Friday, July 29, 2011

Recommended: Cable TV's I Survived...

I'll be upfront, if cliched: life gets tough. I've posted here suffering from assorted problems, injuries (e.g., to an eye), change of jobs, & lots of personal/professional "drama." I don't write about it much, but I'm not talking "reality tv" drama (anything on MTV basically) - I get the real deal. So how do I get my balance back?

Sometimes, I take advantage of A&E (through the Biography channel) and its long-standing series called "I Survived..." Using a few pix, some narrative text, and face-to-face interviews, the show goes back-and-forth between the stories of 3 people who faced death and lived. The show's concept is excellent, while the tragedies that unfold are tastefully-handled.

Your kids were scared to hug you?! Also, someone please fire biography's music guy.

A teen pilot's tiny plane runs into a sudden storm, then gets trapped in power cables. A snowmobiling vacation gets un-fun fast when a guy sees his brother fall through cracked ice; they get separated, each nearly freezing to death. An Australian town suffers a fire that sounds as destructive as the aliens from "Independence Day;" it leaves a young woman and her father seek first temporary, then permanent, safety, uncertain if the rest of the family (her mom/his wife, and her daughter) are even alive.

I watch this, in part to remind myself that even if I've faced imminent death, others have been through lots worse; also, to remember that life can just suddenly go wrong, and so many things help decide the result. Finally, it's a serious, sorta-therapeutic look into how people overcome their problems, as well as the emotional aftermath of these kinds of events.

Are you pissed that someone stood you up for a date, or your roommate finished your milk? A woman got raped and stabbed multiple times; another was hurt so badly her surgically-repaired face is... spooky; each said that she decided to let go of all her anger. Try bitching about your milk now. I have no experience with shrinks, but I guess this works like group therapy. & I don't care that "IS..." can be grim, horrifying, and uncomfortable. I'm glad to have watched a dozen eps of this show; I appreciate its perspective.

Nor can I forget that, at least a little, movies and tv really do desensitize all of us to murder, betrayal, angst, and inhumanity. I'm not sure if it's bad writing, or Chekhov's Gun, or the need to pad out a running time: we entertainment watchers expose ourselves to simply too much nastiness, and none of it is actually real (especially the reality show junk).

Everything here - a madman shooting up a school, a diner robbery, a pregnant woman befriended by a woman who's pretending to be preggers too and wants to cut out her unborn baby - it's all real. I can't even believe these crimes happen, but here's the damn victim/survivor! Maybe one woman is bs-ing the audience when she says, "...but I didn't want to kill him," about a methed-up burglar who knocked her husband's teeth out. I guess I too wouldn't want to admit having murder on my mind, even in self-defense.

But I like to think, given the mistakes the interviewees admit to, the way they express themselves and the emotions they describe, that we're getting straight stories. Some are simply too emotional, and I can personally attest to not feeling eternally hateful or vengeful after an unpleasant incident.

Like the most "realistic" and "honest" things you can see, "I Survived..." isn't just tragic, gloomy or weepy. A man perks up as he describes a perfectly calm relaxing day alone - before falling off his roof and breaking both his legs. Some couples are attacked on dates - by a large cat during a hike, or by a psycho rapist near a creek. The interview subjects do often cry (every single sex assault victim, of course), but they also laugh, smile, or give a s#@!-eating grin when they tell you "that's when I knew I'd messed up."

No matter what you feel in your heart, I think you can actually learn (or re-learn) some coping skills from actual survivors. This is nothing like Scarlett Johannsen beating up bodyguards in "Iron Man 2" by tapping them. It's also not like Russell Crowe pretending to be a ruggedly-handsome genius mathematician with mental illness...

Did the network not realize the "biography" theme is completely inappropriate?...

In one segment, a trainyard worker realizes that one train is uncontrolled & will collide into another car - and that the deadly chemicals in each train will mix and devastate his town. A young black woman got repeatedly attacked by a mix-gender gang, beaten, thrown in a trunk, and burned with acid multiple times by another girl. An older Jewish woman's flight was hijacked, and she knew that she was the next hostage to be executed; she talks about getting shot in the head. One ep was dedicated exclusively to Columbine victims; some guy lost his kid sister...

Most of the stories involve Americans in America, just like most of the people talking are usually not Master's  Degree candidates from LA, Connecticut, NYC, or San Fran. It's mostly folks from middle America, the South, or the Southwest. To the show's credit, you never feel like you're watching the same people or the same story.

I'm really happy for the amazing cross section of people from all backgrounds and age groups. Bad things happen to all of us, and they shouldn't, and no one's bulletproof. Tragedy and danger are among the many things that should unite us, I think.

"IS..." might help you with your phobias, I suppose. It really covers anything you might fear: mountain lion, home invasion, being a female guard captured during a prison riot, stalkers, abusive women/men, lost in the Amazon/Alaska/ocean... People share their awful experiences, show you their on-going scars, and talk about not dying. Whether it's a mugging or a relationship gone wrong, you really get a lot to learn here, intellectually and emotionally...

In part, I didn't recommend "I Survived..." before because it can be such hard viewing. I described how I dealt with the infamous "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" scene - but these are real, nightmarish incidents of abuse. It's hard for me, hearing so many women talk about being sexually assaulted; every episode might have one...

For other people, I think they might find it hard to bear 40 minutes of darkness in order to reach 10 minutes of "the light." When you hear how some of these people let go of the trauma and move on with life, it's really impressive and positive. I hope watching it helps bring some viewers a measure of peace.

If nothing else, as a fan of film and/or tv, these candid interviews may help you put cinematic violence in its proper place. It's one thing to see Eliza Dushku kick ass and think, "fighting isn't about just making contact, a 115-pound girl probably can't hit that hard." It's one thing to see Bruce Willis take a bullet in the shoulder in "Die Hard," then ask yourself "how can he even swing that arm a minute later?"

We've all been there, and stuff like this can occur to you during both the best and the worst films. But it's another thing entirely to see an tall, wide, well-muscled young black man tell you that a home invader raided his house when he was 9, killed his mom, and slit his poor adolescent throat. The guy looks like a professional athlete, and he's still got the knife scars from childhood and he still cries talking about his mom's murder.

I'm not saying it's easy or "wonderful" or "beautiful" like that artistic idiot in "American Beauty." I'm saying that it's real and important; and on top of all that, we live in an artificial, CGI/photoshop-dominated culture. These jarring, brutally frank perspectives may help keep you more grounded in the real world...

You can catch various episodes on Biography Channel's website, but they update sporadically and the player has been known to fritz out. Sometimes you get 5 episodes, other times, only 2. You can also catch up to 10 episodes on Hulu, although the system used for updating them is.... incomprehensible; I swear they've had the same run on that site for months, now.

Your cable provider may also offer them "on demand," as Time Warner does on the Entertainment On Demand channel, in the A&E section. DVDs are also available. There have also been whole shows dedicated to former cult members and people who died but were resuscitated; I wasn't into it, but it may be of interest to others.

If you can stomach it, I strongly recommend "I Survived...," tho even I skip around if I've watched 3 in a week and I'm looking at 3rd sex assault victim.

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