Bug Out Bag: The Commodification of American Fear

Allison Stewart

2014 - 2016

Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Superstorms. War. Martial Law. The Rapture. The Zombie Apocalypse. The Bug Out Bag is the most basic piece of gear for disaster preparedness. It is usually a backpack or an easy to carry duffel bag containing the essentials needed to sustain life for 72 hours, or to possibly begin a new civilization.

Preppers are practical people who make lists. They have exactly what you need somewhere in a bin or pocket. They are liberal and conservative, atheist and born again. Many are the people you were taught as a child to run to when there is a disaster: teachers, soldiers, security guards, and pilots. They are prepared and they are prepared to help others. The philosophy of being strong for others is part of their worldview. Most preppers I meet are community minded but some are fiercely independent. Some are reclusive and paranoid. Independence is a fundamental principle when describing the American character. We praise the self reliant man and credit him for the shining city upon the hill, but Twenty-first Century capitalism has changed Americans and our fears are running rampant. The new self-reliant American no longer experiences transcendence in nature as Thoreau once did, but instead, escapes to nature in an effort to hoard and protect property. Living off grid has become a capitalist enterprise, banking on our fears and desires for stability. Paranoia and fear are accepted states of being at some level and we all exist someplace on the spectrum.

Fear is a powerful creator of conspiracy theories and post Apocalyptic narratives that we love to binge-watch. But many Americans are taking notes from the Doomsday Preppers and Zombie survivalists. Self storage occupancy continues to increase and pre-packed Bug Out Bags are showing up in stores near you. If you live in an area of the country where natural disasters are regular occurrences you know that emergency preparation is a necessary part of life. An earthquake, hurricane, or tornado can knock out your power for days or it can be devastating, you never know for certain until it happens. Flashlights, extra batteries, and water were a part of most household pantries. The 72 hour essentials that dictate the contents of the Bug Out Bag is based on the fact that a human cannot survive longer than 72 hours without water. So what else do you need to survive? Your medications certainly, but do you really need MREs and a weapon or twenty? The commodification of our fears has nurtured the prepper culture and now today’s Bug Out bag contains much more than the necessities for surviving a natural disaster. It contains the gear we need for a man-made disaster we believe is possible; the Apocalypse.

{{ readMoreButton }}

  • Survivalcon! is a preparedness expo showing off food storage, first aid, solar solutions, camping and survival supplies, homesteading, alternative energies, preparation and survival education, and most importantly of all opportunities for networking with others of the same mindset.

  • MM is ex military and his Bug Out Bag includes several weapons, hand tooled knives given to him by a fellow soldier in Afghanistan, three pairs of socks, waterproof paper and pens, an extra phone, instant coffee packets, marijuana, a beer, and a cigar.

  • Jeff’s Go Bag includes a bulletproof vest, a gas mask, and a bulletproof helmet. It was designed to get him to his car, where he had guns, knives, an axe, camping gear, water, and food. He also had property off grid where he would bug out to when SHTF (shit hits the fan).

  • Mike lives in Texas. His Bug Out Bag contains only Tequila & Phenobarbital. His plan is to find a shady tree and escape the Apocalypse entirely.

  • Sam is a dad in California and his Bug Out Bag includes a variety of foods, walkie talkies and radio for communication, a deck of cards, and wine, which Sam heard counteracts the effects of radiation poisoning

  • Wimberley Texas, after the flood. 2015

  • At the Got Ammo? booth inside Survivalcon! you can buy ammunition and trade-in your used brass ammunition casings. Discounts to military.

  • Ms. S is a public school teacher and her Bug Out Bag was given to her by the PTSA. She is required to carry her bag during evacuation drills. It contains emergency plans and a roster of her students, water, food, a flashlight, goggles, and emergency poncho and blanket, gloves, and tape. After a bomb scare evacuation Ms. S supplemented her bag with sunscreen, sunglasses, wet ones, Kleenex, hand sanitizer, and granola bars.

  • Ms. S is required to keep copies of her Evacuation Map posted inside her classroom door, inside her Bub Out Bag, and inside her Emergency binder.

  • Sam's Transistor Radios

  • PBJ lives in Georgia and their Bug Out Bag includes signal flares, maps, a compass, a first aid kit, tampons, fishing gear, a large mouse-trap, tools, GU energy gels, and several types of cord.

  • The Safe N’ Ready store in Pasadena, California carries disaster supplies and fully packed Bug Out Bags at prices ranging from $39.99 to $159.99.

  • The SNR 3 Person Deluxe Backpack Kit $89.99 and contains supplies for up to 3 people, including MREs, water, a transistor radio, a whistle, a tent, a stove, gloves, emergency ponchos and blankets, and tissues.

  • The Pet Pac for a cat retails for $90.00 and includes a bag for pet records, food, bowls, water, a collar with bells, a portable litter box, a trowel, a pet first aid kit, and toys.

  • The Disaster Dogs live on the Oregon coast with their trainer Amber Higgins, who wrote the book “Disaster Dog Training” available online for $3.49

  • Daisy is a trained Disaster Dog. She is trained to help her family in an emergency situation, including search and rescue. She carries supplies for herself as well as for her family. The book Family Disaster Dogs is available online for $3.49.

  • Max’s Bug Out Bag includes clean clothes, a gun and ammunition, first aid and personal hygiene supplies, a spare set of prescription glasses, a transistor radio, tools, and a survival manual.

  • The Freedom Shelter sleeps four people, breaks down flat to fit in a standard sized pick-up truck, and retails for $3299.

PhMuseum Days 2023 Open Call

Apply now for 4 Exhibitions at PhMuseum Days 2023 plus a 40-image collective installation, free applicants pass, and more

Apply now