Episode 23 – Highway Through Hell

 

This episode: Highway Through Hell, Season 1, Eps. 1-5, 10.  Watch it on Netflix.

Next episode: The Fashion Hero, Season 1.  Watch it on Tubi TV.  Watch it on Amazon Prime Video.

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?

30:18 / This show hit the predictable narrative ‘beats’ in terms of a typical ‘blue-collar’ reality show (JS mentions Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers)

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

1:04:50 / Discussing the role of the narrator and comparing the narrative voice to Bridezillas and Blind Date

1:08:46 / Circling back to the show’s appeal and our personal reactions

1:09:38 / Mike found this less offensive than certain other masculine reality shows, but brought some baggage that was shaped like a certain Orange-American

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

1:14:39 / Introducing the next couple shows: Fashion Hero and The Four: Battle for Stardom (seriously, though, don’t watch the Four – it’s terrible)

1:16:45 / Sending us out with the customary announcements: contact us, rate/review us, and subscribe

 

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Episode 13 – Alaskan Bush People

 

This week’s discussion: Alaskan Bush People, Season 1.  Watch it on Hulu.

Next week’s discussion: Snooki and JWoww: Moms with Attitude, Season 1, Eps. 1-12, 39-40. Watch it on Amazon Prime Video.

Due to some (still ongoing) technical difficulties, Mike travels to his folks’ place in order to bring you another episode while the initial portion of JS’s audio has a ‘special guest’ (our apologies).  However, we soldier on with this week’s show, which was a lot more enjoyable than the last couple.

After doing the usual rundown of concept, cast, and episode highlights, we discuss this show’s troubled – to put it charitably – relationship to reality and use that as a segue to try to further define reality TV, particularly in comparison to the documentary, and figure out what makes reality TV unique.

We then dig into the show’s worldview of self-reliance, rugged individualism, and the virtues of living ‘off-the-grid’ as well as the interesting way in which the show positions the Browns – and, implicitly, Alaska itself – as avatars of both exoticism and traditional (white, Christian) American values.

Finally, we wrap up by locating the show’s appeal in its display of the virtues of rural living and community in an increasingly urbanized and impersonal modern society.  Also, we announce the results of our Jersey Shore spin-off listener’s choice poll – since the world has been waiting with bated breath.

Show Notes and Links

1:08 / We rue our poor luck

2:02 / Introducing this week’s show

3:27 / Running down the high concept

5:00 / The cast of characters

8:11 / JS was a big fan of Bear

8:46 / Moving into the episode recaps

10:03 / Really playing up that flat tire

11:18 / Theme of first season is race against winter

13:34 / Talking about ‘Rick the Lumberman’

15:04 / The fingerprints of producers are all over this show; JS mentions Monica the Medium

16:18 / Talking about the ‘junkman’ and whether show is playing up the ‘roughness’ of these characters

18:22 / Delving more into the bartering ‘goose chase’

19:15 / JS drops some research about DVDs and rural Alaska

20:10 / The emphasis placed on barter as emblematic of bush culture

20:30 / Wrapping up the cabin-building arc

21:50 / Briefly summarizing the ‘boat’ episode

22:45 / The ‘clip’ episode aka ‘No, it’s real!  Really!’

23:23 / Talking about the dentist’s office

24:05 / Our differing reactions to the believability of hospital care for barter

26:06 / How authentic we thought the show was prior to doing our research

28:11 / We start delving into the gossip on the show

28:40 / Talking about the family’s residency fraud charges

30:00 / Matt’s DUI in a Walmart parking lot

30:39 / Talking about the family’s history with technology (Billy’s book, YouTube video)

31:52 / The evolution of the show’s authenticity (living in hotels, etc.)

32:18 / Mike wasn’t surprised at the inauthenticity, but the level of fakery was beyond what he would have guessed

33:00 / Our final thoughts on the family’s ‘bush skills’ in light of the ‘revelations’

33:47 / Talking about the definition of reality TV vis-à-vis the documentary

34:34 / What is the line between documentary and reality TV?

