Our world has been in peril since I was a ten year old watching Captain Planet.
Just in my short lifetime, there’s been a hole in the Ozone layer, El Nino magically transformed into a polar vortex and people are still denying climate change. Citizens are protesting corrupt and ineffective governments from Venezuela to Spain to Nigeria, American cops are shooting unarmed people in the streets, the Eurozone is on the verge of collapse, and the growing chasm between the rich and poor is only of concern to those of us who can’t afford gated communities and armored cars.
The question isn’t if society as we know it will be thrown into total and utter chaos, but when. So when I spotted OFFGRID magazine in the checkout line of Safeway last week, I couldn’t resist the purchase.
I know I’m not what people think of when they think of a prepper - I’m not a young white guy who secretly wishes to be in Seal Team 6, fantasizing about hacking through a hostile world with only my machete and my dog. I’m not woodsy outdoorswoman, I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I suspect that if the apocalypse hits it will look more like the goofy ridiculousness of Seth Rogen’s apocalyptic party comedy This is the End than the blood soaked chaos ofWorld War Z. (I mean, come on, you’re telling me the same people who need Instacart and Blue Apron to manage dinner are suddenly going to be able to live off the land if the power grid goes down?)
OFFGRID, cover price $8.99, is a prepper’s dream magazine. Filled with tips on preparation, survival, and self-defense, OFFGRID has published seven issues so far but it is still so new that the website is under construction. Created by the same people who publish Recoil, a gun lifestyle magazine, OFFGRID estimates it reaches 131,000 people through the magazine and its accompanying social network; of those 131,000, 91% ARE male, and 75% are between the ages of 18 and 44. There’s no information provided about the racial or ethnic makeup of the magazine’s fans, but I bet I can guess.
The cover of the 120-page Spring 2015 issue — a lone man with binoculars and a large pack surveys a burning city — feels like the box art for an action adventure video game, like Heavy Rain or Watchdogs. (Why this man is perched over a building ledge with a camping bag on his back, I do not know.) Around him are headlines like “Fire-Starting in the Rain,” “Machete Buyer’s Guide” and “Prepare for Economic Collapse” prove too tempting to ignore - after all, it seems like countries and European coalitions are collapsing all over the place. OFFGRID wants you to prepare for what they call your “SHTF” scenario, or when Shit Hits The Fan.
The first thing I notice inside is that the magazine has more accessories on display than InStyle. It opens with a beautiful spread of tactical basics and ads for covert defense gear, like the Hex Tool (“Brass knuckles for the 21st century!) and “The Inner City Defense Pencil” (I guess for those Dangerous Minds moments). I almost wish I had those Lucky-style “like it, love it” stickers I could use. I pore over $200 tactical flashlights with striking bezels (and if you’re going to use a flashlight, why not knock someone out with it?) and admire advertisements for Blackhawk’s Serpa Level 2 Tactical Holster, which features a huge gun and the promise “Life. Liberty. And the pursuit of any maggot who threatens them.”
Features on survival sanitation and the prepper bootcamp physical fitness tests are much appreciated. Though I’ve long known that bleach is amazing at disinfecting areas, I didn’t know vodka would also work in a pinch. It’s also helpful to understand exactly how far out of shape I am to really be ready to survive in the new world, and that I need to complete 3 unassisted pullups (among many other things) to be considered in fighting shape. I also enjoy the piece on how to find a survival crew of like-minded people after SHTF, though what it really needs is a quiz called “How to Find Your Post Apocalyptic Friendos!”
But the Armageddon roleplay “What If” section is what makes me realize that OFFGRID editors’ idea of Armageddon ain’t like mine.
The seven-page section features an imagined worst-case scenario accompanying societal collapse, and asks three people - two experts and a normal person - to explain how they would handle the situation. This issue opens with the following fantasy:
The filthy man had a knife at my daughter’s throat, and his ragged friend had a gun to my boy’s temple. “Give us what we want and no one has to get hurt,” he said. But were the supplies all they wanted? The way they were looking at my wife and daughter made me think they’d like to say a while…
Stop, stop back the truck up! As a reader, I’d assumed I was this tactical badass in the jeep with a gun, like the woman depicted in the 4 Wheel Parts Jeep & Truck supply store ad before the best flashlights to buy section. But as the “wife” in this scenario, it appears in the fantasy writer Tim MacWelch describes I’m the passive, potential rape victim captured by armed robbers. Which begs the question: if I’m not going to realistically be able to defend myself, why the hell am I buying tactical knives and flashlights with striking bezels?
