Promising “Legendary Adventures for Men,” the Wilderness Collective is a group of guys who plan outings for men, in hopes of reviving the image of men from helpless and weak to the burly and rough image of yore. You know, same old deal. While I think this is sort of awesome, the Wilderness Collective goes about this in all the wrong ways.
First of all, the Wilderness Collective website appears to be a verbatim reproduction of Art of Manliness. They simply took Brett’s work and linked back to it. While I’m a huge fan of Brett’s work, it doesn’t seem like they have any original thoughts on manliness outside of what Brett has already illustrated. However, the real downfall of the Wilderness Collective is not in their website, as they’re not writers, but in the video they produced about their first trip.
The film starts off with a great-sounding introduction, but doesn’t match up with what you see minutes later:
It’s almost as if the wild was designed as a proving ground for men. It’s a place to face your fears, to wake up wet, cold, shivering, and warm ourselves by a fire the next morning. It’s a chance for all of us to find out what we are made of; to be measured by the wilderness.
In their 334 mile trip, the guys start off to “develop character and provoke courage” by rolling their motorcycles out of a trailer and packing a fraction of their total gear on their bike, followed by the huge trucks containing the bulk of their supplies. These guys reach camp and start unloading the trucks to set up camp–they “had to set up camp” because riding back in the truck which just brought their supplies would be…unmanly.
So they set up camp, and what do we see? Snow peaks, a pre-existing fireplace, artichokes, artisan bread, bags of mixed fruit, culinary knives (with chopping board), cheeses (with a cheese knife, duh), cooking sheets, all topped off with gin and tonics complete with limes. What about this allows these men to “be measured by the wilderness” and “to wake up wet, cold, [and] shivering?”
From there, we see a guy walking with his iPhone going off–despite two minutes earlier saying everyone left their phones behind to focus on the wilderness. The guys then wake up and break out the French-pressed coffee and fruit bowl before riding off on their bikes, again unencumbered by the gear they enjoyed earlier that day. Stopping only to grill and throw axes into downed trees, the pack continues on to their next campsite where they again indulge themselves in artisan cuisine and cocktails. The next day they ride again, stopping at a scenic lookout and the cigars “were broke out.”
Look, these guys probably had a ton of fun. If someone asked me to do it, I would surely go–why not? However, this is not some sort of way to get “measured by wilderness,” nor is it a “proving ground” for men. This trip was a highly-choreographed, highly-supported display of manliness where the means of manliness were the end goal. The ways in which they display manliness (sleeping in a tent, cooking over an open fire, and throwing axes) are also the exact same as the ends (“you’re manly if you sleep in a tent, cook over an open fire, and throw axes”).
The problem with this is that their notions of manliness become nothing more than mere showings, rather than a deeper path of action.
Manliness is the same, whether you throw an axe or let your daughter paint your toes during a tea party. In other words, you don’t need to go out throwing axes, drinking gin and tonics, and smoking cigars to restore your manliness–it’s deeper than that. To restore manliness (if we even need to at all), we need to focus on values, not acts: honesty, dependability, and selflessness. It’s the boy who takes the bigger fish, it’s the man who gives the bigger fish to his family. It’s the boy who gives his camping rucksack to a truck-mule, it’s the man who carries the supplies needed for the troop.
Wilderness Collective is an intriguing idea, but it ultimately fails in its mission because the organization fails to differentiate between manliness and manly acts. Their trips look fun–just not beyond the level of surface entertainment.