Pete and I are big fans of the Discovery Channel show, "The Deadliest Catch" (please imagine that said with Mike Rowe's inflection). Crab fishing is a hard hard job and for the most part those guys are incredibly kind and funny, and philosophical about the lives they've chosen. The producers of the show work hard to make it clear that these men are not chumps, that they are tougher than tough and well seasoned, and that not just anyone could do their jobs. You root for the underdogs who are having a bad year, but you also root for the guy in the lead because it all comes down to being in the right place at the right time. The Discovery Channel (in my opinion) works hard to make it clear that these are all professionals. And in the two and a half seasons the show's been on, each crew has had good seasons and bad.
When I saw commercials for the History Channel's shows "Axe Men" and "Ice Road Truckers," I didn't realize they weren't Discovery Channel shows. One follows Oregon loggers and the other Canadian truckers up near the arctic circle. The commercials make it seem like they're also examples of programs that document "crazy dangerous jobs and the men who love them." While flipping channels today, I noticed that "Ice Road Truckers" was on and I thought, "Why not?" The intro said that the truckers were racing ahead of an arctic storm to deliver "much needed supplies." Then it showed what appeared to be a bunch of little houses in a tiny town all buried up to their roofs in wind-harried snow. "Wow," I thought, "Those guys are so brave to take that stuff to those villagers."
I watched the first five minutes or so with no distractions, but then started to knit and kind of tune out, so I was surprised to hear the phrase, "Without these supplies, the diamond mine cannot operate." Whaaaa? That's right - the much needed supplies are going to a Canadian diamond mine. These guys are driving 60,000 tons of truck and oil over less than 4 feet of ice to help DeBeers rape the earth. Way to be, History Channel.
And then Axe Men came on. I thought it would be about how hard it is to be a logger, maybe something about the changing industry. And maybe it generally is, but in the episode I just watched, it seemed to actually be about which crew of foul-mouthed hard asses could rape the earth (specifically the part called "Oregon") more quickly.
The thing that galls me the most is that they have totally stolen (WHOLESALE!) the Discovery Channel's format. They have the same voice over, the same switching from crew to crew with a map and their relative distances, and the same "so far this season" tallies of dollars earned or loads of trees hauled (or pounds of crab). If I were the Discovery Channel, I would be suing their asses hardcore right now. And yes, I think it's totally weird that I'm most bothered by their format theft, but there it is.
The thing about the Discovery Channel is that they show the crabbers being responsible - they measure each crab; they throw back the ones that are too small or female; and they explain their reasons for doing so in almost every episode. They talk about quotas and how the crabbers are fined if they go over their quota. They take the time to make it clear how carefully their crab fishermen are keeping track of the pounds of crab in their hold (who knows how the rest of the fleet behaves). This is an implicit commentary on the impact the crab fishing fleet has on the crab population. The History Channel, on the other hand, provides no commentary whatsoever on the impact driving semi-trucks carrying fuel over ice to diamond mines where it will be mixed with nitrate to blow up the earth (like mountain top coal mining). Seriously! What do the truckers think of that? What is the possible environmental damage? Is De Beers a responsible company? History Channel, you're dropping the ball. Maybe stick to things you know, like Hitler and the DaVinci code, and maybe the seasonal Nostradamus, Dracula and Jack the Ripper.
(Also, Mike Rowe - the voice-over guy for "The Deadliest Catch" and the star of "Dirty Jobs" - is frickin' awesome. I totally love that guy.)