Romantic portrayal of the


Last night, an advertisement came on the TV for some new logging show. This is, by my count, the third logging show in the last few years (preceded by Ax Men and Heli-Loggers), but there may be more. There are also, of course, the fishing shows (Deadliest Catch, Off the Hook, The Catch). Mark loves these shows. So, apparently, do a lot of people.

So what's the appeal? Well, at first blush, I'd say it's a danger thing--the shows purport to show the real world of dangerous occupations. But then I think about other programs, like Mike Rowe's long-standing and quite popular Dirty Jobs, which isn't about dangerous jobs, just about "dirty" ones.

It seems to be an idolization and romanticizing of physical labor. I imagine the audience, relaxing on their couches after they come home from their desk jobs, watching actual physical work on their screens, and feeling on one hand lucky not to have to do it themselves, and on the other hand jealous to not be part of the comradeship and the culture portrayed. Feeling, maybe, like something has been lost. Whether this rose-colored nostalgia is a good thing or not is really questionable, but that's not the issue I'm after here.

Me being me, I also have to notice that all of these romantic brute laborers are men. I've yet to see a reality show about women's work, be it blue collar or pink. Nobody comes home from the office and feels nostalgic while watching waitresses do their day-to-day thing, or catches up with their favorite personalities among the women on the assembly line. It's a long-standing complaint that women are rarely shown working in fictional shows, but the same is true in this new spate of reality programming. If anything, it's worse.

We really have no cultural idolization of the working woman. When we get all gooey and nostalgic about the working man, in the back of our minds isn't his wife at home, minding the hearth and the kids? Why, if we're using this financial crisis and the associated flagellation as an excuse to idolize previous hard-working generations and the few people in our own generation who still work like that, are women exempt?

I grew up in a culture in which hard physical work was valued for both genders. My stepfather is a timber faller, so he falls right into the current work-worshipping, but my mother works just as hard. I remember a summer she spent spending 1/2 days waiting tables and 1/2 days doing summer cleaning at the school--that was absolutely hard physical labor, for which she was paid remarkably little. My grandmother, until she was in her 60s, worked at a tree farm, planting and cultivating trees, every day. And the women I knew worked just as hard in their homes as outside them, not just keeping house and raising kids, but tending huge gardens, tending livestock. Taking care of their families in a way that is just as nostalgic to most now as the occupations portrayed on those shows.

My grandmother used to say that a man works 'til the day is done, but a woman's work is never done. Why, then, can't someone highlight the labor of women? Would anyone watch that show?


My Mark loves those shows too (even the logging ones). He actually does hard, dangerous physical labor himself, 6 days a week.

I think it's the element of danger and action that really appeals in these shows.

Because women as a whole tend to be smaller and not as physically strong as men as a whole, I don't think that people find the physical labor that women do to be all that unbelievable. Too many people could watch the show and say, "Hell, I could do that" (whether or not it's true--and it often isn't). There's not as much interest in the fact that some 5'3" woman is doing something that's totally amazing for her size, when so many 6'0" men could do the same thing with less effort. I just think that having "ordinary" abilities (if not supplemented with humor or some other reason to watch) isn't as compelling for people.

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April 2012

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