OK, as far as I know, I made that headline up. But I didn’t know until a few weeks ago that there was such controversy about the Pioneer Woman. After reading some of the comments from people who really, really don’t like Ree, I thought about the situation (more than I intended to, actually, as you’ll probably see from the length of this post). Most of her critics state openly that they used to be fans, but now they feel like she’s sold out and feeds her followers a bunch of lies.
I don’t read Ree’s blog much anymore — I might drop by once a month or so, but I don’t try to catch up on what I’ve missed. A few years ago, I visited every day, even though the dial-up internet we had at the time made that quite a commitment. I still find her funny, I still like her photos, and I still like some of the recipes she shares. But should I feel “duped” because her blog makes her look like Pioneer Wonder Woman?
I don’t really think so. I’m not bothered by the fact that Ree grew up with money and married a man whose well-established family business gives her a comfortable life with advantages that many of her fans don’t have. Would any of us have ever read her blog if she’d been sitting in a trailer park writing about new ways to cook possum? I doubt it. She became popular because she was funny and she wrote about a life that the Laura Ingalls Wilder in each of us found appealing. And reading her blog felt like reading a letter from a friend.
I heard about Ree’s site from my sister, who’d heard about it from a friend of hers. That was back in the days when only a few dozen people ever commented on any of her posts. I felt a little jealous when more people started discovering her, like she was my friend and now I had to share her. But that’s how word-of-mouth works. Ree became popular because her original fans told their friends, who told their friends, who told theirs, and suddenly she was on the Today Show and in Southern Living and writing books and going on tour.
That’s what makes all the criticism from former fans a little strange to me — they helped make her successful and popular online, which in turn attracted the book deals and guest spots and Food Network offer. I can’t help thinking that if the same opportunities had come to any one of those people who criticize her now, they would have jumped at them. And their lives would have changed, too.
So is it wrong for her to maintain the same persona on her blog that originally attracted fans? I don’t really think so. So what if she doesn’t do all her own laundry anymore? So what if she can afford someone to tutor her kids? Would the people who call her a fraud still be fans if she blogged about meetings with publicists and contract negotiations? I doubt it. They don’t really want honesty — they just want her to be the same as she was when they discovered her. But they and all the fans like them are the reason why she’s NOT that person anymore. Unfortunately, she’s a “brand” now (I hate that word so much!). And that brand is built on her 2007 identity as a writer, photographer, homeschooler, cook, and housewife.
Should I feel cheated because she might have *gasp* planned this all along? I bet she had a vision board. “Step one: start a blog. Step two: gain legions of fans. Step three: use my popularity to attract book and TV deals and make millions.” Yep, that makes her a villain. Because I’m sure nobody else ever made a plan to market themselves.
One criticism I’ve read is that by making herself appear to accomplish everything single-handedly, Ree makes “normal” women feel insufficient. I’m sorry, but if that’s the case, those women would have problems even if they’d never heard of Ree Drummond. Healthy people don’t go around determining their self-worth by comparing themselves to others. If I get my house picked up and vacuumed, three loads of laundry done, the chickens, rabbits, and dog fed, and supper cooked for my family, I have a pretty good sense of accomplishment. It doesn’t bother me that my neighbor might have done one more load of laundry and given her dog a bath, too. And if it does bother me, that’s not my neighbor’s problem. It’s mine.
And if I were going to feel threatened by anyone, I think I’d choose Martha Stewart. Does anyone else remember that joke email that went around ten or fifteen years ago poking fun at her apparent ability to do everything and do it perfectly? I think it was written as if it were a letter from Martha to a friend, and if I recall correctly, it talked about how she’d gotten up at 4:00 a.m. to make the paper and ink for the letter by hand and then related the multitude of other “good things” she’d done from scratch that day. Whenever I see her show, it’s rare to hear her credit someone else for behind-the-scenes work. But that doesn’t make me think of her as a fraud or myself as a failure. She started small, worked hard, found success, and built quite an empire for herself. If she doesn’t fold her own fitted sheets, it’s OK. If someone else did 95% of a flower arrangement so she could stick the last three stems in on camera, so be it. Doesn’t hurt my self-image one little bit.
