Last week the internet exploded as Grayson Perry criticised Bear Grylls for ‘celebrate[ing] a masculinity that is useless’.
Bear for all of the criticism he receives from ‘real’ adventurers (the type that conquer first ascents) provides a service that is desperately needed. For many people watching shows such as The Island will be the closest they come to having to survive in the wilderness. Many of us are happy with playing football or spending the day shopping, but for others we feel a deeper yearning that keeps us awake at night, we crave something more; an inadvertent need to fulfil our ecological purpose.
“He celebrates a masculinity that is useless,” Perry said. “Try going into an estate agent in Finsbury Park and come out with an affordable flat. I want to see Bear Grylls looking for a decent state school for his child!”
Perry calls this biological urge ‘an exceptionally rugged version of masculinity it isn’t fit for the 21st century’. I wouldn’t call it masculinity that is being celebrating on the show, although there certainly is a lot of male rivalry, but an insight into our very human desire for excitement and survival. Attend a dinner party of 15 guests and you’re bound to find outdoor enthusiasts among them: rock climbers, kayaker, surfers, a teen just returned from her gap year. These people have sought to add adventure to their lives and attached a sliding scale of risk from free solo-ers to indoor bouldering. Our genes have kept us hominids alive for 6 million years, and although environmental factors influence our day to day decisions it seems futile to deny our very existence. We are creatures that evolved in an environment that requires constant vigilances and I don’t believe much has changed.
Are these not the real world skills we hope to teach our children when we send them to Cub Scouts and summer school?
When Perry focuses on the masculinity in the show he does a huge disservice to Hannah Campbell and the rest of the females who auditioned for much the same reason as the other 135,000 hopefuls. It overlooks the innate desire we all have, male or female to overcome our ecological boredom. Why else would we willingly leave our comfy homes and subject ourselves to such hardship? Maybe it is because for once we are in control, nobody else is governing us and we, for a moment in time, are at the mercy of the elements with our actions having a direct, immediate influence on our survival.
You’re wrong Perry; we all desperately need that little bit of rugged wild life.
Survival and outdoor skills are far from useless in the modern world, they’re fundamentals. From relieving boredom to team building and confidence boosting, the natural world allows us to work through our issues and traumas, it shapes us and rebuilds us.
As an aside, isn’t there something darkly amusing about an Artist who earlier in the year had a Dream House built to his own artistic specifications telling a fellow rich boy that he’ll never survive on the mean streets of Finsbury Park?