DVR Chronicles: United Shades of America Ep. 5 – Believe in the Matrix

~Lorenzo Patrick (@smartspeak89)

Let’s start this week with a statement of fact: I like the Matrix grid! I really do. I like electricity, disposable utensils, WiFi, and the occasional cup of coffee I can’t pronounce. You know….”splurging.”The grid is far from perfect, but so are its alternatives. This week’s United Shades of America had this as the conversation centerpiece, and it was a surprisingly sane exchange.

All of the main groups were represented here: minimalists, environmentalists and “patriots.” Kamau Bell got a chance to speak with members of all three groups, all of which had varying rates of success getting completely off the grid. The minimalist, for example, lives in a roughly 400 square foot “Tiny Home.” It has no running water and only has what can be politely described an enclosed tree house as a bedroom. Somehow, the woman Bell interviewed said she has everything she needs. Despite this, she still works in Asheville, North Carolina. The “patriot” has a similar “full release” issue. He hates that the country (read: Obama) wants to “take away his guns” and that his “freedoms” are being infringed upon. However, he lives in the woods with enough propane tanks, solar panels and ammo to make Hank Hill blush. The only guy that’s completely off the grid is an environmentalist/engineer. His secret? Bear meat (with the special “bear juice”), duck eggs and some kind of ground acorn paste in a bucket.

The obvious lesson from the show is to show how much people can do with a whole lot less. A “tiny home” isn’t for everybody, but neither are the damn-near 2000 square foot dwellings Americans have on average. The more interesting note is just how difficult it is to get off of the grid completely. Take “The Farm” in this instance in Tennessee. This was a fully sustainable community of about 1400 people at one point. However, as the community grew, so did their needs. Eventually it didn’t make sense to live without the amenities we take for granted, like irrigation systems and electricity. In a way, the episode comes full circle ending with “The Farm.” Again, I’m pro grid. Grid ‘16 in fact, with plumbing as its running mate. Though, we can still do better in very obvious ways. Here’s a few more thoughts I had from the show this week:

  • Everybody interviewed for this episode was surprisingly sane. WELL beyond the stereotype of who does this kind of thing.
  • I wonder if policy change is all these people need to “trust” the grid
  • Interesting to think of time as a part of being “on the grid.” I guess you wouldn’t need it otherwise.
  • Bear meat and duck eggs sounds like an appetizer at a restaurant Anthony Bourdain samples when his show tours your city.
  • The “Tiny Homes” shown on here can solve a lot more than the sustainable living question
  • I wouldn’t trust ground acorns in a bucket, either
  • Also, five episodes in, I think I can live with Kamau not having to go in the woods every other week. I think he can too.

Next week, Bell travels to Portland to answer the “Are we too greedy?” question another way by tackling gentrification. Uncomfortable silence will ensue. United Shades of America airs every Sunday at 10 p.m. EST on CNN.

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