“Hands On A Hard Body”

Hands on a Hard Body

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
Feb. 26, 1999

1.5 stars

We’ve all been lured by the promise of something for nothing. So we’ve called radio stations hoping to be the right caller, entered sweepstakes to win a trip, or taken a guess at the number of jelly beans in that jar.

But the documentary “Hands on a Hard Body” takes this concept to the Nth degree. And watching this laboriously slow documentary, viewers feel like they could lose their minds.

At 6:30 a.m. in 1995, 24 contestants gathered to participate in the annual Hands on a Hard Body contest. In most parts of the country, this would conjure up images of fans grabbing away at Pamela Anderson. But in Longview, Texas–population 70,000–“hard body” refers to a pickup truck. And the winner of this contest win a Nissan pickup truck, worth about $15,000.

All they had to do to win this truck was keep their gloved hands on the hard body for as long as they could. The person with his or her hand on the truck the last would win the ordeal, which had dragged on for 87 hours the previous year.

“It’s a contest, they say, of stamina,” one participant theorizes. “But it’s who can maintain their sanity the longest.”

And the contestants seem to lose theirs as the hours drag onto days. One woman in dire need of several front teeth is chastised for tattling that some folks had taken their hands off the vehicle. She admits she did this twice herself, and disqualifies herself for cheating. Another religious woman gets so excited by the gospel music she’s singing that in the 78th hour, she momentarily takes her hands off the truck to clap. She’s disqualified, though she does win a $250 second prize. (That comes to $3.21 per hour that she participated in the contest.)

There’s a certain cruelty to these type of contests that the filmmakers don’t address. It’s easy to understand why poor people would want to win a car. But why do sponsors feel the need to humiliate and torture them this way? Surely there must be a better, more humane way to get themselves publicity and give away an automobile.

February 26, 1999

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