Re-post: Of Media and Reality

This article was originally posted in May 2010, at which time it was barely read.  However, in recent weeks it’s been the most-read post on this site, and I’ve added quite a bit to it (even more as of November 29, 2010) so I’m posting it again.  To get answers (such as they are) to some of the questions I’ve seen on my stats page, see the lengthy P.S. that starts about halfway down this page.

The other day I came across a striking dichotomy in the storm-chasing world: the Discovery Channel TV series Storm Chasers, and a web-cast called The Debris Show which was created by actual storm chasers.  I felt it was pretty indicative of what is going on generally in the media — particularly in the “reality” arena — so I thought I’d muse about it a bit on this blog.

Storm Chasers is an admittedly gripping reality show that follows the exploits of people who chase storms — usually aiming for tornadoes — for a living or at least a very expensive hobby.  Partially because of this show, and not a little bit because of the 1996 fantasy movie Twister, kids all over the U.S. and Canada, and people of all ages from all over the world now dream of being glamorous storm chasers…the new cowboys, astronauts, or rock stars, if you will.  You read stuff all the time in chat rooms and on video comments such as “I can’t wait to storm chase when I grow up!” or “I need a car and then I can storm chase!”  There are also more than just a few would-be storm chasers in the U.K. and Europe, both of which seem to be taken by tornado-envy at present even though it appears they’re having an increasing number of their own tornadoes to contend with.

Of course it’s a dangerous fantasy that will no doubt lead to some dumb bunny getting killed, but in the meantime, we have Storm Chasers providing all the fuel you’d ever want.  (Note: Discovery Channel is now apparently considering showing a “nature series” produced by Sarah Palin, which may give you some idea about DC’s grip on reality.  2011 update: as nearly everyone knows, the Wasilla Windbag’s show was moved to The Learning Channel, where it died a merciful death after one season.)

Of course, TV being TV, things are probably not the way they are hinted to be on this show.  For instance:

(1) The show makes it look like the majority of chases end with delicious tornadoes.  (Apparently in the real world, only a fraction of chases find tornado-producing storms.)

(2) The show puts the chasers themselves into neat Hollywood categories, such as The Scientist (Josh Wurman, who is no longer a regular on the show), The Artist (Sean Casey, the IMAX film-maker), The Heart-Throb (Reed Timmer), The Good Guy (Tim Samaras), The Sidekicks (Joel Taylor, et al).  They’re all good-looking and it’s all very neatly packaged and very glamorous.  (Please note that I am not belittling the abilities of any of these chasers.)

(3) Of course there have been some manufactured controversies: Joel and Reed had a fight; Sean and Josh and Reed all had fights; Sean disrespected Reed and Josh disrespected everybody.  I did some research: in reality, Joel is back with Reed and Sean is broadcasting streams from Reed’s website.  Josh is nowhere in sight.  Clearly something got lost in translation on Storm Chasers.  But then again, yet another chase team called The Twister Sisters is now filming a reality show as well; they were earlier this year looking for a couple to ride with them — but only if the couple had serious relationship issues.  Now folks, take that and apply it to storm chasing.  You can’t?  I’m not surprised.  That’s TV.  (2011 edit: apparently this project, if it actually existed, never came to fruition.  For that I am thankful, and I think the Twister Sisters should be too.  They may not have realized it, but their reputations were on the line.)

The other night I was wandering around the Web and found the other side of the coin: a web-cast produced by storm chasers themselves.  It was an hour chat show where they — chasers with no makeup — sat around and swore, farted, belched, drank, and generally told the long grinding truth about the lives of storm chasers — most of whom seem to do this as a hobby, not as a full-time business, because the competition is overwhelming; tornado videos are nothing if not plentiful these days and there’s barely a (daytime) funnel cloud in Tornado Alley that goes unfilmed.

During this chat I realized why a storm chaser in a chat room recently sniped “tell me where Vortex 2 (Wurman’s team) will be today so I can be at least 50 miles away” (implied: “…where the tornado is”).  It’s all street smarts, guts and instinct with this bunch, and long weary miles on the road.  Only the toughest survive.  Bookworms need not apply.

So why am I writing this?  Because I’m still trying to figure out why the media take the Wasilla Windbag so seriously.  Honest.  I’d started to think we were dealing with an alternate reality here — a media reality — and now, I know I’m right.

P.S. If you found this blog article while doing a search about the show Storm Chasers (and I know you probably have), here are some answers to the Google questions I’ve seen on my stat page:

(1) Josh Wurman no longer appears much on Storm Chasers, nor can he help Sean Casey, because Josh is now a government employee on a government-funded study (Vortex 2).  No, I do not know the details such as why it was okay before and is not now; all I know is what I heard on the show. OKAY?  (November 29, 2010 edit: in light of Casey’s confession of today on Facebook, this whole storyline is even more confusing.)

