I have more to say on this subject, but the content is too vast for any comment. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please refer to my previous post.
Some people might want Man Vs. Wild to stay on the air because Bear offers great survival advice. Others might think he is entertaining. The other side argues that his advice is not fit to take seriously and is dangerous for the viewer to hear because Bear takes risks that a smart survivalist wouldn’t take (like being alone or free climbing up a waterfall). Others argue that he misleads the public because he gets help contrary to the premise of the show.
Nobody can deny that there are points on all sides. However, many of these opposing arguments are really focused against the way the show was marketed and would fall apart if there were a disclaimer at the beginning of the show as I wrote previously.
But today, I would like to advance a new argument summarized in the following statement: Man Vs. Wild should stay on the air because Bear makes normal people want to be hardcore and rough-it. This is not a bad thing, especially when considering how soft many people have become. For instance, I know a soldier who wouldn’t low crawl though some bushes because he was afraid of insects and wildlife touching him. Too many people never leave their comfort zones. Would it be a bad thing if they tested their limits once in a while?
Granted, testing your limits doesn’t have to mean getting lost for three days on purpose. While that is what Bear does, he also shows some of the things that man can do when he must. Man can swim a frozen river, eat a zebra carcass, scale mountains, live in the snow, drink pee, and generally survive on his own out in the wild.
There have been others that tried to inspire independence by roughing it on their own. One man, Henry David Thoreau, lived on his own for over two years at a cabin near Walden Pond. He secured all of his own means for survival. He was a model of self sufficiency; there was no other person that he depended on to survive–no grocers, bakers, farmers, builders, or bankers. If he needed food he grew it or caught it. If he needed better housing, he built it. He tried to show that a simple life was better for man, that you don’t need wealth, land, possessions, or even society to survive. He said that he did it to “live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” He wanted to see what it really took to survive and to push his limits. His book, Walden, was so liberating that people “dated new eras in their lives” beginning after they read it (Norton Anthology). Not only did Thoreau live self-sufficiently, freely, and roughly, but he inspired others to try those principles in their own lives in their own way.
While Bear Grylls isn’t on the same threshold as Thoreau, he instills the same independent spirit and strong will. He engages nature in the most minimal fashion: with a water bottle, a knife, and a flint. He illustrates the essentials of survival, and what a man can do. There is no greater picture of independence than a man needing nothing but himself, which Bear portrays.
But Bear is criticized for being misleading and not completely independent in the show. At this point it is useful to point out that the Thoreau/Grylls parallel goes even further. Even though Thoreau had the ability, he did not live entirely self sufficiently all the time. He routinely ate dinner with Emerson while at Walden Pond even though he was “a mile from any neighbor,” as well as other facts he left out of his Walden account. Even though the book appears to be an autobiography, it is not considered to be one.
If this didn’t discredit Thoreau, why should Bear be dismissed as a fake or a mere entertainer? Again, I would like to point out that the man actually does the eating, drinking, hiking, climbing, jumping, falling, and surviving in his show. He has shown that he has the ability to survive in these situations, which is really what should be required of a how-to show’s host. With that ability coupled with the daring he shows, he can still inspire “the mass of men [who] lead lives of quiet desperation” to stretch their limits (Walden).