The Media Puts a Negative Spin on Self-Sufficiency/Reliance

By , January 21, 2014

A good friend recently showed me an article made me pretty angry.

The article, 10 Years After Trying to Live off the Grid, Farmer Wonders, ‘What am I Doing Living on This Little Island?’ describes Peter Janes’s “homestead” in British Columbia, Canada. On the whole, it’s a success story. Janes and his partner have been striving toward self-sufficiency and creating an alternative lifestyle for 10 years. They’re not as self sufficient as they would like to be, but they’re well on their way, and they’re thriving.

Not that you would get that from the title of the piece. That indicates that they’re struggling, disillusioned, and ready to pack it in. If one reads the article, one will discover that the “failure” of this couple is that they haven’t achieved their ideal; they’re not really discouraged, and they’re still moving toward it. They seem to be doing just fine, but the article jumps on the struggle, self doubt, and hopelessness of making a difference.

I don’t agree with everything in the article. It refers to Janes and his partner as living “off-grid,” although they’re tied into British Columbia’s electrical grid, because “going off the electrical grid was prohibitively expensive.”

What? They’re making and selling their own farming tools, they run a tree nursery, they’ve started a CSA (see Consumer Supported Agriculture) and more. They must be making good money. We managed to replace our wind generator and install a solar array back when we were living off our savings!

Ironically, this article comes from If you’re one of those who feels that the mainstream media is too liberal, Alternet would drive you nuts. Nevertheless, they offer the standard message that’s common across their industry: “thoughtful, self-sufficient, enviromentally-minded living is inevitably bound to fail.”

The standard narrative seems to be that alternative energy, eating locally, self-sufficiency, concerns of environmental impact, and related issues are doomed to failure, and that those who participate in these movements will eventually fail miserably.

Oh yeah! That’s why my family and I are so dreadfully unhappy! I forgot.

If you’re a headline skimmer, then the narrative gets passed on with the headline. If you actually read the article, you might get a different picture, even though it seems written to further the narrative’s thesis.

The article states that the couple have been “trying” to live on their land for 10 years. “Trying?” Yes, they have yet to achieve their goal, total self-sufficiency, but they’re working toward it by living on their land, and have done so for 3 years longer than we have to date! Most people can’t hang on to a job for 10 years. We’ve been “trying” here for 7 years now, and I consider it a huge success, despite everything we still want to do with it. I would hesitate to call this “trying.” We’re doing it, by golly, and so are they!

The article’s title comes not from Janes, but from his partner, Magdeline Joly. Here’s the complete quote:

“I wish we had 10 more generations to heal our planet’s wounds,” Joly said. “But I sometimes worry that we really don’t, and then I start to feel like, ‘What am I doing living on this little island?'”

Joly’s moment of self examination becomes a portrayal of Janes teetering on the brink of packing it in. Just in case that doesn’t set the right tone, the quote above comes under the subhead “Inner Conflict.”

As for whether or not they’re making a difference, I don’t want to quote the usual “one drop of rain in the ocean” stuff. Mainly, you’ve got to do what’s right for you and yours, as long as it makes your life better. Then, hope that you become a good example for others.

The article is heavily sprinkled with terms like “stubborn,” and “hard headed.” These terms, while used positively, still contribute to the article’s overall negative tone. In a very short paragraph encapsulating like-minded people and movements from history, the author superfluously points out that Kurt Vonnegut’s son “lost his mind” in a Canadian commune.

Only those who read the entire article see that it’s a negative spin on what could and should be hailed as a success story. Here’s a telling sentence from the article:

“in the process [Janes] and Joly have created their own existence to a degree most people could only dream of.” (Italics mine.)

Damn right. It’s time people, particularly in the media, stop denigrating those of us who are creating our own existence. If you don’t have the courage to do it, cheer us on from the sidelines, ignore us, do whatever you want—just stay out of our way!

Go to Janes’s and Joly’s Website to witness their “slow-motion train wreck.” We should all “suffer” their fate!

3 Responses to “The Media Puts a Negative Spin on Self-Sufficiency/Reliance”

  1. Linn Hartman says:

    Most folks live lives of quiet? desperation – They can’t and won’t understand the minority that jump out of the box – when they die they can put on their stone “I was a good little soldier and did what was expected of me”-Just give them your blessing and go on – Enjoy!

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Well said, Linn! However, I’m not willing to live and let live in this instance, because the media shapes opinions. I feel that too often they’re finding the downside of this lifestyle to purposely make it sound like it’s a futile effort. So, it’s not the opinion I mind, it’s the dissemination of it.

  3. Eva Hensley says:

    Mark, I agree with you about the media. They create more problems by putting their own spin on things than just giving us unbiased factual information. I would prefer reading informative and educational as well as entertaining news from people such as you than reading or listening to “canned news”. Thank you for blogging about your family and homestead.

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