(2) Yes, Reed and Joel are back together.  Most of their problems seem to stem from Reed’s behavior.  This has been discussed frequently on the show.

(3) Yes, Reed and Chip are back together.  Most of their problems seem to stem from Reed’s behavior.  This has been discussed frequently on the show.

(4) No, Ginger is no longer in the (Storm Chasers) picture.  She was probably there because the producers thought she was pretty and that’s about it.  Yes, she is a real meteorologist, as of this writing working for an NBC affiliate in Chicago.  End of story.

(5) Sadly, Matt Hughes died suddenly in May of 2010 from a non-storm-related injury.  Any speculation made by fans is purely that and nothing more.  His family wants privacy and this should be respected.  This is what was said by the show’s producers.

(6) As of this edit (11/29/10), a lot of Storm Chasers fans have their knickers in knots over something Josh Wurman, in a rare appearance on the show, said to Sean Casey…something to the effect that Josh holds the purse strings of the TIV and due to a reckless driving incident, Josh was making Sean take the TIV off the road.  Please note that this is apparently TV drama only; Josh never said that to Sean although he did berate Sean for allowing the TIV driver to be an idiot (this is according to a Facebook post by Wurman’s daughter).  Small update as of 11/29/10: Sean Casey himself just posted to Facebook saying that JOSH NEVER SAID ANYTHING LIKE THAT. Further, Josh does NOT own any part of the TIV, but instead has been instrumental in getting it, and Sean Casey’s IMAX film, funded.

Further, apparently all the fuss about the TIV staying 75 miles away from Vortex 2 was Sean Casey’s own doing.  Josh never dictated that either; however, casual research will show he really wanted EVERY FRICKIN CHASER IN THE U.S. to stay as far away as possible from Vortex 2, which is why I was prepared to believe this part of the story.  This did not make Josh a popular man with the chasing community, and they were very vocal about it.  But why Casey was immature enough to rant and rave about Josh mandating this to the TIV operators when in fact he did not say any of it…well, Casey attempted to explain this in his Facebook post, and all I can say is, “grow up.”

Aside from Casey’s theatrical outburst, apparently what you saw on TV was just the unfortunate result of editing — you know, kinda like when they have the tornado on one side of the road in one shot, then on the other, then suddenly back where it was originally but gosh doesn’t the landscape look completely different.  Okay?

(7) Are you getting the message?  The show you are asking about is part truth and mostly manufactured, and if you intend to enjoy it, you accept that and listen to what the hell they’re saying and stop asking questions. If you want gossip, I’m sure some of the players on the show will turn up in the pages of the National Enquirer sooner or later.  Or consider this: according to other chasers, Storm Chasers is using tornado footage not shot by the production team or the chasers on the show, and they are neither paying for nor crediting said footage.  Plus, at least once they have credited Reed Timmer with being at a tornado where he was not, and also hinted that he and his buddies were the only chasers at a major tornado (Yazoo City), when in fact there were at least a half-dozen others whose actions after the storm were equally heroic as the TVN (Dominator) team’s.  Now folks, that’s reality.

(8) No you cannot do a storm tour in the TIV, the Dominator (you can tour with TVN, which is owned by Reed Timmer, but he does not do tours), or with TWISTEX.  However, some of the chasers you see on the show just may friend you on Facebook, not that they will ever read anything you write there because they all have 40,000 other friends on Facebook.

If you want a tour, just Google “storm tour.”  There are a lot of chasers who would be all too happy to take you along at a cost of about $2,500.00 for a week of major physical discomforts (no matter how much you complain — and some of the less-polished chasers will cuss you right out of the car if you do).  And don’t forget, there’s no guarantee you’ll see a tornado.


and oh, yes…P.P.S.: the 2010 season was the last season that Vortex 2 (Josh Wurman’s team) would clog up the roads with 40 or more vehicles traveling in a lengthy convoy, claim they have more right to be there than anyone else, heap scorn on non-scientific chasers, allegedly nearly run over a non-Vortex chaser or two, and generally be pains in the ass.  From now on, their work will focus on data analysis (that is, they will not be on the road).  This should relieve the increasingly-frequent “chaser convergence” outrages somewhat, although I’m sure NOTHING will ever stop certain idiots from threatening chasers’ lives because they got in Sean’s way, or in Reed’s.  If you’ve even considered making threats like that, kiddo, get a life, and by all means stop watching Storm Chasers because it seems that it’s too much for you.