This episode: Highway Through Hell, Season 1, Eps. 1-5, 10. Watch it on Netflix.
This month Mike and JS take their inaugural voyage into JS’s favorite reality TV subgenre with the Canadian show, Highway Through Hell, which follows the travails and triumphs of a ‘heavy rescue’ towing company that works a particularly treacherous yet important stretch of highway in British Columbia.
We go into the usual topics: concept, characters, authenticity, appeal, etc as well as discussing JS’s love for the ‘blue-collar’ genre and his experiences in a blue-collar workplace. Mike, on the other hand, has some criticisms regarding the lack of interpersonal heft in some of the workplace scenes that take place away from the crash sites and the show’s overall worldview. We also analyze the show through the lens of an article covering the linkage between ‘hegemonic masculinity’ and ‘occupational reality TV’ and discuss the role of nostalgia in the appeal of ‘men’s soaps’ as well as the shifting nature of masculinity in the post-industrial service economy. Finally, there are some asides on the prominence of ‘car culture’ in North America and the interesting role that the ‘omniscient’ narrator plays in shaping the worldview of the show.
[Also, as a minor coda, Mike’s audio is a touch choppy in a couple parts for some reason. Apologies and hopefully it will not be too distracting.]
Show Notes and Links
1:17 / Mike apologizes to our two listeners for the delay on the last episode
1:56 / Introducing this month’s show with some Wikipedia humor
2:49 / Does JS have a soft spot for this sub-genre? (We mention the show Dirty Jobs)
4:03 / Our personal feelings on the show
4:45 / The concept for the show
7:37 / Discussing Jamie Davis, the owner (and implied POV character)
9:52 / Moving into the main employees
12:01 / Going over the ‘bit players’ and Jamie’s son, Brandon
15:27 / The tractor trailer drivers are a secondary character in the show
16:28 / Two modes of the show: Crash sites and workplace politics
17:18 / Mike thought the relationship aspect of the show was weak because the people seemed too one-dimensional for him to invest in (our episode on TOWIE is here)
19:08 / JS had different expectations, didn’t mind that it was focused on the work and the business
19:56 / JS’s experience with blue-collar workers and his theory as to why the show didn’t delve into the personal lives of the workers
21:53 / Delving into the authenticity of the show; there seemed to be a dichotomy between the crash scenes and the ‘office’ scenes (our Alaskan Bush People episode is here)
24:08 / Mike wasn’t convinced by the confrontation between Kevin and Jamie or the rivalry between Jamie and Al
25:33 / JS agrees the rivalry was exaggerated, but thought Kevin’s reaction jived with his experiences in a blue-collar workplace
26:56 / Mike can’t imagine having an outburst like Kevin at his job
28:03 / JS thinks that a good blue-collar worker can get another job fairly easily in the worst-case scenario of getting fired
28:56 / Are these types of outbursts just associated with blue-collar work or is Mike just very cautious in his disposition?
33:17 / Segueing into the article for this month: “The working class heroes: analyzing hegemonic masculinity in occupational reality TV”, Nathan Blair, The Plymouth Student Scientist, Vol. 6, Issue 1, 2013 (analyzing the UK show Trawlermen)
34:45 / Talking about the concept of the ‘retributive man’ and how these shows recast working-class identity in terms of an individualistic masculinity (Mike mentions socialist realism)
36:52 / These shows praise working-class men in an abstract sense, but not in a way that would challenge the socioeconomic hierarchy
38:00 / JS thinks there is a certain ‘blue-collar mentality’ of wanting to ‘get things done’ without ‘asking questions’ that dovetails with the worldview of ‘blue-collar TV’
39:06 / Jamie as an ideal of both blue-collar worker and scrappy entrepreneur
40:21 / Jamie as someone who can appeal to both blue-collar and white-collar people as well as both the ‘retributive’ and ‘new’ man
41:44 / Mike was disappointed in how the show dealt with the emotional fallout of this line of work, thought the show pulled back when things got interesting (our Paris Hilton BFF Dubai episode)
44:00 / Brandon’s earrings: A subversion of traditional masculinity or an evolution of it?
46:06 / Blue-collar men and cultural conservatism
47:11 / The show’s unrelenting emphasis on stoicism
49:00 / Is the ‘retributive man’ ideal more closely linked to blue-collar men in the globalized, white-collar, post-industrial economy?
50:31 / Getting even more meta: How watching this for the podcast affected Mike’s viewing of the show
51:06 / The specificity of ‘car culture’ to North America (Although the amount of vehicles in the US and Italy is apparently much closer than we thought)
54:22 / How the highway-centric transportation system relates to the ‘heroic positioning’ of the show’s narrative
55:26 / Mike was struck by the visceral and spectacular nature of the crash footage, mentions J.G. Ballard’s Crash
56:45 / This show’s nostalgic appeal reminded Mike of Dual Survival
58:17 / Comparing and contrasting this show with Dirty Jobs
1:02:14 / Jamie as a modern version of the Jeffersonian ‘yeoman farmer’
1:03:20 / Circling back to the article: the linkage between the decline of traditional masculinity and the rise of the post-industrial service economy
1:08:46 / Circling back to the show’s appeal and our personal reactions
1:11:55 / Mike’s own worldview about work is the opposite of this show
1:12:43 / JS thinks there is a different sort of pride and tangibility associated with physical labor