I’ve never really written anything here about Bear Grylls on my blog, which is strange as he’s a bit of an obsession of mine. Yes I’ve been a thorn in his side on Twitter and Facebook (I once said ‘every time I slag BG I lose followers, but that the average IQ of the ones I have goes up’), but when it actually comes to writing anything of depth about BG I seem to have avoided it, maybe in fear of being sued. Well this is not an attack on Bear (so your lawyers can stand down BG), but a defence.
When I slag Bear off on stage - well not slag as such, just repeat what he says, how he says it, enough to portray the comedy of it all, well that’s easy. I have a thing about almost all his books being ghost written (I’ve met a few of his ghost writers), that there is a great deal of power behind Bear’s throne that few understand (some really great writers, survival exerts and business people), proof that Ronald Reagan’s ideas where correct: “Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere.” It irks me the way he has such a small story, that gets repeated again and again: SAS, Everest, faith, family, father. I think it’s dishonest to trade on the myth of this man living on a island with his kids and his beautiful wife when his kids are at boarding school and BG is away most of the time making money (about £3 million a year just through merchandise I’m told, the BG empire worth tens of millions). I think it’s deeply immoral to play on being an SAS hero who broke his back on ‘active duty’ in Africa, when he was on a sky diving holiday as a TA, not doing a HALO jump with Seal team 6. I’ve met a ton of SAS soldiers, and you know what, most of them are fucked in one way or the other, in body or mind. It’s a nasty business they do, far far removed from 21 territorial SAS, and far from something anyone would want to trade on - the business of death. I find it depressing that Bear’s TV shows are designed to appeal to the lowest, and I mean the lowest, form of life, that he sets a standard few would ever want to stoop too, but then that’s not his fault, it’s the fault of the gatekeepers (and soon those gates will fall I imagine, just as they did in publishing). Basically Bear is a very hard working but actually pretty dull, and not too clever, or talented, one who’s done very little with his life in terms of adventure (if he had a true adventure’s heart, not that of a city trader, he’d have done more trips). But on the upside he had an excellent start (MP father, Eton eduction), a children’s TV presenter promoted beyond his talent by the lazy, who had the foresight to see his own shortcoming but weigh his value and build a great team around himself. I have no doubt that he is nice man, has a loverly wife (I’ll ignore her book on how to have the perfect marriage), beautiful kids, and I wish him all the luck in the world, only that he’s not my cup of tea, and if we could swap places - well I’ll keep mine.
But like I said: this is not an attack on Bear, but a defence.
Yes it may surprise some to know I’d defend BG and often do. I think his Island program is spot on, and I think it’s sad he can’t create more good quality programs like this, rather than celebs drinking piss and undertaking mock hazardous journeys (as hazardous as navigating Centre Parks). The Island is great TV, really seeing how people perform under real pressure (thirst, hunger, each other’s bullshit). It’s a credit to Bear and his team, the program only let down with BG appearing as a expert, which he isn’t, having never had to survive anything other than boarding school).
What I want to defend Bear over is Grayson Perry’s charge in the Guardian that BG ‘celebrates a masculinity that is useless’ (which of course is simply a charge designed to gain such column space for Perry’s own TV program, which is a kind of school yard attack in itself). In defence of BG I’d say boys (and girls) throughout the western word (and elsewhere) are being profoundly damaged by Perry’s attitude, in both the long and short term, a denial of the beastly nature in all of us, one we need to explore and nurture both as kids, as teenagers, and then tap as adults for our mental and physical health. Perry - and artist I greatly respect - is the like a soft male primarily school teacher here, who thinks boys should play with dolls, not sticks and stones, who finds what lies in a boy or mans very DNA distasteful, outdated, intellect better than all that. But most people are not like Perry, especially not most children. What he takes as grubby aggressive behaviour, low brow, is the ruff and tumble that is hard wired into our DNA, that resurfaces the second you chuck a bunch of kids (or Perry) into a wood with only a box of matches and dead rabbit. Self harm, drugs, alcohol, the carrying of knifes, bullying, underage sex, the self sexual exploitation of boys and girls through social media, these are primarily the result of the repression of what Perry would see as low brow animalistic masculine behaviour. For hundreds of thousands of years knowing ones place, to be brave, to be ‘a man my son’, to know how to fight and defend yourself or what you believe in, these have been fundamental to society. Take this away and all you have are emasculated drones and cattle, herded here and there, no will to resist or cause trouble. Yes to know ones mind, to have skill to argue your point, to know human nature, to have wit and charm, not just a fist, these things are vital, but all are built on the animal framework each of us has, that masculinity and femininity, you can’t just discount it in a few generations as view such things as outdated or abhorrent. Would Perry sanction the disarming and pacifying of the Masai, the Argentinian Gaucho, the Inuit, or other overtly masculine societies, demand they give up all that old fashioned and aggressive pandering to an outdated “pressure on men to adopt overtly masculine traits”.
I doubt Bear will defend what he does, he’s too nice for that, but if Bear’s all we’re going to get then it’s good enough if it means young people get some idea of ‘risky play,’ or fire, of dens, of dangerous stuff only ‘injurylawyers4u’ would like you to do. Yes, going to the Take Modern is cool, so is going to the Theatre or the Yorkshire Sculpture park, but not as important as fighting, surviving, getting cold, getting lost, getting beat down, and getting back up. To deny the animal in each of us is to invite far worse than a black eye, a scraped knee or a worried parent standing at their gate waiting. Let them run wild, in the wild, not in the narrow confines of their bedrooms, let the kids run wild Perry and leave Bear alone, the beast in all humans should always be celebrated and far from useless is what makes us more than simply sheep or machines.