We all need avenues of escapism – a good book, a hike, a cup of tea. For me, it’s television…
Once, at a dinner party with friends and family, the conversation turned to what it must be like to live in countries near the Arctic Circle, with never-ending dark days in winter and (correspondingly) never-ending summer days. (One of our number has a sister who lives in Norway.)
Well, I said, in Alaska they have terrible trouble with mosquitoes.
There was a slightly startled pause. Everyone present knew, without a doubt, that I had never set foot in Alaska.
But here’s the thing: I know quite a lot about life in Alaska, because given half a chance I will watch any television programme at all about the place. Documentaries about how sled dogs are trained are on the list. The struggles of truckers on icy roads in Canada and Alaska can capture me in an instant. But my all-time favourites are Life Below Zero and Alaska: The Last Frontier. (Alaskan Bush People will do in a pinch.)
These programmes feature the lives of people in Alaska, with much digging of snow, catching of fish and swearing at broken machinery. There is hunting and cabin repair and making fires. Not to mention trudging through snow, a lot. And in summer, fighting off mosquitoes.
Life Below Zero is a National Geographic show and seems to be a decent attempt at documenting life in frozen wastes, while The Last Frontier follows the fortunes of one particular family, giving it satisfying soap opera dimensions. Alaskan Bush People on the other hand is more controversial. There have been accusations that the show, or parts of it, is faked.
I don’t watch these shows because I am researching life in Alaska, or want to move there (though I wouldn’t say no to an adventurous holiday there). I watch them precisely because they bear no relation to my actual life.
I spend a fair portion of any day in my life as a journalist dealing with articles about calamities and death and weighty issues. I live in South Africa, which has more than its fair share of problems, and a dark and troubled history.
Alaskan television – and my other addiction “home channel” (any channel or programme which features home flipping or renovations or searches for a new home) – are easily accessible ways to dip into a fantasy world.
Reading books can fulfil the same function, but at the end of a long day, the printed word can feel like a bridge too far for tired eyes.
Instead, a comfortable couch and an hour of ice and snow (and mosquitoes) is just what’s needed to restore my equilibrium.
What does it for you? Share your guilty escapism secret in the comments…
Main picture: Drew Dempsey, Unsplash
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