Friday, May 6, 2011

Oh Pioneer (Wife)!

Considering how much time I spend in front of a computer, I'm always amazed to be sideswiped by a cultural trend that everyone else seems to already know about.

It was only this week that I started hearing about "the Pioneer Woman" Ree Drummond, whose blog about life as a ranch wife in Oklahoma has transformed her into a one-woman revenue stream, and now she's everywhere. She's whipping up pasta dishes on The Today Show, signing copies of her cookbook in bookstores across America, and her story has been optioned for a film in which she will be portrayed by none other than Reese Witherspoon's pointy chin. There's even a lengthy profile of her in this week's New Yorker.

Drummond's back story is that she supposedly dumped the emptiness of a media career in L.A. for the purity and simplicity of life as a wife to her "Marlboro Man" cowboy husband and mother to four children. Over 4 million unique visitors frequent her site,, which she reluctantly admits generated "a solid million dollars" for her last year. Plus the Drummond family she married into is one of the largest landowners in the nation; her ranch is over 20,000 acres -- or two-thirds the size of San Francisco.

So clearly, the following that checks in regularly for updates on her time-saving recipes and to view her luridly-Photoshopped photography efforts are expecting to hear from a housewife facing their same issues of budget-crunching and time management. What they get instead is a marketing barrage from a woman whose kitchen is the size of a basketball court and who just launched a children's book about her basset hound.

When I first looked at her web site (the subhead of which reads, and I am not kidding, "Plowing through life in the country, one calf nut at a time"), I certainly didn't get the impression that this was the blog of a woman celebrating her rural life. Far from it -- it's the desperate activity of a woman drowning in the tedium of domestic farm life and trying not to go insane. The content jostles for your attention: there are sections on cooking, photography, home schooling (the hallmark of the anti-social paranoid), some pretty tame "confessions" so visiting moms can get the sense that Ree, too is struggling with the day-to-day challenges of motherhood, and even contests to keep readers coming back for merchandise awards.

The more recent posts outline Drummond's cross-country book tour, which begs the question: at what point does the Pioneer Wife's lifestyle become so elevated that it's no longer relevant to her fan base?

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