Proposal Title

Televisual Rewilding: Alone and (Re)Imaginations of the Future

Start Date

June 2022

End Date

June 2022

Abstract

Each season of Alone features ten “survival experts” living on their own stretch of “harsh, unforgiving terrain” with a limited set of gear and a bunch of camera equipment. Participants film themselves as they hunt, fish, build shelter, and face-off with area wildlife. “They will endure extreme isolation and psychological distress as they plunge into the unknown…,” the promotional material explains. The participant who stays the longest wins $500,000. Alone premiered in 2015, but gained attention at the beginning of the pandemic, when many of us also endured extreme isolation and psychological distress. On his 52nd day, Alan, the winner of season one, said, “I just feel totally separated from time… No past. No future. Just now.” But although the series’ spike in popularity might be attributed to our desire to see others contend with the disorientation of quarantine, I’m interested in what the show—and “survivalism” more broadly—might reveal about 2015, the build-up to the Trump presidency, or the moments when the cracks in the “American project” start to show and nothing feels sustainable or safe.

Interest in “survival skills” initially surged in the wake of the gas crises of the 1970s, as Americans lost faith in the government and worried life as they knew it was ending. Magazines like Mel Tappan’s Personal Survival Letter circulated through libertarian and neocon communities just as Mother Earth circulated on the left. Despite the different ways they politicized their fears and hopes, the publications each pushed DIY skills, from gardening to gun-making, as a means of imagining a new future. As with Alone, these were largely reactionary turns to nature, rooted in primitivist masculine fantasies and reductive, western imaginations of Indigeneity. But also as with Alone, they reveal a desire for ways of living or connecting with the earth that feel simultaneously impossible and also like the only possibility. This paper considers Alone alongside the longer history of “survivalism” and survival television in the US and asks: when do “survival skills” gain traction and what does it mean when they do? What role might survivalist communities, TV shows, and discourses have in reimagining and reinventing the future?

Bio

Katie Lambright is an historian and editor based in New York. She works as an adjunct lecturer of American Studies at Towson University and is finishing her PhD on modern American history at the University of Minnesota.

This document is currently not available here.

Share

COinS
 
Jun 25th, 1:00 PM Jun 25th, 2:30 PM

Televisual Rewilding: Alone and (Re)Imaginations of the Future

Each season of Alone features ten “survival experts” living on their own stretch of “harsh, unforgiving terrain” with a limited set of gear and a bunch of camera equipment. Participants film themselves as they hunt, fish, build shelter, and face-off with area wildlife. “They will endure extreme isolation and psychological distress as they plunge into the unknown…,” the promotional material explains. The participant who stays the longest wins $500,000. Alone premiered in 2015, but gained attention at the beginning of the pandemic, when many of us also endured extreme isolation and psychological distress. On his 52nd day, Alan, the winner of season one, said, “I just feel totally separated from time… No past. No future. Just now.” But although the series’ spike in popularity might be attributed to our desire to see others contend with the disorientation of quarantine, I’m interested in what the show—and “survivalism” more broadly—might reveal about 2015, the build-up to the Trump presidency, or the moments when the cracks in the “American project” start to show and nothing feels sustainable or safe.

Interest in “survival skills” initially surged in the wake of the gas crises of the 1970s, as Americans lost faith in the government and worried life as they knew it was ending. Magazines like Mel Tappan’s Personal Survival Letter circulated through libertarian and neocon communities just as Mother Earth circulated on the left. Despite the different ways they politicized their fears and hopes, the publications each pushed DIY skills, from gardening to gun-making, as a means of imagining a new future. As with Alone, these were largely reactionary turns to nature, rooted in primitivist masculine fantasies and reductive, western imaginations of Indigeneity. But also as with Alone, they reveal a desire for ways of living or connecting with the earth that feel simultaneously impossible and also like the only possibility. This paper considers Alone alongside the longer history of “survivalism” and survival television in the US and asks: when do “survival skills” gain traction and what does it mean when they do? What role might survivalist communities, TV shows, and discourses have in reimagining and reinventing the future?