Thursday, September 04, 2008

Dance marathon couple, ca. 1925
Courtesy Library of Congress

I recently watched a documentary called Hands on a Hard Body. It's a film that documents twenty-four contestants as they compete in an endurance/sleep deprivation standoff in order to win a brand new Nissan Hardbody truck. The last person to remain standing with his or her hand on the truck wins.

As contests go, this sounds easy: Just compete with two dozen other folks to see who can keep his hand on a pickup truck the longest. The promotional event known as the "Hands on a Hard Body Contest," hosted by Jack Long Nissan every year in the east Texas town of Longview (125 miles east of Dallas, 60 miles west of Shreveport, Louisiana), turns out to be a surprisingly grueling event.

You get a five-minute break every hour, a fifteen-minute break every six hours. If you lift your hand for an instant, you’re out. If you’re two seconds late in getting your hand back on the truck after a whistle ends the break, you’re out. The film was made in 1995. The 1994 winner had stood there for nearly 100 hours. Some participants start to have visions and hallucinations, some suffer from heat exhaution (it was in the mid-high 90s during the day).. while others start to report numbness and swelling in their legs and feet.

The one thing they all have in common is desperately wanting to win the truck. Some of them describe needing it to sell so they could afford to live without having to work two jobs while others said a truck in Texas is needed to make money. The documentary made me incredibly sad. Though previous participants described it as one of the best moments of their lives, knowing that they could endure such mental and physical hardship, I couldn't help but be reminded of the dance marathons of the 1920s and 1930s in which people would dance or walk with their partner for up to two months without proper rest in order to win money. Actual footage can be seen here. An act of sheer desperation in order to finally feel like you can escape your own daily struggles. Sydney Pollack's film They Shoot Horses Don't They is a brilliant and sad fictional account of how desperate people can get.

As one of the contestants of the Hard Body competition described, "It’s a human drama thing; it’s more than just a contest, and winning a truck."

Trailer for Hands on a Hard Body
shot in 1995.

Trailer for They Shoot Horses Don't They
shot in 1969.

"Here they are again, folks! These wonderful, wonderful kids! Still struggling! Still hoping! As the clock of fate ticks away, the dance of destiny continues! The marathon goes on, and on, and on! HOW LONG CAN THEY LAST!" ~ Rocky from They Shoot Horses Don't They

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very nice post. This is the same kind of sadness that I feel when I'm standing in line to buy a Snicker bar at the Circle K, and there's some guy in front of me buying $50 worth of lottery tickets, and I'm estimating that he maybe only brought home $450 for that week's paycheck.

Or the same kind of sadness when I see people buying cartons of cigarettes.

Or Snickers bars.