Mirror Essay Draft #1
In the last few years the United States has sparked an interest in Alaska, a state that, until recently, had only been cared about for it’s gold, oil, and placement near Russia to protect from attacks during World War II. Now, this strange cold state has struck an interest in the rest of the world. It has been a stage for many movies and Alaskan-based reality TV shows, many of which have grown popular. Sadly, I have found these shows to be a misinterpretation of the Alaska, and Alaskans, I grew up with. People from the continental United States, or Lower 48 (as Alaskans call it), only know about Alaska from what they’ve seen on the television. In my visits to the lower 48 and now living in Portland for college, I see how these TV shows give people the wrong ideas about Alaskans. Usually the first time someone finds out I’m from Alaska they ask me either about Polar Bears, gold mining, Lumberjacks, Igloos, Sarah Palin, and the all popular question “Can you see Russia from your house?” as The TV shows that are based in Alaska portray Alaskans this way. The Reality TV shows from Alaska has brought on questions about dating lives, clothing styles, daily lifestyles, diversity, and the questionable hospitality of the daily Alaskan this essays strives to clear the air on these issues by either condemning or congratulating these sources.
A friend of mine from high school experienced this stereotyping during his time on the show “Alaskan Steel” since he works at the welding shop on the show, he told me that during the shooting they were told to dramatize their work by cursing and fighting more than they would normally. That show wanted to further the stereotype of Alaskan men being much more masculine and scarier than most actually are, by giving them a seemingly rough exterior. Since I myself am an Alaskan Woman, and not a steel welder, the one show that I can really connect with and compare myself to for the purpose of this essay is “Alaskan Women Looking for Love” a TLC reality show. Coincidentally, I was actually asked to audition for the show but then I was underage and uninterested in anything that had to do with wrongly presenting Alaska. The show is based in Kodiak, Alaska, and since this is my hometown I was able to recognize two of the women on the show. Knowing this very small Alaskan town and its people I am able to say this show was wrongly portraying these women, and Alaskan women in general. This show takes single women twenty-one to late thirty’s from Kodiak, Alaska to Miami, Florida to find men; but since Alaskan women grow up “Alaskan Tuff” and I personally don’t understand why they would want to date a prissy Miami boy. Even though I can understand them wanting to leave Alaska to find eligible men. There is the saying in Alaska surrounding the dating game: “The odds are good, but the goods are odd” a saying which is very true. A lot of the Alaskan men are strange, and coming from Kodiak I know there are only so many eligible partners, and of those, most of them you’ve known since you were both in diapers and only feel family bonds, or you are actually related. If you didn’t already know them since birth you probably already tried dating them, and when that did not work out you had one less chance at finding a suitable man. The show plays off this because they take the women off the island so that they can escape the stereotypical men of Alaska: the lazy, drunk, dirty fishermen that they have been dating or known for most of their lives. Before the women leave they only go to the bar dating scene and boats in Kodiak. These “dating” places are not very glamorous and are really only filled with drunks not a suitable place for finding a boyfriend. The women in this show are wrongly portrayed as needing a man I was unable to believe a Alaskan women would want a Miami man. I know Alaskan women are more masculine than other women especially compared to the women in the city. The pickings may be slim on the island but I cant believe the women from Alaska would want more feminine men from Miami. When some of the men went back to Kodiak with the women they whined about camping and the bugs and the cold. Coming from Alaska that’s a sign of weakness.
The women on the show are also first shown in Kodiak in what can be considered “stereotypical” and normal Alaskan clothes. They are dressed in Xtra tuffs, a name brand rain boot sold popularly in Southeast Alaska, a place where there is a lot of rain, and they have also been nicknamed “Alaska sneakers”. Over their Xtra Tuffs they are clad in jeans, one of the women who is a welder is also seen in black Carhartt work pants. Their shirts are either flannel, plaid or old sweatshirts. Any make-up they are wearing is natural looking and their hair is in a ponytail or just down nothing special or stylized. I find this clothing to be the normal “nice clothing” in Alaska. I myself have sometimes shown up to school in Kodiak in a nice dress with my Xtra tuffs on. My “Alaskan fashion sense” has been criticized down here in the lower 48. When I first met my father’s new girlfriend I was told I did not dress nicely. I was in Florida and I did not own any “proper” or “fashionable” summer clothes due to the cold weather of Alaska that rarely demands shorts or a tank top. Here in Portland I dress up more than I would at home just to fit the “normal” society. When, I noticed a girl in one of my classes wearing Xtra tuffs on and a sweatshirt, I immediately knew she was from Alaska.
Another major flaw in this show is that not all the women are actually from Kodiak as shown in the article “‘Alaskan Women Looking for Love’ stretches ‘reality’ TV to limits”, by Laurel Andrews, in the newspaper Alaska Dispatch she interviewed two of the women in the show and found out they were actually from Anchorage. I talked to an acquaintance here in Portland who was from Anchorage and he says he saw flyers for auditions for the show in a theater that was looking for actors! so much for Reality TV. Understandably I do not know many single women from Kodiak who would want to be on a TLC show presenting Alaska but this goes against the whole premise of “sheltered island girls going to a city and finding love” Anchorage is already a city with availability to more men and there is a difference between Anchorage Alaskans and actual Alaskans.
