A new television show in the hard, dirty men doing hard, dirty work genre premieres tonight on the Spike network. The show, called Coal, follows a company of West Virginia miners as they face the dangers of their work. A description from Spike’s website:
Every aspect of the job will be covered, from the dangers behind the super-charged explosions needed to open surface mines, to the well-publicized daily dangers of working in the dark recesses of the earth's crust in a traditional shaft mine. As they face the daily pressure to keep the mine up and running and their workers safe, family men Crowder and Roberts will rely on the support of their loved ones to tackle the mine's daily demands.
And their trailer:
Certainly looks like the makings of great television. Drama, daring, dirt. And the very real threat of serious danger to men you can't help but like. The show is laced with human interest, with its focus on the miner’s lives and families, but that danger is really the hook. The show’s marketing material is full of miners matter-of-factly explaining that they’ll die in that tunnel, and with mine collapses ever-present in the news it’s hard not to take them at their word.
That threat of danger is what’s driven the success of shows like Deadliest Catch, Ice Road Truckers, and Ax Men, all also from the creators of Coal. In a smart piece earlier this week Dana Jennings remarked on the vaguely educational promise of these shows (some of them run on the History channel), and also on the rarity of seeing and hearing working class men discuss their difficult lives on television. But, as Jennings notes, the men on these shows “end up as commodified as the natural resources that control their destinies.”
It’s an interesting take, as Jennings notes that the featured miners apparently aren’t paid for their appearance in the series. Which isn’t to say they don’t benefit from the exposure. They are men who clearly take rightful pride in their work, and we shouldn’t discount the ability of this type of theater to bolster it. But given the countless number of miners whose lives have been taken by our unending need for energy, it’s more than a little unsettling to have their days now offered as vicarious thrills for our Wednesday nights.