Wednesday, December 16, 2015

What Mythbusters Has Meant to Me

Last night the Missus and I went out to see the Mythbuster's Tour show for the second and last time.  Not that we wouldn't gladly pay to see that show again if the opportunity came up, but because we're the 3rd to last stop on the final tour.  I wouldn't be entirely surprised if Adam keeps doing something similar (and we'd probably pay to watch that too) but Jamie's "hanging up the beret".  I think they'd agree that without the both of them working together, it just isn't quite Mythbusters.

When Mythbusters started in 2003 I had just been stationed in Germany.  I remember a flightmate suggesting the show to me in '05-'06 as something I might appreciate.  I didn't pay it much mind at the time because my expectation was that any TV show would be trite and predictable.  There was also the fact that AFN (Armed Forces Network, what passes for TV for deployed military members) had a pretty difficult time getting to show anything more current than "Knight Rider."  So I didn't get a chance to actually see the show for quite awhile but I know exactly when and where I was when I did.

16 January, 2007 was the day I landed in the US after serving in Germany for the previous four years.  I'd spent the preceding 38 hours stuffed in taxis, airplanes, airports, and other modes of transport designed for practicality over comfort.  To top it off, while Germany had been conspicuously snow-less that year my destination wasn't.  Just about an hour or so before my plane landed, Portland OR was slammed with a not inconsiderable amount of snow and ice.  The original plan was to rent a car and go straight from the airport to the new apartment, but the weather was making that impossible.  So instead there was a long, slow train ride that seemed to take hours (to cover the distance of a 15 minute drive) followed by a brisk walk to a hotel.  There was some confusion at the check-in because of course there was (I think the debit machine was down and I didn't have any cash) so half an hour later I finally saw the first bed I'd seen for probably about 40-50 hours.

And naturally I couldn't sleep.  Aside from it being 20:00 local time (and 11:00 Germany time) I was generally wound up.  I'd just left my way of life for the last six years.  I wasn't really sure how well I'd fit back in the civilian US world.  I especially had doubts about heading to the Pacific Northwest instead back home to Texas.  I wasn't sure if I could find employment that wasn't based on my security clearance.  I wasn't sure if I entirely -wanted- to leave the security field.  In short, I was an exhausted, tightly wound bundle of nerves.  So I turned on the TV if only to find out what commercials I'd been missing in Germany.  And I saw this (queued to the -exact- moment I tuned in):


It was exactly what I needed at that particular moment in time.  A bunch of experts putting forth some silly notions and finding crazy but effective ways to test them.  Even if it took them more than a few tries (Chicken gun?).  I spent a sizable portion of the next few months catching up with the show and I've been watching it ever since.

At a time when there hasn't really been any decent science on television, even of the fiction variety, Mythbusters stood up to say "Hey, we don't need to assume the audience is dumb as a sack of bricks. We can be entertaining, curious, and learn stuff through experimentation all at the same time!"  It filled that niche left vacant by Sagan's "Cosmos" & Roddenberry's "Star Trek" that were as much as about science and exploration as anything else.  As the show's gone on there's always been that concern that they would slip and buckle under the pressure of marketters and moguls; that they would become more about gimmicks than science.  To be honest, I think the Build Team (Kari, Tori, and Grant) were starting down that path when the show was switched up to focus on Adam & Jamie.  But these two Titans of Testing have stayed true to those scientific principles of question-test-verify for the whole run of the show.  They did not disappoint.

I've learned a lot from Mythbusters since that hasty hotel room in 2007.  Not just about the many ways things can be blown up but also how to set up experiments, interpret results, and enjoy the process of building stuff.  I'm saddened that next year's season will be the last, especially since there doesn't seem to be anything else to occupy that niche.  There is, hypothetically, a new "Star Trek" coming but given the last three or four attempts by studios to label something as "Star Trek" while ignoring every fundamental of "Star Trek"... well I'm not optimistic.  There is some serious conversation to be had about what standards we should expect our entertainment and if it's really ok for our primary media to be so homogenous/simple/"dumb".  It's a conversation nerds, geeks, and authors have been having for as long as the people making the entertainment have been ignoring it.  Personally, I don't expect that to change any time soon.  If media makers haven't figured that much out by now, they're not likely to.

The good news is, not all  media is being made by deep pockets in California and New York anymore.  The rise of online content and particularly YouTube has allowed for far more variety than TV or radio have ever been capable of.  And in that diversity of content we have things like Crash Course, Smarter Every Day, and Periodic Videos.  These are the channels that I see as the spiritual, if not literal, successors to Mythbusters.

Someday down the road, when the Missus and I have some form of progeny, I fully intend to seep them in the full run of Mythbusters.  We'll watch the shows, share the catchphrases, oogle the sheer gorgeous of the traffic plow, and probably have Mythbusters-themed LEGOs to play with (I'll print them if they aren't in stores by then).  If Adam's still doing Tours then I'm sure we'll make a point of getting the "Sprog" in there to see a full-grown man dangle from two interlaced phone books.  This kid will grow up knowing that "Failure is always an option" and "The difference between Science and Goofing Off is writing it down."  I don't expect there to be anything new or current on TV for us to share by then (though I'm sure there will be stuff from the Internet) but Mythbusters would be a big part of the "backlog" in the education of how to be an excellent, questioning human being.

And for that I'd like to thank Jamie Hyneman, Adam Savage, Peter Rees, Tory Belleci, Scottie Chapman, Kari Byron, Grant Imahara, Jessi Combs, Lt. Al Normandy, Frank Doyle, Sgt. J.D. Nelson, Duncan Clark, Scott Sorensen, Ben Hanson, Will Nail, Crispy Camera, Alice Dallow, Lauren Gray Williams, Tabitha Lentle, Steve Christiansen, Matt Jepson, Alison Rider, Jaime Lipsky, W. Clark Bunting, Meredith Hussey, Evan Grimm, Michael Drake, Tim Alewood, Katie Winchester, Lars Fields, Fred Lewis, Jillian Rose, Tom Spiers, Hamish Gilbert, David Timperley, Anthony Toy, Shane Grace, Rebecca Clare, Dominique N. Butler, Ria Castle, Peter Tehan, Jenny Fulton, Mark Wheeler, Anita Bezjak, Jenny O'Shea, John Luscombe, Catherine Hoyle, John Hunt, Jon Blumberg, Dennis Kwon, Eric Haven, Nancy Daniels, Cari Hantsbarger, Denise Contis, Sara Kaplan, Bob Parr, Rose Kang, Alicia Wenman, Michael Bushroe, all the people I've failed to mention who've helped make the show over the years and, of course, Buster.  Great job, fellas!

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