I found the essay by Eva Holland, “Wilderness Women”, much more accurate in its description of Alaskan women. The essay is about Eva’s experience participating in a competition alongside other bachelorettes to prove themselves worthy wives to Alaskan bachelors. Eva is from the Yukon Territory in Canada, which is similar to Alaska which is why I think she did a much better job of presenting Alaskan Women to the public. In Talkeetna, Alaska this annual competition has women haul buckets of water, make a sandwich and give a beer to a bachelor, saw through a log, load the wood onto a snowmobile and drive, “fish” by hooking a wooden fish covered in Velcro on the street, load it into a backpack and run in snowshoes and shoot with an airsoft gun at balloon “ptarmigan” and at a man in a moose costume, finishing with kissing a bachelor. These fun and somewhat silly activities in the competition also represent many of the common daily tasks done in Alaska. The hauling water signifies where some people live without plumbing and have to fetch water from a creek or if camping which is a common occurrence. The sandwich and beer portion had a comical twist where the women have to deliver the sandwich and beer to the bachelor but did not have to be placed in his lap since this competition is a race the “meal” could be thrown at the bachelor which just ends up treating the “stereotypical woman’s job” very comically. Then the women have to saw through a log and load the wood onto a snowmobile, which is a common occurrence especially in northern Alaska to need to know how to drive a snowmobile. Then the women have to “fishing” and then running in snowshoes to shoot a “ptarmigan” a balloon attached to a tree with an airsoft gun represent their hunting and fishing skills. Finally on their way back to the crowd the women encounter a man in a moose costume which they shoot. The moose can also be an extension of the hunting but is also part of the dangers encountered on a hike or even in the city: moose being more dangerous than bears in Alaska. To finish the race the women have to kiss a bachelor which just furthers the woman part. I can personally connect to this essay as an Alaskan woman because I myself fish and shoot guns as do many other Alaskan women. These activities are actually considered somewhat normal. I know especially here in Portland that most people are uncomfortable with guns and some of the backwoods down and dirty activities but in Alaska there is little gun control and most of the state is wilderness. There is no need for a concealed carry permit and most people I know own at least one. TV Shows like “Alaskan Women Looking for Love” takes away what it means to be a tough independent Alaskan woman.
In a blog entry on Slog, Jonathan Golob posted about his own experiences in Alaska from an outside view titled “The Alaskan Stereotype” when he went to Alaska and visited Anchorage, the largest city in the state. Since he actually went to Alaska he thought his views were more accurate than the Reality TV Shows but he still got it some of it wrong. He made Alaskans seem mean, rude, and very unhelpful. He did however notice our ethnic diversity and due to that we are not as racist as other states, which is very true. I grew up in Kodiak where the majority of the population is Filipino or another Asiatic background, and Mexicans. Caucasian is a minority along with Native Alaskans and there were very few African Americans in Kodiak. At my High school of the 500 students there was never more than 3 African American students at a time and even then 2 were siblings but I do not remember them getting discriminated against due to their skin. We do however stereotype and discriminate against tourists just like Jonathan. They come to Alaska with all their stereotypes stuck in their head and wear parkas or attempt to use umbrellas in our daily hurricane force winds. My town is on an “Inside Passage” route that cruise ships take and they visit Southeast Alaska and most of the towns on their track are built for tourists and run off of tourism. My town is situated right below the state on an island. Our economy is predominantly fishing, with little for the tourism economy besides a few tours. The town is more of the real Alaska and we just put up with the occasional tourists. The most upsetting part of Jonathan’s article is what he said about Alaska’s hospitality, I find Alaskans to be the friendliest and kindest people I know some have a rough exterior but are the best people I know. As I said we just do not take kindly to outsiders. Alaskans are very independent people, which might come off rude to some outsiders.
He did however catch the fact that most Alaskans disapprove of Sarah Palin these days and how she portrayed our state. She went on big glamorous and costly clothing sprees which just isn’t done in Alaska and it disappointed us that she thought she had to change who she was just to be a vice president from Alaska. Jonathan had worn a peacoat to Alaska, which made him stand out, as I previously stated in the third paragraph most Alaskans wear practical clothing rather than aesthetically pleasing in their day to day living. Xtra Tuffs, Grundens (fishing gear) and Carhartts, Look in any Alaskan closet and you’ll find at least a few of these articles of clothing.
In conclusion my essay is about how Alaskans are portrayed in Popular Culture through Reality TV and how the dating scene, clothing, our out of the norm daily activities, our diversity, and our hospitality actually are. Mostly we are just portrayed barbaric with igloos and Polar bears everywhere and eternal winter. Alaska is so much more than that we have our own version of dating scenes without places to go party we just grow up alongside them or discover our partners through chance. Our clothing is definitely more dressed down and for functioning in the cold and physical labor we do daily, and we don’t put a lot of value into these superfluous things, though we aren’t afraid to dress up nice once and a while or for work purposes. “Reality TV” is just a disappointment to locals and a marketing ploy to get Alaska tourists. Our strange daily activities are so normal to me I thought it was strange how many people I have met in Portland have never been camping, fishing, or shot a gun. And although we are closed to outsiders Alaskans will always be the most friendliest and hospitable people I will ever know.
Works Cited Page
- TLC. Alaskan Women Looking for Love. N.d. Television. 2013
- Andrews, Laurel. “‘Alaskan Women Looking for Love’ Stretches ‘reality’ TV to Limits.” Alaska Dispatch. Alaska Dispatch, 10 Nov. 2013. Web. 9 Feb.
- Holland, Eva. “Wilderness Women.” SBNation.com. SBNation, 8 Jan. 2014. Web. 9 Feb. 2014.
- Golob, Jonathan. “The Alaskan Stereotype.” The Alaskan Stereotype. Slog, 20 Nov. 2009. Web. 9 Feb. 2014.