Go back a few generations, and rites of passage existed in just about every culture. Many religious rites or rituals remain today — bar mitzvah, for example — but the passing of time and the convenience of modern life have made the more rugged and physical challenges of some cultures far more difficult to find these days.
Of course, we humans have a handy physiological rite of passage called adolescence, the point at which children begin to assume the characteristics of adults, both physically and psychologically. Still, many people lament the loss of cultural rites of passage, and some communities have new ones now — or they’ve resurrected ancient rites to help denote the moment that a child becomes a man or a woman in the eyes of peers and the tribe.
So it’s great timing that El Rey Network is introducing a new original series, called “Rite of Passage,” hosted by the charming Australian movie producer and television star Tim Noonan.
Haven’t heard of the El Rey Network? It’s a four-year-old, English-language lifestyle network founded by filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. It’s focused on “viewers who hold strong core beliefs about the importance of family, independence, hard work, craftsmanship and legacy,” according to a public statement. It airs a lot of Mexican wrestling, too.
“Rite of Passage” premieres June 8, but LifeZette got a look at the show’s first two episodes — and this is pretty intense viewing, as host Noonan travels the world to find the toughest rites of passage for men. The tests of manhood presented here are things that would make most people turn pale and avoid at all cost.
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The first episode focuses on Madagascar’s Besileo people, who have a variety of primitive beliefs and customs. Among them: For a boy to transition to a man, he must wrestle with an angry bull with long curved horns, called a zebu. Not one to shy away from a challenge, Noonan also jumps in to wrestle the zebu, sharing his anxieties as he endures the terrifying experience.
Episode two doesn’t get any easier to watch. Noonan’s second port of call is Cameroon, West Africa, where boys prove their manhood in a rite of passage that’ll likely give many nightmares. They crawl head-first into the lair of a giant rock python (which might be 20 feet long!) and have to wrestle it out of the ground. Future episodes of this 12-installment show include Noonan’s attempts at a football game with a headless goat; his chase of a wild deer and then the killing of it with his bare hands; his chase and catch of a wild stallion; his slaughter of a reindeer — and more.
It’s crazy but eye-opening stuff. Viewed from the perspective of our overly comfortable and coddled culture in which we don’t have many rites of passage for youth, “Rite of Passage” can be seen as a primitive show. But it’s also relevant, as it shows the importance of taking on new challenges and “achieving” adulthood as opposed to falling into it.
Whether you’re of the mindset or not that our children could do with a few more challenges to overcome, there’s no doubt “Rite of Passage” is compelling viewing. The show just won’t take responsibility for anyone’s troubled dreams afterward.
“Rite of Passage” debuts June 8 at 9 p.m. ET on El Rey Network.
Dave Taylor, based in Boulder, Colorado, has been writing about consumer electronics, technology and pop culture for many years and runs the popular site AskDaveTaylor.com.