Thursday, May 8, 2008

Ice Road Truckers, Dirty Jobs, Deadliest Catch and the Men Who Love Them

There is an interesting article in today's USA Today entitled, "Tough Guys Take Over TV," that chronicles the rising popularity of shows on the Discovery and History channels like, "Ice Road Truckers," "Dirty Jobs," "Ax Men," "Man Versus Wild" and "Deadliest Catch," just to name a few. The writer describes how these shows are not only gaining in popularity, but also giving networks and advertisers access to valuable 18-24 year male audiences. I would add that while maybe not as valuable from an ad standpoint, the shows are also hugely popular with about any male age group. I know I will put down just about anything if I find one of them on in the evening.

The article contends that these shows are grabbing more viewers because they are real and authentic and less scripted or "Hollywood" than other shows on television. While I agree somewhat with these sentiments, I don't think the article focuses enough on the main reason guys watch these shows, namely that men just love the kind of things depicted in them. Working with your hands, getting dirty, making things, catching stuff, shooting weapons, using tools, driving big trucks, knowing how to fix things or coming up with McGyver like solution to any of a number of tight spots a man may find himself in. I think these are the reasons most men, myself included, watch the shows mentioned above as opposed to fulfilling some need for transparency and authenticity on television.

I also think a lot of it goes back to childhood and the fact that most men don't ever lose their passion for the things that captivated them as boys. Just take the popularity of paintball as an example of men trying to get back to boyhood. I mean there is nothing greater than a bunch of normally suited up corporate types dressing up like soldiers and shooting each other with exploding paint bullets to really bring it all back to the days of playing army or cowboys and Indians. On this note, I think actor Denis Leary sums it up well in the article when he says, "If they had a show about guys throwing rocks, I would tune in every week."

But sadly, I don't think men get to exercise these passions enough. I know I certainly don't. Several years ago Leah and I were at the beach for a week and I was in the midst of struggling with the fact that I was no longer in college and instead working a desk job with no end in sight for the next 45 years. One day we were buying some shrimp from the local fishermen and I became enamored with the guys unloading the catch. I sat there and watched them working on the boat and sorting shrimp and thought to myself what a great job these men had. Out on the water early in the morning with the sun on their face and no stress other than maybe finding the shrimp that day seemed like what I was made to do. I talked about it for weeks after that but eventually faded back under the florescent lights like so many other men before me.

The point is, that if not for the pay, I think most men would love to be doing one of the jobs depicted in these shows instead of the ones they are currently doing because they correspond to innate desires deep within all men.

So, where to go from here? It is obvious that these shows are touching a nerve in men around the country and fulfilling pursuits and desires long sense buried by the stresses of the work world and modern day definitions of manhood, but how can we as men experience more of what these shows depict instead of just watching them on TV. Quiting a job and becoming a crab fisherman or a logger is probably not the answer. In fact, the truth is that being an ice road trucker may be really cool but it comes with its drawbacks, as do all jobs. But I do think men need to get back to doing things that take us back to our roots. This could be as simple as chopping wood or as complex as doing a City Slicker-esque cattle drive with your best buddies, but I think we need to find a way to balance the careers that provide adequately for our families and the innate desire to do something with our hands so that we don't end up as disappointed and empty shells of the care free boys we once were.

Finally, just writing this has gotten me so excited about getting our son. Not that I can't do all this and other things with my girls, as I surely will, but it will be so cool to share these things with a son who may not share my exact genes, but will certainly have the same DNA as a man that I do.


Townes said...

so true, so true. Now that you have come to this realization, you just need to get back down here to the land of opportunity...

KCG said...

John Eldredge called. He wants his book idea back.

But I agree. I remember reading "Wild at Heart" and just wanting to grab a woman and swing away on a vine to a cave where I could smoke meat and arm wrestle with my friends.

But then I remembered that I like air conditioning too much and I don't have great upper body strength. I also like women who are smarter than me.

So maybe you, me and Eldredge just need to push away from the desk and get more exercise outdoors.