Tuesday, 7 June 2011

And Thoreau's Mum Did His Laundry Every Week

Paleo-Survival TV has been on my mind this week and while I would happily sell what few scraps of dignity I have left, and appear on pretty much any one of them for a sandwich and a glass of tap water I've got to say I just don't get it. Sure they are entertaining, I love watching the hippy and the butch military guy bicker like a pair of fishwives and I could watch the posh boy eating rotting meat for hours. The whole genre poses one question, why the pretend adversity? There are lots of things I've learned from the idiots lantern, TV can educate and entertain at the same time, so why is the bar set so low?

The legendary Tim Smith of Jack Mountain must have been musing on the same thing as he posted a link to this article in Mother Jones.

Like any TV genre-of-the-moment, the roster of primitive-skills programming represents a series of variations on a theme. The ur-example is arguably Man vs. Wild, which premiered in the US on Discovery Channel in March 2006. In each episode, the buff and charismatic Grylls is dropped into an isolated and menacing location, then forced to find shelter, improvise tools, and eat carcass scraps, all the while offering lessons on how intrepid pioneers might have handled the situation. The show is phenomenally entertaining, owing largely to the schoolboy enthusiasm of the former British Special Forces host, who manages to sound exuberant even when delivering schlocky, back-from-commercial bumper lines like, "I've just dragged a dead sheep out of an Irish bog."

The TV executives that I've met are very very good at talking up 'cross platform' broadcasting, but when's it going to arrive? There's a HOOJ audience of people like me, and probably you, who want to learn more and are deeply cynical of the pretend urgency of these guys and the fake way in which they offer the irresponsible illusion of preparedness. By faking their way out of another supposedly life threatening situation they are telling a generation of viewers, for example, that its pretty easy to climb back out of the freezing waters and onto the ice. Bullshit.

How would you like to see it done differently?

Your pal

PS To who ever left the title of this post on the comments on the Mother Jones site, Genius!

Picture credit


Exploriment said...

I don’t have a TV, and the few times I’ve seen that Grylls character I wanted to punch his grill out, Cody and the other guy I’ve never seen. Not to sound like a BCUK fanboy, but the shows of Ray Mears I’ve seen seem to forego the faux urgency you allude to. Useful skills presented in a low-key fashion. No contrived scenarios, just worthwhile information shared by a sincere guy.

Much more to my liking.

On another forum I go to, someone said that they didn’t want to see someone go camping. I wouldn’t necessarily mind. I know for myself there are “bushcrafty skills” that I’ve never had the opportunity to try or practice. I’m sure I’m not the only person. I suspect anyone interested in this field is deficient in some area and proficient in another. Some people may never have been in a canoe and haven’t a clue how to get in one, paddle one, some people may never have brain tanned a deer hide, etc. A show that very clearly presented those skills, without any shouting, or explosions going off in the background or icy waterfalls to be climbed in the process would be welcome viewing by this commenter. Seeing them being done in colour, 3 dimensional live action would go a long way towards giving the viewer a good idea of how to perform them. Much more than reading about them in a book. Clearly, real life practice is still required, but personally I would love to see a show where a host of different outdoorsy skills are presented without the illusion that the person doing them is being chased by trackers from the ruling junta. Maybe I’m an odd duck (oh...wait), but I don't mind a low key show where a variety of useful skills are presented by knowledgeable people without the drinking of any elephant dung juice or gunpowder wound cauterization. Maybe not as sexy, but I'll take facts over flash any day.

Diggity Dog said...

I enjoyed Survivor Man because it wasn't such bullshit but I can't handle that Man vs. Wild douche for a single second.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...


Can't sat you're missing much by not having a telly. While I think its fair to say that Ray Mears isn't exactly the life and soul of the party he is defiantly a sincere guy and his lifetime of study is apparent. If I've got a criticism of his shows its that there's a hell of a lot more to him that we dont get to see, I know he can make fire by friction, you know he can make fire by friction, how many more times do we have to see him do it, its a waste as he's bound to have a lot more tricks up his sleeve than FBF. Yet the TV people just don't seem to be able to see beyond that, and its a shame.

I agree with you that seeing the simple things done cleverly would be compelling - there's always someone at the campfire who does X in a way I've not seen before - every day's a school day.

The posh boy is irritating, he really really wants to be liked, and that's whats so unlikeable about him. In his defence the kids love him, good thing, he makes to much of what he does, and makes it seemed either beyond the reach of the newbie or he makes the really stupidly dangerous seem easy which in my book is really irresponsible considering his intended audience. [wearing my man-down-the-pub hat for a moment] for another thing I dont mind him cashing in I just wish he'd sell some decent stuff, I saw the jackets - over priced rubbish and as for that toy survival knife, Pah!

Hope to hear more from you, I'm a big fan of your blog. lots more Kifaru stuff that I'm going to be reviewing in the next few weeks.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Diggity Dog thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

Survivor man is pretty good, a real step in the right direction, honest about what's set up for TV and realistic in the things attempted.


LRR said...

I, too, have enjoyed Survivorman. The material he presents isn't too over the top, and he's honest about his failings. If anything, I get a sense of confidence that spending a night in the wilderness, unprepared, is survivable. I don't think too many believe that.

In my outdoor adventures, I've come to believe a night in the woods is a matter of when, not if, and with experience know there isn't much out there that will harm me, other than myself. Of course, I've taken to carrying a small kit with a few things to make this a bit more comfortable when it happens. Not to mention, I've almost always got a gun and a dog with me. Two confidence boosters.

Unfortunately, my attempts to get the guys to do a dry run of this always fails, no matter how much beer I offer to bring along.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...


That night in the woods - I've had trouble selling it to them too.
Beer, fried things and the campfire what's not to like?

Le Loup said...

We do not get TV reception here, & have not had TV for 30 years or more. But we do watch videos, & I absolutely do not see the point in that posed survival rubbish. I just turn it off.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...


I make you right


Exploriment said...


Mmmm...Kifaru-y goodness.

Grylls is an affable enough guy I suppose, but I really have to wonder how many people who find themselves in the woods after a lifetime in front of a TV, have the misguided notion that the silly stunts he does are a good idea. I have to wonder how many people who don't know better have or will get themselves killed imitating them. I'm proud to say that my 7 year old nephew even realizes what a hammy twit he is. “He does really dangerous stuff! He went down in an old mine. That's dumb!” “Yes it is.”

Les Stroud is “better”, but my beef with him is that stupid conceit of being as well prepared as the average recreational outdoor user. Sure many have little more than some bubble gum, and a water bottle, but how about driving home the idea that you should have more than that - that anyone heading outdoors should have the necessities. It's hard enough with all those things. Use the show to hammer the viewer that you must have those things on you.

There are lots of little home made videos on YouTube that show good outdoor skills, I just wish that an organization with better equipment and production facilities would tackle them.