[23 May 2008]
Contra Costa Times (MCT)
If you’re the kind of guy who whimpers like a little baby whenever you get a sliver wedged in your finger, don’t bother watching “Ax Men.”
The History Channel series follows the exploits of hardy dudes in the Pacific Northwest who make their living around lumber. Lots of it. Yes, they take down trees, and we’re not talking the scrawny little Charlie Brown Christmas firs you see in parking lots during the holidays.
|WHERE TO GET YOUR MACHO ON We’re pretty sure that simply watching several hours of tough-guy TV will add an inch of muscle to your biceps and put hair on your chest. But if you’re stuck between episodes and need an emergency macho fix, here are a few places to feel like a man: The landfill: Tossing around large pieces of junk in a smelly environment is always helpful. Just don’t throw like a girl. Batting cages: The one place you’re allowed to take a big wooden club in hand and whack something. Your cavemen ancestors would be so proud. A shooting range: Before every shot, utter a Clint Eastwood line like, “Do yah feel lucky, punk?” or “Go ahead, make my day!” A tattoo parlor: Automatically deduct five virility points if you faint at the sight of the needle. A steak house: The slab of meat should be at least as thick as your fist and hang off the plate. Wash it down with beer and call an ambulance. The local hardware store: Power tools - Mmmmm.|
We mean gargantuan towers of timber that, if felled the wrong way, might cause some pain.
“It’s the kind of job that can get you killed at,” says one manly lumberjack.
“You try not to think about it too much because it can ruin your day,” adds another.
“Ax Men” (10 p.m. Sundays, History Channel) is one of the latest entries among a growing genre we’ll call tough-guy TV. Powered by copious amounts of testosterone, these shows tend to feature ultra-risky jobs performed by macho-macho men who snarl, spit and swear a lot. I’m betting they’ve never seen an episode of “Dancing with the Stars.”
Other examples include “Deadliest Catch” (9 p.m. Tuesdays, Discovery Channel), which follows fearless crab-catchers on the treacherous Bering Sea, and “Ice Road Truckers” (returns June 8, History) about drivers who haul vital supplies to diamond mines over frozen lakes that double as roads. Then there’s “Tougher in Alaska” (10 p.m. Thursdays, History), which introduces viewers to various rugged jobs done in the Last Frontier. Wimps need not apply.
If that’s not manly enough for you, CBS will begin airing raucous mixed martial arts bouts May 31. And then there’s always the new version of “American Gladiators” (8 p.m. Mondays, NBC), where even the women can crush your skull like a grape.
It’s easy to see why programmers have become so enamored with these kinds of shows. They appeal to young males, who comprise one of the most coveted, but difficult to reach audiences. “Catch,” now in its fourth season, is the highest-rated series on Discovery. Meanwhile, “Truckers” and “Ax Men” are the high-rated series in the history of History Channel.
Immerse yourself in the genre for a few days, as I recently did, and you might find yourself wanting to don a hard hat, flak jacket and, um, an athletic cup. The shows are brutal danger zones and our typical escorts are deep-voiced narrators who never let you forget about the horrific perils involved - the four-story waves encountered by the fishermen, for example, or the tenuous ice that can give way at any moment under the weight of the trucks.
So what kind of guys do this work? Gritty guys who enjoy running heavy machinery and smashing stuff. Guys who don’t reach for a wet wipe even if their face is caked with five layers of mud. Guys who, when the temperature reaches 56-below, engage in wildly witty banter such as: “That’s enough to keep your beer cold.”
They’re also guys who don’t call in sick with a little tummy ache. To borrow an old sports axiom, they “play in pain.” For example, when one of the sea-faring blokes on “Deadliest Catch” mangled his thumb on some equipment, he simply wrapped it in electrical tape and carried on. Real men, it seems, don’t do gauze.
Speaking of pain, let me tell you about Jay Browning, an old-toad of a guy on “Ax Men” who lost a hand in a logging accident and was too proud to accept a worker’s comp check. In explaining how his tendons and ligaments were - ew, ick - severed in the mishap, he says, “It looked like spaghetti hanging out.”
Think about that the next time you’re watching “Project Runway” and the fussy contestants are whining about how they’re under ultra-intense pressure to get the stitching on a chiffon gown just so.
And now a word of warning to you guys out there: Before sitting down to watch these shows, you should be very, very secure in your manhood. If not, you just might start to hear your inner wimp - a k a my little Tim Gunn - squealing in agony.
And then there’s the guilt factor: It doesn’t seem quite fair, after all, that, while these guys are braving the elements and risking their lives, you’re just moored to the couch, wrapped in a fleece blanket and sipping a latte. The least you can do is perform a couple of pushups and maybe sprout some facial hair.
On the other hand, what do I have to feel guilty about? As a thrill-seeking, death-defying TV critic, I’ve encountered numerous hazards over the years, from a sprained remote-control finger to a really bad case of upholstery rash incurred while watching a “Desperate Housewives” marathon.
Tougher in Alaska? Yeah, right.