I study The Pioneer Woman closely. She has long red hair, most likely dyed to increase its deep ruby shine. She has two dough-poked dimples on her cheeks, which leave her perpetually smiling. She wears long peasant tops to hide her tummy, her crisp blue jeans peeking out beneath. She has a giant diamond ring that never seems to keep her from plunging her hands into all the meatloaf ingredients and squishing them together. Her husband, Lad, is rugged, tanned, shy, and he's usually seen working his ass off on the ranch. She calls him The Marlboro Man.
Ree Drummond began as a blogger whose family runs a ranch in the middle of nowhere in Oklahoma. She billed herself as a city girl gone country, and before she knew it she had millions of readers who logged in to see her recipes, photographs, and homemaker tips. She has a wide appeal because she's a Rorschach for whatever you want her to be. To the far right, she's a homeschooler who upholds family values. To lefties like me, she's an advocate for people with disabilities (her brother Mike is developmentally disabled) and an Episcopalian, one of the more liberal Christian faiths.
As if by some divine intervention, the rise of The Pioneer Woman on the Food Network was sparked by the implosion of Paula Deen's career. Those of us who liked watching "down home" yee-haw food shows had no one left to turn to except Drummond and fellow Food Network star Trisha Yearwood.
Like Deen, Drummond makes ridiculously fattening and unhealthy food. She cooks steak in butter and then prepares more seasoned butter for the top, though I can't say that she's as dairy-obsessed as Deen. Drummond's go-to ingredient is, oddly, Worcestershire sauce. The show's schtick is that each week she prepares a meal for some sort of special life event: someone's birthday, a kiddie sleepover, old friends in town, a cow insemination.
She's terrible on camera — stiff, disconnected, forced. Yet I'm addicted to this show. It's soothing. The hard work that happens on her family ranch always looks somehow fun and entirely manageable. The idea of a woman staying home and whipping up a feast for tired ranchers is delightfully un-PC and wholly satisfying to me. I want her life.
It should be no surprise then that she would have her haters. In fact, an entire cadre of angry women have taken to the Internet to "expose" Drummond for being "fake." The Marlboro Woman is an especially incensed blogger. "Join us as we reveal what's really behind the Guru of grease, cow patties, and fairy tales," she writes. The blog accuses Drummond of plagiarism, chides her for calling her brother "retarded," and accuses her of not actually knowing how to write or cook. Thepioneerwomansux.com is as base and critical as the name implies, referring to Drummond as being "full of shit" and likens her self-deprecating humor to being "like the prom queen that made fun of herself in front of the geeks so they'd like her." Forums on both pages are full of others joining in with pitchforks and torches. You and your perfect little life!, they bitch.
Martha Stewart has of course faced the same gauntlet of criticism, as has blogger Gwyneth Paltrow. It generally doesn't come from feminist types though; it comes from mothers, wives, and homemakers who, to be frank, either feel inadequate or are totally jealous. These viewers see in the inkblot of the Pioneer Woman that popular girl in school who got the rich guy and seemingly has it all. Instead of giving in to their envy though, the haters are forced to assume that it's all a fake. If a life like that doesn't actually exist, then they can't mourn the fact that theirs will never measure up.
This is the opposite of how the show makes me feel. I enjoy fantasizing about being Ree Drummond. I have no family, I'm not rich, but I do love to cook, and the fact that I have never had children nags at me. I can get lost in The Pioneer Woman and her life, and I like it that way.
The haters are right about one thing. At this point, her life really is a fake TV show. She makes millions of dollars every year and has a ton of side projects going on. There is no way she still has time to homeschool her kids, cook a chuckwagon feast, clean the house, walk her basset hound, and blog about what shampoo she likes. When your domestic life becomes your business, it is no longer authentic. But I've surrendered to the fantasy, Ree Drummond. And I thank you for the escape.