Competence Porn

 Recently, one of the hosts of a writing-related podcast that I enjoy (Functional Nerds, if you must know!) referred to “competence porn”, meaning stories wherein the characters are actually, well, competent. They know what they’re doing, they know their jobs, and they work to get the job done. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t complications! Not at all. But none of the major plot developments arise from someone being dumb or inept or not having a clue what they’re doing. That is refreshing.

Competence Porn can also refer, I think, to instructional videos or documentary-type videos in which people who know what they are doing simply go about doing their job. This particular video is an outstanding case in point. The YouTube algorithm served this up for me, and I have no idea why–maybe it’s because I’ve watched railroading videos, or occasional construction videos, but not many of those at all. The concept is incredibly simple: a contractor was using an excavator (the modern version of what I learned as a kid was a “steam shovel”) to dig out a pond someplace. Unfortunately, the ground appears to have been too saturated and the operator appears to have not used proper equipment in moving the excavator, resulting in the excavator sinking into the mud all the way up to the cab.

In steps Our Hero, the fellow making this video. This is nothing but 41 minutes of this guy doing the job of digging out this excavator, but it’s just amazing to watch. It starts with his laconic attitude. The sight of the excavator buried in mud is disconcerting, and at first glance I thought, “I have zero idea how they’re going to get that thing out of there.” But Our Hero just says in a gentle drawl, “Well, there’s the problem,” and next thing we know, he’s in an excavator of his own, working on digging out that one. This involves moving a whole lot of mud so that the water won’t flood the hole as they dig into it; it involves delicate placement of mats that will provide support for these giant tools. The ‘mats’ consist of half a dozen railroad ties all bolted together and laid out side by side so that the excavators can drive over them, and the most fascinating part of this video is Our Hero’s manipulation of the mats. He moves them quickly and precisely with his excavator, and he taps them into position to line them up, and at one point (about halfway through the video) he even picks one up and moves it while he looking at and taking to someone else!

There’s never any questioning it here, never a shown moment of “Oh wow, let me call somebody, I don’t even know where to start.” Just a cursory “Well, there’s the problem,” followed by the work to get the job done. Apparently the whole job only took an hour and a half from their arrival to the end, and it just seemed like a day at the office for these folks.

Competence porn, indeed!

(This video is so even-keeled that the droning sounds of the excavator engine as it digs and dumps, digs and dumps, digs and dumps has a kind of ASMR effect, I noticed. This was actually relaxing to watch!)

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1 Response to Competence Porn

  1. LissaJ says:

    Great point about competency as a character trait. Stealing! As for the real life videos, yes 100% Ditto any kind of master craftsperson like glassblowers and blacksmiths.

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