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Off the Grid Goes to the Movies

There is a popular aphorism that says, “Be careful what you wish for.” This could apply quite well to the relationship between the off-the-grid lifestyle and how it has been portrayed by big media and popular culture. On the one hand, it is our duty to try and warn everyone who is capable of listening about the storms that are coming, and any kind of publicity that preppers or off-the-grid projects can get would seem to have the potential to help us do that. But on the other hand, mainstream culture is notorious for the way they caricature any movements or groups that challenge the fundamental consensus that powerful interests always try to enforce.

Off the gridders and survivalists have been attacked frequently by the arbiters of all that is considered proper and respectable. Preppers have generally been portrayed as paranoid, violent, misanthropic, and more than a little bit crazy. Of course, none of this is necessarily false, since all movements for change attract fringe elements that do not represent what is best about those movements. But popular culture and the mainstream media have clearly had an agenda when it comes to their portrayals of off the gridders, and that agenda has been designed to make all survivalists look as if they are cut from the same whacked-out cloth.

But there may be one exception to this disturbing pattern— a film called Off-the-Grid: Life on the Mesa, which has created a positive buzz that centers around survivalism and those who are working to make its goals into reality.

Popular Culture Goes Off the Grid

Produced by documentary filmmakers Randy and Jeremy Stulberg, Off-the-Grid: Life on the Mesa is a 2007 documentary about an intentional community of escapees from the insanity and cruelty of modern American society that has coalesced spontaneously on a desert mesa in the New Mexico desert, twenty-five miles from the nearest town. Despite sometimes extreme shortages of food and water and no electricity, this ragtag collection of misfits including former hippies, disillusioned vets, recovering addicts, political anarchists, second amendment advocates, and runaway teenagers have somehow made it all work, and this community has held it together against seemingly insurmountable odds. Despite various conflicts and stresses, this group has found a way to police itself and preserve the peace without any help from the outside world.

The positive and hopeful tone of this film separates it from most popular culture and media presentations about off-the-grid lifestyles and the people who love them. The filmmakers allow the characters in the film to tell their stories without slant or judgment, and the film is anxious to show these people finding salvation and workable solutions to their problems. The plucky individuals making this experiment in prepper cooperation work are portrayed in a sympathetic light, and critics have responded to the efforts of the Stulberg brothers by praising the film for its evocative and involving approach to the subject of intentional survivalist communities.

Sympathy from the Devil?

But as we have already discussed, popular media has a nasty habit of turning off the gridders into cartoon characters, and some have claimed that this movie is actually a continuation of that trend. The sympathetic nature of the presentation has been called patronizing and condescending by some, while others have pointed out that the film represents off the griddism strictly as a refuge for misfits who want to drop out of society and not as a sensible, organized attempt to build an alternative to mainstream lunacy and dysfunction.

While it is certainly true that this movie does not attempt to ground its subject matter in a greater political context, this is not usually seen as the job of documentary filmmakers. When artists set out to tell a story, they are looking for something that will entertain their audience first and foremost, and if there is a greater context worth exploring, they rely on their readers or viewers to figure that out and investigate it for themselves. And while this film may not be overtly political, just the fact that the filmmakers show an experiment in radical democracy succeeding is a powerful testament in and of itself.

As for the charge that the movie is patronizing, those who make such claims are revealing more about their own biases than anything else. Those who want survivalists, preppers, or off the gridders to only be portrayed in certain ways are guilty of a kind of snobbery that does not belong in the off-the-grid movement. Any and all should be welcome and their successes celebrated, no matter their past histories, and welcoming the unwashed and the downtrodden into the prepper fold is actually in keeping with the most honorable traditions of American history.

The Final Review

Off-the-Grid: Life on the Mesa shows that even those who have been labeled “losers” by a society that seeks to marginalize everyone who does not go along with the program are capable of improving their lives and managing their own affairs when they are given a real chance to do so. The off-the-grid lifestyle is all about second chances and about discovering the hidden abilities we all have that are suppressed by a social order that is neither intelligent nor sustainable in the long run.

There is certainly much about survivalism and preppers that is not presented in this movie. But if the film is successful in making people think, they may go looking for more information about this lifestyle, and once they discover what off the griddism is really all about, they may be ready to take that final leap of faith and join in with those who are trying to create something new and better for all of mankind.

©2011 Off the Grid News

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