"What If's" scenario explains what happened to you, the reader, following massive rioting and the collapse of government infrastructure including the police and fire department. (The reader is, of course, a man, with a wife, a 16-year-old daughter, and a 10-year-old son.) After bartering for goods outside of his neighborhood, gunmen (who you traded with earlier in the day) threaten to “rape your wife and kill your son” if you doesn’t give them all your supplies. The idea is for the reader to construct a new plan after losing his supplies in the robbery.
It’s important to note that, despite the robbery, the reader is starting from a place of privilege - even after being robbed, he has a single-family home with attached garage and the “usual personal belongings,” including two cars with full tanks of gas, tools, three mobile phones, a second secret stash of a food and water (one man removed his from behind the bathroom drywall), and a loaded gun, which was apparently of no help in the confrontation with the gunmen. (And was apparently of no interest to them anyway.)
I don’t quite know what to make of the almost idyllic descriptions of family life in a disaster scenario. (Kisses from happy wives figure prominently, as do boy scout skills and rabbit stew.) Nor am I impressed by the location of the "What If?" survival scenario: Boulder, Colorado. Though beautiful, Boulder has a .09% black population, which might create significant difficulties in ensuring my survival. After all, if Renisha McBride was shot in the head asking a stranger for help during peacetime, I sure as hell wouldn't want to be playing with paranoid people after the government actually collapses.
And that’s the other off-putting thing about OFFGRID. Despite the carefully selected images that try to appear racially neutral, the magazine seems to be written by white guys for white guys. The only black woman depicted over the course of 120 pages is an illustrated woman in “What If” shown handing over toilet paper at a community swap and there are no females in the features at all until we get to the survival group. To be fair, there are non-white men depicted — and quoted — in the article about how to properly perform an elbow strike, but it is unclear if the person on the page is the writer or a model.
What's most telling about OFFGRID is the sort of threats preppers seem most concerned about. On the magazine's Facebook page a couple weeks ago, the boogeyman wasn’t global warming or government instability - it was the police brutality protests in Baltimore.
The linked article goes to ActiveResponseTraining.net and features advice on what readers should do when they find themselves surrounded by “rioting criminals” and offered suggestions on when to use lethal force as a civilian. (In sum: use a knife over a gun when possible and know that the police will consider you a target if you pull out a gun.) Considering our national conversation on profiling and vigilantism that started with the death of Trayvon Martin, perception of a threat is very different from reality. I don’t think all preppers are racist - but I am also not thrilled that trigger-happy white guys with Falling Down fantasies are finding validation in the same place I would be looking for tools to escape them.
While a bug out bike (or escape motorcycle, in layman’s terms) is definitely going on my needs list, playing in prepper world forces me to face way too many contradictions.
A lot of the survival scenarios — what to scavenge from cars, features on machete blades for all budgets and arguments for drones — are written from the perspective of a semi-athletic white man. Female-focused features are hard to find - outside of a female silhouette on an ad for a pepper spray gun called PepperBlaster. If I’m a solo woman moving through Boulder, how do I adjust? If those masked gunmen killed my husband in the “What If” scenario (or murdered him before he got home from the initial barter) what steps do I take? What are the best things for my son to learn? How do I equip my sixteen-year-old daughter for a world that will see her as a sexual object? (Oh wait, never mind…)
OFFGRID isn’t exactly the prepping bible I hoped for. Luckily for me, I’ve already got a prepping role model from the video game world: Alyx Vance of 2004’s Half-Life 2. While Alyx is a secondary character in the Half-Life world (in the same way wives are secondary characters in the OFFGRID world), she adapted to the new environment becoming an accomplished shooter, hacker, and mechanic.
And I’d like to think I can become the type of girl that can fix my own bug-out bike.
Reading OFFGRID makes me realize that though the future might be a brave new world, it will have the exact same people in it. We can buy all the toys we want, but the real threat of collapse is in the darkness of human nature.