The light at the end of the tunnel

by Tom Mandel | 4/28/11 10:00pm

If you haven't seen Discovery Channel's "Human Planet," then you need to park your ass in front of an HD TV and start watching. It's the best thing on TV these days. It's from the people who did "Planet Earth," only instead of documenting animals and all the crazy things they do, the show looks at us. People. Humans. And all the crazy things that we do. The show focuses mostly on the 2 percent of the human population that still lives as hunter-gatherers. What those people do to survive on a daily basis is pretty nuts.

My favorite Notorious B.I.G. song of all time is "Everyday Struggle" and my favorite HBO series of all time is "The Wire." Starting to see a trend?

The struggle to survive is fascinating. It's also something that I don't think I'll ever experience. There are so many different struggles to survive, and none of them really applies to me. I don't catch what I eat. I don't dodge bullets or prison. I'm not going to enlist. I've never had to worry about where my next meal is going to come from. Well, I mean, I do worry about that, but not in the sense that the expression implies. I worry about whether it'll come from Gusanoz or the Hop.

Am I a man? Granted, it's a true blessing not to have to worry about survival. On the other hand, I don't see how my manhood will ever actually be tested. Maybe I should start a fight club. Even that isn't struggling to survive, though. It's just simulation.

The question here becomes whether there is any value in intentionally facing a situation in which I have to struggle to survive. I'm definitely not doing that next year, but I do have the rest of my life ahead of me.

If I went all Chris McCandless on the world and hit the Arctic, I'd definitely learn a thing or two about myself. Or I could go on a walkabout in Australia. Or join the Marines. Having options isn't the difficulty here.

I know myself well enough to know that I'm just talking, and there's no actual chance that I'll do any of these things. Maybe I'll go skydiving once. But seeing as I already get anxious on plane trips, I'm not sure how that would work.

So when do I become a man? That dude on "Human Planet" is a man because he's killed a whale to feed his family. And he killed it with only a rowboat and a spear. A Marine is a man because he's defended freedom and has perhaps been shot at. I have no experience that indicates a transition from boy to man. Yeah, I got Bar Mitzvah'ed, but c'mon. That isn't a solid litmus test.

What's gonna do it for me? Paying taxes? Supporting a family? Succeeding in my career? These all seem like they pale in comparison to "Human Planet," but there has to be there will be something.

THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL is that I don't have to answer these questions right now. Maybe I'll never have to answer them. All I know is that "Human Planet" is on tonight and I'm really excited to watch it.