“Bear Grylls celebrates a masculinity that is useless.” – Grayson Perry

I’m not sure this article by Grayson Perry about the usefulness of survival skills on twenty first century housing estates, doesn’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

Mr. Grylls’ antics in the wilderness, remind me of Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan back in the day. Of course Tesco makes it unnecessary to eat scorpions, but doesn’t that only add to the frisson of watching Bear tuck into ‘bush-tucker’?

Once upon a time we were thrilled by a rubber crocodile being wrestled into submission, now we gawp at a guy eating insects and performing derring-do stunts. But unlike audiences of 80 years ago, today’s are treated to ‘infotainment’ and a commentary.

Tarzan and the crocodile.jpg

We know you can do it, and it’s only rubber, but nevertheless – “go Tarzan go”

Part of the appeal here is maybe around personifying and exemplifying masculine traits: a devil-may-care approach to risk and danger, physicality, violence, command, gangs, territory, whacking things with sticks, indomitability, stiff upper lip, scratching the doodleydads etc. If these strike a chord, then why not enjoy them? It’s surely possible to do so and lift the toilet seat…

I think anyone, Bear included, would struggle to express themselves constructively on a housing estate in Skelmersdale (where Grayson met with some lads), without landing in trouble.


So whilst modern life challenges everyone’s roles and identity, I wonder if some of the old ways may still have a purpose. Bare knuckle fights at the fair and Mixed Martial Arts cage fighting, both vent and celebrate testosterone’s wonderful awfulness. Moreover, is the doggedness that brought down a wounded quarry to feed the family, so dissimilar to that needed to find a job”. After all, who’d want civilisation to emasculate or turn us into drone consumers?

I’ve never known how to acknowledge and speak about the differences between the sexes without sounding sexist, maybe being sexist isn’t necessarily negative. But perhaps it’s more interesting to grapple with how it could be OK for everyone to live and again, constructively express themselves without stigma or prejudice whether that’s fighting a rubber croc’ (and getting paid considerably more than Jane), throwing a pot, or cross-dressing.
All three at once; now that would be something to celebrate.

Masculinity is explored in London next month at the annual Being A Man (BAM) festival.

2 thoughts on ““Bear Grylls celebrates a masculinity that is useless.” – Grayson Perry

  1. It is interesting that it is an artist who speaks in the public sphere directly and openly about modern masculinity. Although I believe the Historian Yuval Noah Harari has written ideas about gender in his book “Sapiens, a brief history of Humankind”, where are the others?
    Commentators, politicians, philosophers and journalists don’t speak about the many themes swirling around manhood today. Surely there are so many issues to talk about? For example, the constraints of modern capitalism and adapting manhood to types of non- traditional male ways of working i.e. service industries, “Over the past few decades, Americans have transitioned to a service economy and educators treated boys like naughty girls with attitude problems. Males have become less interested in educational achievement, less engaged in political life, less concerned about careers, and more interested in forms of entertainment that feature vicarious gang drama—like video games and spectator sports” one social commentator has written. Other issues to think about include; notions about the “art of being a good man v the art of being good at being a man”, the impact of feminism; cultural differences in ideas of manhood, the raising of male children, the rise of single mum’s and how this does/doesn’t affect men, gangs, Trump and Putin and the cult of the “strong male leader” and the lost voice of the white working class man (and is there such a man anyway?).

    It would be refreshing to have some intelligent dialogue about these things. It is almost a taboo to talk about issues of manhood and masculinity and it is interesting to note that there is not much of a historic platform of analysis of masculinity to build on. There is a profound silence on this issue. Why?

    Nick, any man who raises his head above the parapet to speak on this subject is brave.

    • Discussing emotions and the foibles and frailties of one’s gender isn’t considered manly (I disagree with Ian Hislop on this when he admired Charles, Wills and Harry’s stiff upper lips at Diana’s funeral), which perhaps explains why it’s left to a transvestite potter, rooted in psychotherapy and a few other lonely voices.

      Your point about men needing to adapt to non-traditional work and pursuits seems fundamental, and we could do with more roles and pursuits that would appeal to 3.5 billion people. As technology increasingly makes and runs everything what do men do besides shaft each other in the stock market or boardroom, drink, play video games and watch sport. Mucking about with old machinery and iron man events. don’t really help with keeping a crust on the table.

      Perhaps we could do with a post feminist, first wave masculism and an economy that promotes wellbeing over flogging product for profit.

      thanks for the thoughts and book ref 🙂

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