Monday, February 20, 2012

The World’s Most Dangerous - and Stupid - Truckers, and how television portrays working class Americans

Posted By on Mon, Feb 20, 2012 at 11:17 AM

The Tsunami of stupid reality shows continues to wash over us, leaving us all in its wake, but in this case, many of the “victims” persist in burbling out, “More . . . must have more.”

Well, for those who want to believe that that “reality” TV is just a much more realistic version of their own boring lives will have another thrilling adventure to add to their Must See TV list - World's Toughest Trucker - which airs on, of course, science buffs - the Discovery Channel.

I guess that’s because Planet Green’s schedule was already full, what with shows about B-B-Que pit masters, ghost shows and UFOs.

No, I’m not going to tell you when it is on; I’m not the pimp for reality TV. Find it yourself, and be marvelized, as Stan Lee might say.

Looking at the preview, I was not, however. The show seems yet another excuse to show working class people acting like ill-tempered buffoons, doing stupid pet tricks for an audience which doesn’t care that some of these morons might end up dead.

Reality television ratchets up the tension by making the participants rail at each other on screen, so that our emotions are caught up (No! They aren’t coached beforehand!) and we root for our favorite bachelor, unwed mother, gold digger who ruins the environment or family too dumb to use birth control.

One of the participants of World’s Toughest Trucker/World’s Stupidest Trucker said this about the program:

“I think it’s going to be a very bad addiction. Because I think that once they watch it, they’re not going to be able to stop watching.”

He might be right - I still watch the GOP presidential debates, after all.

On a saner note, Phil Madsen, a trucker/blogger had this to say on his blog:

“It saddens me to see one so-called reality show after another making people look stupid who are doing trucking, fishing, logging and other blue collar work. American working people deserve more respect than they are being given in these shows.”

And he is right.

And not just right, but Damn Right. If you point this out to many people, they may just scoff and say, “It is just a TV show,” and wonder why you even fill your pretty little head worrying about things like that. I mean, after all, there is a family schism on this motorcycle show we should all be worried about!

Well, if you aren’t working class, these TV shows give one the only idea they have of the working class world. A world of buffoons. Cartoon characters.

If they see you on the street and think of the idiots they see on TV, well, no wonder you wonder you don’t get any respect in the political world.

Yeah, it’s all connected, dude.

It’s always possible, of course, that people will develop a “bad addiction” to this show. After all, we have a genre that offers us series about moonshiners, Bigfoot hunters or multiple series about unpleasant people who buy old things at a bargain and resell them for huge prices.

Ah, well.

Now, just to prove that I’m not a total snob about television . . .


Bang! Bang! Boom! Boom!

I recall the night in early 1984, just after the CBS premiere of Airwolf, a friend called me excitedly and asked, “Did you watch it?” I told him I had, and, being the geeks that we were, we spoke in rapturous tones about the new show.

What a difference a couple of decades makes. There are shows - like The Twilight Zone - that can still entertain many years after they were produced. Others are barely remembered, no matter how big a splash they made at the time.

Airwolf ran from 1984 through 1987, and featured the adventures of a Mach One military helicopter. Every week the crew would take on assignments for a mysterious agency known only as “The Firm.” The series was firmly grounded in a Cold War world.

The motion picture Blue Thunder had been released some time before, and plans were made at ABC to produce a program based on the movie. When asked if they were worried about the CBS venture, the Blue Thunder producers dismissed the very notion, explaining that in the public’s mind, Blue Thunder was the symbol of attack helicopters.

Sad to say, the Television version of Blue Thunder, starring James Farentino, was pretty boring, and only lasted a handful of episodes. Though the writing quality on Airwolf declined as the series went on, it still lasted three years on CBS, and then on to a fourth season on the USA Network.

The program was created by Donald Bellisario (NCIS, Magnum PI ) and featured Jan-Michael Vincent as Stringfellow Hawke, a Vietnam war veteran who had become a recluse since his older brother had become an MIA in that same conflict.

The pilot episode deals with the creator of Airwolf stealing the attack helicopter and going to work for the Libyan government. Who else to send in after it but this anti-social recluse and his buddy, Ernest Borgnine. While the mission to retrieve Airwolf is a success, sending Hawke after it may not have been the smartest move the government ever made.

Not giving it back, he declares. Not until you guys help find my brother. I’ll just hide it in the desert, and I’ll even work for you - when I’m not feeling too surly - as long as you help me find my brother.

That’s actually kind of the problem with the series. In a world in which we were not at war - at least not openly - how are you going to come up with new and different ways to use the helicopter? The obvious strain shows in the first few episodes of that 11 episode season, in which the plots are mostly pedestrian.

Crooks who want to rob a train, internecine rivalries at “The Firm.” Ho-hum.

It’s not until the last few episodes of that season that the show comes alive, with stories about ex-Nazis (always good for a storyline), African civil wars, and mind control.

But even these last episodes can’t hide the essential weaknesses of the series. Most of the aerial combat footage used in various episodes was from the pilot movie, and no matter how stirring the music, even the most fanatical Airwolf fan had to admit to himself that the same planes and helicopters were getting blown up on a regular basis.

And, sad to say, Jan-Michael Vincent couldn’t act his way out of a paper sack. He was regularly acted right off the screen by Ernest Borgnine and Alex Cord. Cord played a character from The Firm, whose code-name was “Archangel.” Archangel had a fetish for all-white suits, and his female assistants also dressed completely in white.

Several years after the show was canceled, the USA Network picked up the series, choosing to cast Barry Van Dyke as Hawke’s newly rescued brother from a prison camp in Vietnam. The production was moved to Canada.

In fact none of the original cast was in the new series. Vincent’s drug abuse problem was so bad at this point (he had reportedly slapped a female reporter), that he was declared persona non grata by the Canadian government, and his few scenes in the first episode of the new series were shot in the U.S. According to some reports, both Borgnine and Cord refused to be in the episode if Vincent were involved.

Science fiction fans might take note that even though the USA version was done on the cheap, many science fiction elements were introduced into the stories. Dick Van Dyke as a killer android? Yes, indeed.

So rent Airwolf, or check it out of the library. It really isn’t worth spending money for a DVD set with only a few watchable episodes. Take it from someone who actually spent money on this.

Trivia note: the helicopter used for the series crashed into a mountain in Switzerland in the early 1990s, when it was owned by an air ambulance service. All on board were killed.


Quote of the Day

"A time will come when a politician who has willfully made war and promoted international dissension will be as sure of the dock and much surer of the noose than a private homicide. It is not reasonable that those who gamble with men's lives should not stake their own" - H.G. Wells

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