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Pop Culture Corner: Mythbusters made the world a better place

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RIP Grant Imahara

2010 Creative Arts Emmy Awards - Tori, Grant, Kari, Jamie, and Adam from Mythbusters
2010 Creative Arts Emmy Awards - Tori, Grant, Kari, Jamie, and Adam from Mythbusters

There’s a lot to be cynical about these days. This is true for real life and for the shows that populate it. With so much negativity in the world, with so much suffering, the shows that truly make a difference stand out. That is why Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood has become so beloved. And in a slightly different way, it is why people loved Mythbusters.

There was nothing obscene or cynical about Mythbusters. It was a show that was ultimately about simply figuring stuff out. The first Mythbusters episode aired in 2003. It tackled two myths: could an amateur rocket enthusiast actually strap JATO rockets on a Chevy to make it go 300 MPH—and go airborne? And could eating a whole bunch of pop rocks and drinking cola actually make your stomach explode?

Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, the hosts at the time, proved both myths busted. The Chevy never reached remotely close to 300 MPH, and even after subjecting a pig’s stomach to six cans of cola and six cans of Pop Rocks, there simply wasn’t enough carbon dioxide produced to rupture the stomach. But in this episode, and in many others, they showed the beauty of science: that failing to accomplish something was still a noteworthy result. As the spray painted message across two semi trucks rigged to crash into each other said later in its run said, failure is always an option.

Failure is always an option!
Failure is always an option!

Mythbusters aired for 13 years. The world that it entered was not the world that it left. In 2003, dial-up internet was still king. In 2016, a majority of Americans wandered around with high-speed internet readily accessible in their own pockets. Had Mythbusters never existed, no one would green light a show about it in 2016. The internet fundamentally changed how myths existed and how myths perpetrated throughout society. Indeed, the later Mythbusters seasons strayed away from myths and folk tales and into the realm of testing movie physics, engaging in ducktape shenanigans, and just seeing if they could do stuff for the hell of it (in one episode, they built a rocket to run on gummy bears, and I am not making that up).

I hadn’t quite turned 12 before the first pilot episode aired. I was about to turn 25 when it ended. Those are some of the most formative years of our lives, and I spend most Wednesday evenings watching channel 45 on Time Warner Cable—The Discovery Channel—with my parents. Every week was something new. It was something to talk about with your friends. It was reality television in its purest: it was television that explored our reality.

But Mythbusters wouldn’t be Mythbusters without the likable cast. Adam was the kid at heart, the one with a palpable sense of wonder. Jamie was the perfect foil as the fascinating grump, the endless fount of knowledge and skills. The two rather famously didn’t get along so well in real life, but their camera chemistry was undeniable.

And then there was what was dubbed the Build Team, comprised of Tory Bellaci, Kari Byron, and Grant Imahara. Starting in the third season, the Build Team took on myths of their own. Tory was the guy who enjoyed making fun of himself and, well, that guy—the one who constantly hurt himself along the way. Kari was more than just the token girl; she was a skilled artist and engineer who used her varying talents in every episode.

Then there was Grant. A robotics, model maker, and visual effect expert who worked at Industrial Light and Magic and participated in Battlebots before becoming a Mythbuster, Grant was living the nerd’s dream while on Mythbusters, and his wholesome joy was infectious.

Grant died earlier this week of a brain aneurysm. He was 49. Everybody loved Grant, a fact that is obvious once you start reading what his friends and coworkers had to say about him. It is immensely sad that he is gone too soon, not just because the world lost one of its best science educators and activists, but because of what he meant to those close to him.

There are things we can’t control. Most things, to be honest. Even world leaders can be brought to their knees by a simple virus. But I think we have a duty to do good in the things that we have control over. And for Mythbusters, and for Grant Imahara, they did all they could to make the world better, prompting us to ask questions, think critically, and embrace our interests no matter the reality of our demographics.

Rest in peace, Grant. May you find wonder in exploring new mysteries on the other side.