My friends and family think I'm insane to be such an avid fan of a show that depicts a life that bears no resemblance to my own, but I think there are a lot of similarities between Bering Sea crab fishing and life in the Nebraska Sandhills. So, in honor of the opening day of the 2009 King Crab season, I am going to repost an original blog from Theorypedia:
AyshaSchurman AyshaSchurman on September 2, 2009
Why We Love 'Deadliest Catch'
Hauling crab pots is a direct route to everyone's inner hunter gatherer.
Discovery's 'Deadliest Catch' is so appealing because our brains are hardwired to like it. Its themes and narratives tap directly into pre-cortal, biological urges we all possess: the need for food, man vs. unpredictable nature, banding together and the Alpha male. It is a clear example of entertainment that favors our primitive brain -- the amygdala -- over the more nuanced neo-cortex.
Agree 90% / Disagree 10%
The Full Theory
Here's my theory for the appeal of 'Deadliest Catch:' biologically, we are the Flintstones living in the Jetson's world. The producers behind Discovery's 'Deadliest Catch' know this. The program is a great example of Claude Levi Strauss' "The Raw and the Cooked," an anthropological piece examining man's effort to balance natural and cultural forces.
Specifically, these forces are the instinctual urges for food, survival in nature, banding together for physical protection and advantage and, lastly, the survival and success of the alpha male.
We're hardwired at an instinctual level to identify with the lives of these crabbers.
Below is the "Deadliest Catch" formula and how it taps into our inner caveman.
1. The hunt for food.
'Deadliest Catch' is first and foremost about the most primitive form of homo sapiens' most primary need: finding food in the wild.
It's the cunning hunter outwitting his prey. It's the danger of the chase and the satisfaction of the kill. Vicariously, viewers experience the thrill of pursuit, the excitement of the kill and the pain of the periodic loss without any risk. That's a survival of the fittest double whammy: the hunt and kill without risk.
2. Survival in a hostile, unpredictable, natural world. 'Deadliest Catch' takes place in the wild waters off Alaska. Anything can happen at any time in those turbulent waves, and that message is brought home by the show. People die.
Those storms are some of the world's worst. They confound weather forecasters. They represent real risk. You will literally die if you're in the Bering Sea for more than 5 minutes. Moreover, this is foreign nature -- wind, water and weather.
3. Safety in numbers.
One man can't catch enough crab to feed himself, much less his offspring. Stick with that plan and there goes the species. 'Deadliest Catch' also enforces the primitive concept of humans banding together. The nature of crabbing means you have to work together to survive and prosper. Men put their lives in each others hands everyday. This displays the basic need humans have for each other, which is another message the show drives home.
Think about it for a second. Our medications have safety packages, our recreational sports have safety equipment and even our cars are practically idiot proof. Even cup of coffee is expected to have a warning that states if you spill the hot liquid, it may burn you.
Humanity has reached a point were we avoid even the slightest little scratch, much less actual danger, in our typical day to day lives.
Through this safety extravaganza, we have lost the excitement involved in being alive. When we watch salty workers battling the sea to harvest its bounty, we become intimately reminded of what humans are truly capable of surviving. In the end, survival is the most primitive instinct of all. 'Deadliest Catch' knows this.
4. Survival and success of the Alpha male.
There is no clearer expression of the Alpha Male than the skipper of an Alaskan crab boat. The captain is the guy who has spent the most time on deck, hauled the most traps, put up with the most deadly weather and survived more nights in port at the 'Elbow Room' than anyone else on the boat.
In return, he is rewarded with the biggest piece of the kill: the largest crew share of the sale. Nepotism and patronage are virtually non-existent. The sons of captains start where everyone else starts -- making bait and stacking pots.
Scientists estimate we're about 150 thousand years from mitochondrial Eve -- genetically the most complete 'mother' of homo sapiens. It has taken 150 thousand years to evolve from upright humans with opposable thumbs to the technologically-advanced society we are today.
In terms of technology, the evolution we've experienced in the last 100 years bests everything from the previous 1000. So, as humans we currently occupy a space where technology has superseded, negated and obviated our sustaining myths and primary biologicalimpulses.
In terms of brain function, the 'Deadliest Catch' taps more directly into our primitive brain -- the amygdala (instinctual responses, etc...) than our Neo-Cortex (home of higher cognition, psychological self and nuanced social identity.)
It will take more than a 100 years for humans to evolve beyond the -- "find food," "battle nature," and "security through strength" impulses for which we're currently wired.
More than any other television program, the 'Deadliest Catch' understands this. And that's why it's so damn hard to turn off the tube when it's on: the amygdala has the clicker.