Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Man Vs Wild: Bear Grylls gets a video game. Oh dear.

There is something profoundly irritating about Bear* "Man vs Wild" Grylls. I think it's the fact that he talks about taking on nature and winning, rather than respecting the natural world and having the common sense to leave it well enough alone when it's shooting poisonous barbs. Here he is drinking the blood of a turtle.

Having enjoyed documentaries by Ray Mears about how real bushmen survive in the wild, I remember years ago thinking that Grylls' television programmes might also be enlightening. So I was disappointed to discover that unlike fellow survivalist Mears or cultural explorer Bruce Parry, it never occurs to Grylls to follow the example of ancient cultures who have perfected the art of living with the land over centuries.

Instead, Grylls' approach to documentary filming is to put himself in ridiculous situations that no person would ever find themselves in accidentally, and then proceed to macho his way out of them. The artificiality of the various scenarios is underlined by the fact that he almost always has to parachute into them. Now I'm sorry, but anyone stupid enough to parachute into the Siberian mountains by themselves is doing the gene pool a favour and should be left to their own devices.

Rather than presenting Man Vs. Wild as light entertainment about a lunatic who bites the heads off fish (of which more later), Grylls insists that he's showing you "the techniques YOU will need to survive in the wild", as if the show was some sort of bloodthirsty survivalist equivalent to Delia Smith's How to Cook.

If the title of his show was Stupid Man Provokes Wild Animals For Shits and Giggles, I probably would have enjoyed it a little more, but his bizarre attempts to add an air of authenticity to his blood-soaked pantomime leave a nasty taste in my mouth. Man vs. Wild is basically just Jackass with an enormous budget, if Jackass replaced its "do not try this at home" disclaimers with a voice-over explaining that THESE are the skills that YOU will need to know if YOU ever find yourself in a shopping cart tied to the back of a TRUCK.

Grylls' activities tend to revolve around either killing wild animals in the most gruesome ways possible or doing silly stunts for the cameras. The unpleasant thing about him is that he treats the two in exactly the same way.

I think that if you choose to eat meat you should respect animals, and that includes having an understanding of how they live and die. Whilst Grylls certainly has a good understanding of the latter, the former never clouds his horizon because it doesn't influence how manly he appears on camera.

Manliness in Man vs. Wild is determined by the level of discomfort one is able to endure in the pursuit of "survival", which is why Grylls treats eating the various body parts of animals like some kind of feat.

That is Grylls munching on the eye of a yak. He is pulling that face because he wants us to know that the eyeball doesn't taste very nice, and that he is exhibiting a large amount of manly fortitude by consuming it. Needless to say, we never hear anything about the fortitude exhibited by the yak who donated it.

There's another part where he bites the head off a fish. Said fish is about the size of a mackerel and yet he roars when his teeth crack the spine.

The coup de grĂ¢ce of this wretched episode is when he has to cross a frozen river. In order to do this he apparently has to remove all his clothes. Rather than just jumping in and getting the whole messy business over with, he spends about a minute with his nuts pixillated talking to the poor cameraman about how cold he is (Bear, you are cold because you are naked). After swimming across the river, he then does some star jumps (sadly his bottom is not pixillated) and tells us how cold his "family jewels" are.

There's a video of this on YouTube, but don't say I didn't warn you.

Grylls irritates me because he adopts an adversarial attitude to nature, as if the Siberian mountains are somehow challenging him to a fight, or if yaks just wander around outside bars, drinking lager and taunting him, saying things like "go on, bet you can't eat my eye, you big ponce".

He refers to natural landscapes as "godforsaken" or "hellish", when really they are just places that are not habitable by humans. There is never any element of respect for the landscape, nor awe at its unconquerable majesty. And he must know it is unconquerable because once he's finished filming a scene, he trundles off to a five-star hotel for blueberry pancakes.

What's especially confusing is the fact that Grylls genuinely has survivalist credentials. He has climbed Everest and used to be in the SAS, and it may well have been entertaining to watch this slightly batty man climb waterfalls and jump into rivers if he wasn't trying to maintain a facade that in doing so he was performing some kind of public service.

Anyway, what is this doing on Well-Rendered?

Well the title of the post rather gives it away, but in case you have a really short memory, here is Bear Grylls at E3 telling us about the upcoming video game, Man Vs. Wild.

[video removed. I like to think Bear did it because he read this and felt silly.]

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Grylls thinks nothing of rocking up to the biggest video games industry trade show in the world and saying that Man vs. Wild "is the only computer game I'll let any of my kids play!"

Oh, Bear.

I assume he doesn't want his children "to have lots of violent games and stuff" because video games are a bad influence. This is definitely a fair point. I wouldn't want my kids playing a violent video game about a snake-bothering maniac either.

Like many a celebrity who stands to make a quick buck out of video games despite having unfounded contempt for them, Bear Grylls is convinced that his franchise will somehow gentrify the medium. "This game is empowering," he says. "It's giving people skills that they could use that one day could save their lives." I would have thought that a good life skill would be "do not attack crocodiles", but then I know nothing about the craft of survival.

From the trailer, I can only gather that the "skills" he is referring to consist mainly of "collecting shiny blue orbs". Rememember that. The next time you're stuck out in the jungle, just look for the shiny orbs. If you can't see them at first, there should be some enormous plastic arrows pointing towards them.

Whilst I think Bear Grylls is an arrogant fool who would do well to get a sense of humour (E3 "is like being back in the military", apparently), his approach to video game marketing tickles me.

I think that from now on, all video games should attempt to convince the public that they are providing some kind of public service, teaching us the vital skills that we will need to survive when the nuclear/alien/religious/technological/zombie apocolypse arrives.

This makes me feel really good about all the time I have spent playing Gears of War. No, I wasn't just kicking back with a beer. I was in training for the day Earth is overrun by a hoarde of Locust. It was a serious business and I didn't enjoy it one bit. Just be grateful that there are altrustic and self-sacrificing people like me in the world, willing to give up their Saturdays to prepare for the worst.

You're welcome.

*His real name is "Edward", by the way. Incidentally, he has children named "Marmaduke" and "Huckleberry".


  1. I haven't watched any of his shows in quite a while but his survival tips seem to be very over the top. In Oz we used to have the Bush Tucker Man who was quite similar to what I think Ray Mears is like, luckily I don't think there are any Bear Grylls copycats there yet.

    I too am well prepared if several allied races of aliens with religious overtones (a "covenant" if you will) ever decides to invade although sadly scientists have yet to develop the armor which I am supposed to wear. Similarly problems for Gears "players" one would imagine.

    Speaking of Gears I was in CyberCandy in Covent Garden on the weekend and saw these.


    How could you go wrong?

  2. My friend told me about Bush Tucker Man actually, he sounds like Ray Mears.

    Those candys are AMAZING. I don't really like sweets, but those are too cool. I always get irrationally excited when I see video games referenced outside the internet. Even though 90% of the time the thing in question is probably rubbish.
    I bought this, for example...

  3. I often used to just glance at headlines about Master Chef and think it was Master Chief instead. Constant letdown...

  4. Me too!

    Incidentally, Master Chef is pretty much the Man Vs. Wild of the cooking world...