I am a documentary junkie, I admit it. Not too terribly long ago there were fairly reliable sources for such programs on networks like The History Channel, the Discovery Channel, and A&E. Now these networks are filled with shows like Ice Road Truckers, Axmen, and Dirty Jobs. If I were trapped to a desert island and had a chose between an overly-credulous UFO show and a show about high school dropouts working shit jobs, I’ll pick the UFO show.
I am a snob, I admit. It is not that I do not appreciate the essential work such people do in our modern economy; I completely agree with the sentiment of the opening lines on Dirty Jobs, where the host/narrator speaks of the jobs “that make civilized life possible for the rest of us.” To my mind though, these shows place these people on a pedestal and carry the not-so-subtle message that “you don’t need to be smart, you don’t need to study or do well in school; as long as you are willing to sweat like a pig and grunt like a “real man” (even if you are female) you will do fine and people will respect and admire you.”
Wrong, wrong, and wrong! Having done my share, I know there is nothing to be ashamed of in honest labor. However, documentaries ought to elevate our awareness of the world around us and our aspirations within it. Above all else, my respect for people is determined by the quality of what goes on in the space between their ears and that is what documentaries ought to foster.