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Why we can survive without survival skills

Why we can survive without survival skills

Why we can survive without survival skills

Bear Grylls has derided modern men as wimps. Not true, cries David Whitehouse

History has proven that if you get a group of men together for long enough something will inevitably go wrong. Take the Last Supper, for example. Everything was fine to begin with… just a bunch of guys, hanging out, eating bread. Then someone went and murdered Christ.

Channel 4’s The Island With Bear Grylls proves that little has changed except, we’re told, that things have already gone wrong before anyone has so much as shaken hands. The basic concept is simple. Thirteen men are marooned on a remote Pacific island for a month and tasked with nothing more than surviving. They must build shelter, keep warm and find stuff to eat. That, or die. There is even a Christ-like figure, in the shape of host Bear, who isn’t on the island but is kind of floating above it, on hand to provide a running commentary about how crap at everything everyone else is. It remains to be seen if he’ll be nailed to a cross at the conclusion, though knowing Bear he’ll be able to fashion it into some sort of hut to live in.

What’s bugging Bear (his bugbear, perhaps) is his theory that masculinity is in crisis. He argues that the skills traditionally passed down from father to son – how to make and do things – are being abandoned in the digital age.

“Nowadays we’ve swapped the bow and arrow for the iPhone,” he says. Our school playgrounds are probably safer for it, but Bear is worried that we’re losing a fundamental tenet of manliness: practicality. And it’s true. We’re far more likely to watch a YouTube tutorial on how to build a bird table than we are to learn the basic level of woodwork proficiency that would allow us to, in theory, build anything. This much was clear from episode one, when the 13 islanders struggled to make a fire for a couple of days. There couldn’t have been less primal machismo on display had one of them revealed he’d smuggled in a full set of Sylvanian Families.

Men Are Dogs

While no one doubts that the nature of masculinity is changing, question marks remain over whether or not it constitutes a crisis. Are we a gender riddled with existential angst over our apparent inability to ram a spear through a fish or knock together a raft from gathered driftwood? Or is our collective soul actually at ease with the notion that we can now get a pizza delivered without having to speak to anyone, and check the precise arrival time of a bus, as if not knowing exactly how many minutes one might take to come will prove too great a strain on our heart?

Does it matter that the 13 men on The Island can’t forage the requisite nutrients to stop their urine from turning to pancake syrup? One of the better things about the digital age is that we’re far less likely to end up stranded on an island unless we’ve purposely signed up to have Bear drop us there in his ship of televised uselessness.

Maybe these notions of masculinity are, in fact, archaic, and we shouldn’t see their loss as a generational abandonment but as a kind of enforced evolutionary shedding of unnecessary skills, sped up by technological advancement. All animals experience this regression as a result of domestication. Dogs, for instance, now lack the knack for mimicking other dogs they had when they were closer in species to wolves because of their pack mentality. Domestication has removed the need, and that’s exactly what we are, domesticated versions of our fathers, grandfathers and the men that went before. They went to war and fired rockets from the trenches. We fire Angry Birds at pig houses we couldn’t successfully build even if, as a punishment for failing, we then had to have sex with the pig.

Men Aren’t Bear

Yes, we’re not very good at the things it was taken for granted our ancestors would be able to do. We need firelighters, we hire plumbers, we buy new kettles rather than rewiring plugs, and we sure as hell wouldn’t survive very long if we were castaways in the Pacific. But are we losing sleep over it? According to our Sleep Cycle app, no.

What’s more of a crisis is that we’ve worked ourselves into a hand-wringing frenzy over whether masculinity is in crisis or not. It’s a crisis so bad that it has resulted in Bear Grylls ferrying a group of blokes, who must have better things to do, to an island where they will grow beards, lose weight and inevitably have to drink their own p*ss. The Last Supper indeed.

(Image: Channel 4)