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of Ree’s Food Network show. Her voice is pretty annoying (I’m not running her down for something she can’t help — some people just don’t have good voices for that kind of thing.), her humor’s not as quick “in person” as it is in her writing, the recipes are retreads of stuff she’s already blogged and published in her cookbook, and I kind of prefer having life on the ranch left to my imagination. Sure, Marlboro Man is a good-looking cowboy, but watching him eat vodka penne kind of kills the mystery.
Her recipes are rarely original, but I don’t remember her ever claiming that they were. It always seemed more like she was sharing family favorites. She often mentions where they came from. And yes, for the average soccer mom or businessperson, her dishes are pretty heavy. But it’s food made for men doing serious, strenuous physical labor who need that many calories. I figure most of the people who talk about how unhealthy her recipes are probably have little or no experience with that kind of work.
My great-grandfather ate a country breakfast every morning that would have given a businessman a heart attack at 45. He also worked hard on his Pennsylvania farm and lived to be 100 years and 5 days old. Reminds me of that old bumper sticker: “Eat Beef. The West Wasn’t Won on Salad.” We don’t have that kind of life (although we’d love to have a version of it, someday), but I still use Ree’s recipes occasionally. I also eat the occasional salad. Everything in moderation.
Some of the sites that mock Ree are pretty funny. (The ultimate joke, of course, would be if she was actually running one herself.) But some of the stuff those bloggers dislike about her makes me wonder why they were ever fans to begin with. They hate her frequent movie references, her use of butter, her stories about her mentally handicapped brother, and her style of writing. None of those things have really changed since the beginning.
They especially hated her post on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. They said she tried to make the day all about herself by describing where she was when it happened and what she did. Really? I mean, 80% of the posts I saw on Facebook that day were about what my friends were doing when they heard about the attacks. I didn’t think any of them were being selfish by remembering those things. They weren’t trying to ignore the victims or their families
9/11 is to my generation what JFK’s assassination was to my parents’ generation or what the attacks on Pearl Harbor were to my grandparents’generation. I suppose it is a sign of self-centeredness that people remember those events in relation to themselves, but I’ve never heard anyone criticize someone else for recalling where they were when they heard about JFK.
Ree’s critics said she was making a big deal in that post about how put upon she was for not having had any running water for four weeks. Well, first of all, I’ve lived without running water for about ten days when our power was out after an ice storm (the pump on my parents’ spring is electric, so no power equals no showers or flushing toilets), and it’s not easy. But her whole point was that the events of that day made her realize just how minor her problems really were. And didn’t all of us feel that way 10 years ago?
The critics don’t like the fact that their negative comments disappear from Ree’s site. Well, it’s her property. If someone came onto our land and put up signs calling us nasty names, I would be within my rights to take them down. My property, my rules.
I guess it comes down to the fact that with some people, Ree can’t win. And the irony is that those people are part of what made all the success of the past few years happen for her. But I can sympathize. I don’t think it’s a simple case of jealousy like her supporters claim. I think many of her critics feel betrayed because, like me, they felt like they knew her first. I understand the wishful thinking that she could be the same person she was in 2007. What I don’t understand is the name-calling (“Pioneer Whore”? Really?) and vitriol that they seem to relish. And the woman who wrote about watching her and her kids in the grocery store — well, that just creeped me out.
To me, the Pioneer Woman has always been to ranch life what “glamping” is to camping — all the satisfaction of getting back to nature without any of the shivering in a sleeping bag on the hard ground or using poison ivy for toilet paper. She might not have dirt under her fingernails most of the time, but she still has a pretty cool life that I enjoy reading about sometimes. Even if she doesn’t do her own laundry.