|THIS is a pioneer woman.|
|Neither is this.|
Some years back (2006?) I started reading ThePioneerWomanCooks.com. I enjoyed the comfort food recipes and seeing pictures of each step along the way. Eventually I sidled over to the main website. Ree's self-deprecating humor and folksy stories were a lot of fun, too.
I enjoyed her pictures or ranch life, tolerated/ignored her homeschooling anecdotes (at the best they're unrelated to me and at the worst, as a public school teacher, they're vaguely offensive to my sensibilities), and tried a few of her recipes (Joe complained, and rightly so, about the greasiness of each one of them ... so I always modified the recipes to lower the fat content). I even got past cringing at the way she calls her husband Marlboro Man. Nothing like glorifying a cigarette advertising icon. Ick! I vicariously enjoyed her Black Heels to Tractor Wheels saga of how she and her husband met and fell in love, impressed at her level of detailed recollection.
But then things started to change. Ree became less folksy. I think my first insight into this was when the Drummonds began a multi-jillion dollar remodel of The Lodge back in 2008, just to use it as a kitchen-photography location and a guest house. "Who are these people," I thought? "Blogging must pay pretty well, or else I now have better insight into why beef is so expensive."
But I didn't know the half of it.
Recently I grew even more weary of of Ree's 5-star hotel room tours and gratuitous basset hound pictures, not to mention her continual self-hype. It's not that I like her folksiness any less ... it's more that there's less folksiness and more caricature. It's all Pioneer Woman now, without any Ree Drummond.
To be fair, I think that once the site got sufficiently lucrative and time-consuming that Ree's life changed. She's been on multiple book tours by this time and now has a new show on The Food Network (which disappoints me, Food Network....I watch The Next Food Network Star and you're always going on about having star power, but that the most important thing is being able to really cook well and extensive culinary knowledge ... this move feels like you're just trying to make a few bucks off of Pioneer Woman's enormous popularity. Her recipes are sometimes unsafe* and sometimes just make her look clueless**). She's not the person she was when she started blogging. Her life's not the same.
Anyway, a few months ago I started Googling around looking for non-party-line info on the Drummonds. Idle curiosity quickly became surprise and even occasionally, alarm. Other than in my sidebar, I'm not going to link to Ree's page. Everyone knows how to find it. I'm not going to add any links to any Pioneer Woman re-education sites, either. There's one in the sidebar. You can Google others verrrry easily. There are a lot of people out there.
I feel as though I've had the scales removed from my eyes.
First of all, the Drummonds are loaded. Big huge bucks even before she started blogging. This isn't really a strike against them, or anything. Good for them for making piles of cash (apparently housing the nation's wild mustangs is extremely lucrative ... ). But don't try to tell me you're just like me, only ranchier. You're millionaires several times over. I'm thrilled that you garden and have laundry and all those other normal things to do, but you're not just like me. And, you're not even like most cattle ranchers, either.
Secondly, Ree is apparently quite a snob. All her readers know she grew up on a golf course with ballet lessons, etc. But part of her whole schtick is that she left that life all behind her to become a folksy Pioneer Woman (Sorry...Ma Ingalls, she ain't). Ree hung out to dry at least one other "mommy blogger" she hired, apparently just because Ree was afraid of what her readers might think if she stuck up for the woman's personal experience with teaching religion to her own homeschooled children. According to many sources, the locals around her town don't like her much, either, for what that's worth.
Additionally, Ree and Ladd (that's Marlboro Man's real name) seem to be kind of dumb about horses and keeping their children safe around and on the horses. At the time I read it, I was really alarmed by a post wherein her youngest child (four at the time) was plunked on a horse to follow along while the rest of the family and professional cowboys were on horseback, driving cattle. Except for Ree. She was standing nearby, shooting pictures through a ginormous telephoto lens. (Which is fine...I don't detract from her for photographing her life. Lord knows I've done the same thing plenty of times.) But then she notices that her son is scared on the horse and is starting to cry. He's doing all the wrong things and the horse is getting jittery about the unclear signals, and pain in its mouth. But she just keeps taking pictures. Lots of them. Who does this? Who puts a four-year old alone, UNHELMETED?, on an unled horse, loose in a field? There are a bunch more examples of bad riding throughout her blog: sawing on horses' tender mouths, holding the reins improperly, plenty of unhelmeted kids riding, even ... tying a horse to a barbed wire fence (!!!). I don't know much about horses, but I can ride a little. I spent 6 summers at horse camp for just a week each time, but even I can tell that some of these experienced fourth-generation cowhands are being unnecessarily cruel to their animals. Apparently on her TV show premiere she and her children are riding on calves as the calves are being dragged across the ground to be processed. How is this OK? Why are people not all over her? Why are her own people who monitor her and her blog and her image not all over her?
Finally, I no longer believe there's much of her site that has anything to do with one of her favorite assertions -- that she's "keepin' it real." Based on some things she's posted, some things she's deleted or edited in past posts (does anyone remember when she used to call her mentally disabled brother her "retarded brother, Mike?"), and some things I've read on various other sites ... I'm certain she has a rather extensive staff comprised of teachers for her kids, housekeepers, web designers, publicists, guest bloggers, etc. While none of these things is damning, really ... I mean, "Good for you if you can afford a staff," right? However, I think it's disingenuous, even fraudulent, to keep most of this information from her own blog posts. Why keep your readership in the dark, when you're so fond of being "real" for them? Why not throw some busy working moms a bone and admit that the many things you do (homeschool your kids, garden, cook, blog, take pictures, Photoshop the frak out of them, write books, tour the country, remodel buildings and rooms, appear on TV shows, clean your house and do your mountains of laundry) so effortlessly can't actually all be done by one human being? Throw us a bone, here. Why go back and delete old less-flattering blog posts in your past? How is that being real? If the posts were real for you at the time, Ree, why don't you leave them alone? I've come to the conclusion that this five-star-hoteling-book-touring-Today-Show-appearancing lifestyle was the goal long ago and that her I'm-just-a-back-country-agoraphobic-school-marm thing was all schtick.
I think it's because Ree Drummond has left the building. The Pioneer Woman, Marlboro Man (and their publicists) have taken over. I still go to her site, albeit way less than I used to. But, I read PioneerWomanSux.com every day as well. I enjoy a reminder that what's portrayed on someone's blog is frequently a character he or she has created and not a real person. I'd lost sight of that.
Anyway, this is what's really on my mind this morning. I don't have a following, or publicists or advertising revenue from my blog. I don't even have a real domain name. That's as real as it gets. Though, it's be nice to wind up with a book and Food Network deal, so I could start posting pictures of $600/night hotel rooms. So, if anyone out there wants to pay me to do what I do, feel free to get in touch.
* You NEVER use your used marinade as a sauce on your meat unless you've boiled it a good long while, first. And, you NEVER stick a metal utensil into a jar of hot jelly. Etc.
** The curvy part of the canning lifter thingy is the end that goes around the mouth of the jar....that's WHY it's curvy.