what is the absolute epitome of failed parenting. The youngest girl ‘Merry Christmas Kathryn Raindrop’ has a toothache, so arrangements are made to take the child to the dentist.
The family walks into a dentist’s office in town to get Rain checked out. Billy tells the receptionist that he has no job, no money, no address, no phone and of course no appointment, and expects them to help his sorry ass. And of course, in the complete idiocy of this program, the dentist puts her first in line and arrangements are made to fix the kid’s teeth. The arrangement is for the dentist to do the work for some salmon Billy promises to deliver as payment. This is the point that most viewers said ‘Hey wait a minute, this is BS’. A scene like this is proof that it a portrayal of a father and mother who cannot provide the basic needs of their children. What if the dentist said no? What if the kid had major serious problems? And then to pay for the work with fish, it strains even the most gullible folk’s reasoning that this would work. And it leads to the unending jokes about the rest of the show. How many salmon for a boat, a car, a chainsaw, a rifle?
And the whole scene is unbelievable for the simple fact that it had to have taken 2 hours for the film crew to set up the shot, there had to be at least 4 production members in the office during filming, and releases to appear in this show had to be signed by all the participants. And everyone acts (in the literal sense) that it is all spontaneous. If I was a camera crew member, I would have pulled out a credit card and paid, all the while telling Billy and the worthless mother to go get jobs. And then to add insult to the viewers, they go to ridiculous lengths to show how the fish were caught (by hand) and the rush to deliver the fish to the office. Why not get jobs? That would simplify things a lot. To even show this drama is wrong, it proves to the public that all they care about is some bum’s dream of living ‘in the bush’. And on top of this, no reference is made to the poor girl’s teeth from then on.
And so we continue….