Greener BeeGreen LivingOn James Dickey, a Local Survivalist Expo and the Rise of the Prepper Movement

A crowd gathers at the Chicagoland Survival Preparedness Expo — put on by RK Prepper Shows, which brings the Greater South Carolina Survival Green Living Expo to town this weekend.

Survivalists and preppers do not like the media. They will not talk to them no matter how lowly and toothless the local rag scribbler is in the bigger picture. Journalist, writer, reporter, hack — however you try to present it, these people with their pens, pads and clean fingernails on hidden laptop keyboards stink like government agents to the apocalyptic crowd.

“Ain’t interested in signing up for the federal watch list or accepting the no-fly list. You can quote me on that,” one prepper told Free Times at a recent Confederate flag raising rally. “I’m just trying to be ready.”

With the Greater South Carolina Survival Green Living Expo — put on by RK Prepper Shows, which brings similar events to various spots across the country — coming to the State Fairgrounds this weekend, local preppers, individuals preparing for catastrophic natural disaster or the collapse of society, have the opportunity to get more ready than ever for the end. Animal pelts, five-gallon buckets of freeze dried food, ammo and bulletproof vests will be peddled alongside discussions concerning long-term outdoor survival, organic vegetable gardening and the health benefits of colloidal silver — the rare mineral that upon exposure to high enough quantities can cause your skin to turn bluish-gray. 

In 2013, Mother Jones ran an article by Tim Murphy discussing the boom of the prepper business during Barack Obama’s presidency. They noted three dating sites that exist for such folks and that the preserved food company, Shelf Reliance, saw a 708 percent increase in revenues in three years. “Overall, the size of the market for Americans expecting major disruptions caused by [natural or manmade disasters] or the Rapture is estimated to be $500 million,” the piece said. You can also watch reality shows to see survivalists hack it out — the Discovery Channel’s Alaskan Bush People or Doomsday Preppers, currently streaming on Netflix. 

One man who actually was willing to talk was the late James Dickey. The poet, author and University of South Carolina professor who passed away in 1997 may have been the loudest of the survivalist, prepper types in history. He cemented this legacy with his acclaimed novel turned film Deliverance. The story follows four suburbanites on a canoe trip suggested by the narrator’s foil, Lewis, the character emblazoned with Burt Reynolds’ chest hair on screen. When the trip doesn’t go quite as planned, man is pitted against nature and sodomist hill people — “the most serious kind of game there is,“ according to Lewis.  

While Dickey himself might not have had an Echo-Sigma Bug Out Bag ($599.99 via the company’s website), he delved deep into the psychology of preppers as only a man who truly wanted to kill things with a bow and arrow could. (Dickey never shot any students that this journalist knows of, though it’s commonly told that the man had a penchant for carrying his preferred weapon around the Horseshoe.) Consider this quote from Deliverance’s Lewis:

“At times, I feel that I can’t wait [for the end of society as we know it]. Life is so f#!ked-up now, and so complicated, that I wouldn’t mind if it came down right quick, to the bare survival of who was ready to survive. You might say I’ve got the survival craze, the real bug. And to tell the truth I don’t think most other people have.”

While known for his gift of prose, Dickey wasn’t always a novelist and poet by trade. He gave writing and teaching a go in his earliest career life but moved to writing copy for advertising.

About working in the industry of Don Draper, Dickey said, “I was selling my soul to the devil all day … and trying to buy it back at night.” 

The idea of those nights of building words into his own creations is one he expressed in his poem “Power and Light.” Dickey describes in the voice of the poet drinking whiskey in his basement — “Nothing else is so good / pure fires of the Self / Rise crooning in the lively blackness.” Survivalists also get their kicks in the unlighted corners of their homes, dark so as not to expose their neo-polymer self-washing underwear to the harmful effects of fluorescent radiation. As with Dickey, the basement, garage or outdoor shed, what’s sometimes called the man-cave but in preppers’ case more radical, is where the survivalist makes the art of their soul. Dried rations vacuum sealed into expressions of man’s struggle in their airless trapped state, and cooler jugs of water like sculpted odes to office boredom.

What one prepper, also at the Confederate flag rally, would talk about under the promise of anonymity bears striking resemblance to ideas in Deliverance. “We’re waiting for the scenario for the s#!t to hit the fan,” the prepper said, “where the world collapses on itself, which it’s going to.”

Compare that to Lewis’ assertion: “I think the machines are going to fail, the political systems are going to fail, and a few men are going to take to the hills and start over.” Often in his writing, Dickey pulled out of man’s sinew an escalating sense of being alive through connecting with primal endeavors. In that sense, the day to day of the prepper’s heart exists outside of a dark chamber of fatalistic thought, and, instead, beats with the joy of living when they contemplate the possibilities of a depopulated, gray world and putting to use their all-weather toilet paper.

Deliverance postulates that the contemplation of survival is as far as that joy goes. As a novel concerning itself with many of the interests and motivations of this specific group of stockpilers, Dickey’s river story can confer on us a great amount of learning. What survivalist and preppers actually celebrate is how easy and nice life is when the most frequent fear in your heart is your collection of canned beans collapsing in the garage.

 What:Greater South Carolina Survival Green Living Expo

Where:South Carolina State Fairgrounds, 1200 Rosewood Dr.

When:Saturday, July 29 (9 a.m.-5 p.m.) and Sunday, July 30 (9 a.m.-4 p.m.)

Price:$14 ($16.50 VIP; free for kids 12 and under)


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