(JOE ALTON, M.D., AKA DR. BONES, SAYS: In my travels, I have heard all sorts of strange notions about what members of the preparedness community are all about. These misconceptions are fueled by programs that portray Preppers as paranoid and trigger-happy. One of my conversations in Britain this year was with doctoral candidate Michael Mills, who is interested in the preparedness community and would like, if possible, to debunk the popular mythology related to them. You helped him, and the entire community, by filling out the survey that he was conducting for his study at the University of Kent. THIS STUDY IS NOW COMPLETED)
The View from Britain: Public Perceptions of the Preparedness Community
(Michael Mills is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research at University of Kent (England), undertaking 3 years of research on the preparedness community in America and Britain. In this article he will explain some of the problems and misconceptions his research aims to address. This most prominently relates to the difference between the public image of prepping as found in the mass media and National Geographic’s recent output (Doomsday Preppers, etc.) and the real preparedness movement/community.
Regardless of the reality of situation, the view of prepping from Britain is one that sees the prepping as the site of dangerous eccentricity and blood-thirsty paranoia. As a social sciences Ph.D. student in Britain whose primary topic and research interest is the modern prepping community, I am frequently in explaining to other people what I do in my research. Upon revealing that my work is based on accessing and sharing accurate ways of knowing what it is that preppers do, and particularly why more of them are doing it, there a few typical reactions I encounter. “Wow, these guys must be crazy… of course the world won’t end” and “Is it even safe to talk to and interview people like this?” are just two of the familiar responses.
Like it does, to an extent, in America, the shadow of high-profile incidents looms large over how the preparedness community is understood in Britain and shapes how people react to this community (and my announcements that this my chosen research interest). Ted Kaczynski (the “Unabomber”) and Timothy McVeigh (one of the “Oklahoma Bombers”) were claimed to have been concerned with survival, and also perpetrated acts of terrorism. These individuals bear little relation to the millions of Americans involved in prepping, yet remain perhaps the most famous examples of individual survivalists/preppers. Similarly, events at Waco and Ruby Ridge have distracted the public from accurate understandings; instead offering the suggestion that survivalist activity is the domain of religious fanaticism which can easily lead to violent confrontation. Even though it is nearly twenty years since the most recent of these events, these stories and images have persisted and lingered around discussions of prepping, and shaped the ways in which those outside movement react to and regard it.
The most recent vehicle through which the preparedness community has come to be seen in America and Britain alike is National Geographic’s TV documentary series, Doomsday Preppers. The show has allowed preparedness to be seen in a new light: with some good features, but others that have continued a tradition of presenting preppers as mentally unstable and obsessive. The show’s representations begin with preppers explaining what disastrous future they are awaiting. Preppers are then almost always shown to consider whether they are “obsessed” with prepping (this is a question the makers of the show seem to ask all participants), before typically revealing large stocks of stored food, firearms and ammunition that they have accrued over a period of time and with significant amounts of money.
The show’s representation of its subjects is simply not an image of prepping that many in the movement seem to recognise, and has produced a backlash from some within the prepping community. One can challenge National Geographic’s representation on various fronts. For instance, many preppers are far from obsessed with their preps. Many also spend far less time running between hedgerows with crossbows and rehearsing violent confrontations than the show would have its viewers believe.
However, alongside the aforementioned high-profile incidences of violence, the Nat Geo mold is the the only way that prepping will be seen and understood by most in Britain and America. This is particularly true in Britain where, despite there being a small and growing British preparedness movement, preparedness is must less widespread and much more of a novelty than it is in America. For many British viewers, the prepper is still a mysterious American figure who many are glad to live a safe distance from. If this remains the only insight into prepping that most people have on both sides of the Atlantic, this will remain accepted as the most accurate representation available.
The prepping community is undoubtedly a more complicated and diverse and “normal” group of people than most others realize. Attendees of expos and other events will be aware that preparedness now attracts more people than it has for a long time (perhaps, more than ever before). You will also know that many of the people involved in prepping simply do not conform to the Doomsday Preppers mold. Admitting this, however, doesn’t make for easily understood perspectives, sensational stories and, therefore, doesn’t make good television.
For this reason, the National Geographic and other media representations of preparedness is unlikely to change – meaning it will remain an area of life in which corrections are required and more understanding needed. My research aims to engage with the preparedness community in a way that stereotypes related to political and religious extremism, and National Geographic, have not. It aims to challenge this dominant image with more accurate and representative information. It aims to replace the selection of extreme examples in the movement with a more authentic sample of views and perspectives. Ultimately it approaches prepping in a much more open-minded way and allows the preparedness community itself to dictate how it is represented. I am interested in learning more about this community, and the only legitimate way to do so is to gather the views, opinions and stories of preppers and allow them to speak for themselves.
My research therefore aims to ask some of the more interesting and important questions surrounding the movement that are all too frequently avoided in favor of creating sensational stereotypes: why are more and more people choosing to prepare in recent years? What concerns do they have? What do they get out of prepping (even if they never have to use most of their preps)?
Most importantly, it aims to answer these questions by going to preppers themselves for the answers. They are all fairly simple questions, and ones you may know the answers to very well. Thanks to society and the media’s collective failure to engage with the prepping movement, however, the answers to these questions remain masked by swirling stereotypes and exaggerations. In America and Britain, where we have our own growing preparedness community, the prepper will remain a bogeyman or bogeywoman in the public eye until this view is corrected.
Michael Kent –
The study is now complete, here’s a note from Michael:
Thank you for reading this article.
Previously, this had been an appeal for respondents to a piece of sociological research into the phenomenon of American prepping. The research is now under way, and the data is being processed. The required number of respondents has been reached, and so the original article has now been removed.