35:02 / JS defines the line as the level of producer involvement in the action as it is happening; mentions the Heisenberg Principle

37:38 / Mike talks about the early documentary Nanook of the North; director’s involvement in staging some scenes

39:45 / Mike’s defining line is in the marketing and purpose (low/mass culture, entertainment-oriented, profit-driven vs. high culture, education-oriented, prestige-driven)

40:54 / Discussing how important ‘reality’ is to ‘reality TV’ (Our Bridezillas episode is here and our Survivor: Borneo episode is here)

43:15 / JS thinks even the ‘fake’ reality shows qualify because they are at least setting up the expectation of reality, even if the execution is obviously poor (*cough* TOWIE *cough*)

45:00 / Segueing into the worldview and themes of the show

45:21 / Mike noticed a theme of self-reliance and freedom juxtaposed to civilization; mentions Dual Survival, the other Discovery reality show we watched

46:20 / JS thought the inauthenticity of the show undermines this message of ‘freedom from society’

47:33 / Mike wonders if freedom from civilization is really freedom or just subjugation to the whims of nature

49:10 / The show’s idealization and romanticization of ‘bush culture’

50:05 / Mike was struck by the masculine focus and tone of these ‘outdoor’ oriented shows

51:13 / JS inserts a brief digression on Billy’s marital history and history with Ami’s family

52:55 / The interesting blend of familiarity and exoticism in the portrayal of the Browns

53:53 / Alaska’s place in the US mental geography

54:22 / The importance of the Brown’s whiteness to the show’s appeal

57:28 / Mashup between 1850’s nostalgia and 1950’s nostalgia

57:55 / Show sells an image of rugged individualism, but there are cracks in that image

58:50 / Relating this image to Alaska’s reality (oil fund, federal subsidies)

59:56 / JS talks about the appealing aspects of the show

1:01:05 / Mike thought this show could have been an interesting look at rural life without the hype (and fakery, obviously)

1:01:40 / The appeal of Gemeinschaft in an era of Gessellschaft

1:03:15 / Mike brings up Frederic Jameson’s essay ‘Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture’ (Mike also briefly mentions our Paris Hilton episode)

1:06:25 / The relationship between reality TV and subcultural communities (Amish Mafia, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding)

1:07:23 / Announcing the results of our listener’s choice poll

1:08:45 / The boilerplate: contact us, Facebook, rate/review, and subscribe

Episode 6 – Dual Survival

 

This week’s discussion: Dual Survival, Season 3, Eps. 1-5.  Watch it on Hulu.

Next week’s discussion: The Millionaire Matchmaker, Season 5, Eps. 6-11, 13 (+ Season 2, Ep. 6; Season 3, Ep. 3; Season 4, Ep. 8).  Watch it on Hulu.

This week Mike and JS put aside their fundamental differences in podcasting philosophy to make the show’s first foray into the world of survival reality TV – Dual Survival!  (Also, apologies to Cody Lundin, as we repeatedly botched the title of the show in the episode, calling it Dual Survivor.)

We begin with a discussion of the main theme of the show: the two hosts and their different backgrounds and philosophy as they attempt to survive for 72 hours in harsh wilderness conditions, specifically identifying the topic of risk vs. reward as the animating center and attempting to determine how much of a hand the production crew has in determining the level of risk in each of these missions.

We then delve into the individual episodes and talk about particular highlights and themes: the level of choreography versus spontaneity in the scenarios, the level of discomfort and physical risk to the hosts, and the tension between its desire to educate and to entertain.  Mike even included a bonus rant about the media’s coverage of poaching.

Finally, we wrapped up with a discussion on the demographics of the survival TV audience and the overall appeal of this sub-genre of reality TV, rooting it in an extension of the romanticization of the ‘frontier’ in American culture – with a dash of pointless gossip about the behind-the-scenes drama of the survival TV world.

Show Notes and Links

1:30 / Introducing this week’s show

2:08 / Breaking down the high concept

3:18 / Cody Lundin – our barefoot hero

4:08 / Joe Teti – our military badass

5:13 / JS had some prior knowledge of this show

5:44 / How the hosts’ differences defied Mike’s expectations

6:42 / The main difference in the two hosts’ philosophies was risk-reward

7:40 / To what extent are the producers influencing decisions?

