Wednesday, June 11, 2008

You think your job is tough?

Since it first premiered on the Discovery Channel 3 years ago, I have been addicted to the show Deadliest Catch, which follows some of the heartiest devil-may-care boats and fisherman during the Alaskan Crab fishing season on the Bering Sea. Crab fishing ranks as one of the top ten deadliest jobs (hence, the title) and, if you saw the show last season, you know that even with cameras rolling, people still died. I've seen young, manly, strapping new deckhands ("greenhorns" as they're known on the boats) reduced to wimpering piles of soggy fear after just a few weeks of the physically and psychologically gruelling work of crab fishing. They have to battle some of the most inhospitable natural conditions known to man as well as literally tons of rickety, unsteady, sometimes icy, steel machinery-- all while slipping and sliding on a rolling boat. And they sometimes work at 18 hour or more stretches, taxing their bodies and minds far more than what seems endurable by mere mortals.

The producers of Deadliest Catch also put out another show over on the History Channel about another one of the world's top ten deadliest professions. It's called Ice Road Truckers, and it follows the men who drive equipment up to natural gas factories located 100 miles or more north of the Arctic Circle. Here's the catch, though: the only way to get the equipment up there is to wait until the oceans, lakes and rivers freeze (at least 20 inches thick) and then create trucking roads over the ice. There's only about a two-month window when the ice roads are traversable, and no one knows exactly when the ice roads will finally give way, ending the delivery season. In case you were wondering, this is what happens when the ice road gives way:

What I love about both of these shows, really, is that they are bona fide existential dramas. The "characters" are characters, but not "characters," and certainly not caricatures. They're real men living real lives, reflecting on the meaning and mortality of human existence in ways that are not manufactured or pretentious, but nonethless profound. I've considered several times showing clips of these shows in my Existentialism class this fall, if only to reinforce to my students the fact that all existential questions are not necessarily asked in college classrooms or Parisian cafes. In fact, the most important ones are not asked in either of those places.

One last thing: Many years ago I saw a documentary (with the provocative title Hands on a Hardbody) about a contest that is held in Longview, Texas every year in which people compete for a "hardbody" pickup truck. The contestants each place one of his or her hands on the truck and the last one standing with his or her hand on the truck wins. Seem simple, no? No. The contest literally goes on for days, and the competitors only get very short breaks (10 minutes, I think) every few hours to go to the bathroom. They can't sit down, they can't "lean" on the truck, and most importantly, they can't let their hand slip from the truck for even a second. After the first 24 hours or so, people's legs are numb, their bodies are in pain, they're sleep-deprived and some of them are starting to lose their minds a little. But many, if not all, of them really, really need that truck.

Watching the contest is like watching a sped-up microcosmic representation of the evolution (and devolution) of the human condition. It is, as one of the contestants reports in the film, a "genuine human drama." Unfortunately, the film is prohibitively expensive, so I haven't yet been able to show it in class--and, because of the title, I've been too embarrased to ask my library to purchase it--but if you ever have the fortune of getting your hands on it (heh, heh), I highly recommend it. Like Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers, I think that Hands on a Hardbody perfectly captures the fragility, finitude, and weakness of human beings that I, for one, find absolutely profound.

1 comment:

HappySuk said...

i agree with you ^^ --- comment from Thailand