8:20 / 72-hour scenarios (Cody Lundin Interview)

10:06 / Mike wonders if the military aspect is essential or an appeal to a demographic for TV

11:30 / JS thinks the military is actually pretty good training for a situation like this, even if not as thorough as a survival school

13:47 / Mike often found the risks that Joe took to be questionable for a real survival situation as opposed to a TV survival situation

14:56 / The choreography of survival TV – what’s spontaneous and what’s being presented by the producers?

15:50 / Mike gives an example of clear producer intervention

18:32 / A clarification on Joe’s background (Military Times article)

19:45 / Many of these clips were re-used for the behind-the-scenes special

20:36 / Each episode is a structured loosely around a background scenario (lost hiker, stranded glider, etc.)

22:01 / The merits (or lack thereof) of drinking your own urine; psychology v. physiology

23:26 / The educational nuggets – ‘Art of Self Reliance’

23:59 / The introduction of risk v. reward – go up for water or go down for better air?

24:57 / A rare instance where Mike found Joe’s risk-tasking realistic

26:14 / JS doubted the authenticity of the poachers

26:49 / Mike’s rant about ‘white savior’ conservationist narratives

27:42 / Poachers (at least those on ground level) driven by poverty and lack of economic opportunity, not love of killing endangered species

28:30 / Mike found Joe’s comments about the poachers insincere (An article on President Dumbfuck’s ‘hard power’ budget, which was mercifully ignored by Congress)

30:14 / JS’s doubts about the genuineness of the poaching paraphernalia resulted from a steady accumulation of disbelief

32:06 / Mike thinks the camps might be legit, but probably had been abandoned for some time

32:34 / Mike thinks the show misunderstands the role of violence in organized crime (Sudhir Venkatesh’s Gang Leader For A Day)

34:06 / Discussing the role of safety in the series as a whole

34:51 / A rescue of questionable authenticity

36:22 / JS’s LOL moment

37:05 / Mike compares the hosts to Hollywood stuntmen

38:14 / The main risk is mechanical injury, but not dehydration or starvation

38:40 / Mike found the heightened stakes detracted from the spontaneity compared to less dangerous reality shows like Paris Hilton BFF

40:02 / JS liked the show, would watch it outside the confines of the podcast (Finding Bigfoot without the bullshit)

41:30 / Discussing the hosts’ disagreement over the rotting steer

43:14 / If the lesson was to do something uncomfortable to survive, why not show Joe using the hide?

44:48 / Discussing the boar hunt – in both its authentic and fabricated aspects

46:42 / Mike found the crew’s masculine hero-worship over the top; JS was impressed by the technical skill (our different backgrounds in hunting may have shaped our reactions)

48:25 / Talking about the staged nature of the rescue sections

50:15 / Segueing into the allure of survival TV

50:44 / Mike found the gendered appeal noteworthy in the overall context of reality TV

51:27 / The appeal of survival entertainment to those ‘divorced from the land’ and living comfortably

52:33 / Mike thought the show’s aesthetic would appeal to the suburban/rural over the urban

54:01 / Frederick Jackson Turner – “The Significance of the Frontier in American History

54:36 / The overall appeal of the survival genre – vicariously overcoming physical hardship and adversity; We mention several shows (Man Vs. Wild, Survivorman, Survivor, Naked and Afraid)

55:39 / Discussing the tension between the show’s educational and entertainment mission

59:30 / Cody Lundin’s criticism of survival TV (TV Guide article on Survival TV that Mike mentions)

1:00:20 / The ‘behind the scenes’ drama (Cody’s lawsuit; Joe’s dismissal; other Joe-related lawsuit)

1:02:10 / Mike found it interesting that the behind-the-scenes tension never cropped up in the final product

1:03:33 / Introducing the next show – impromptu style

1:04:36 / Signing off with the usual deal – contact us, rate and review, and subscribe