Neither MacGyver the TV series nor Paramount Pictures authorized or had anything to do with the making of this book. The stories within are based □n real life incidents of MacGyver esque ingenuity.
"A paper clip can be a wondrous thing;. More times than I can remember, one of these has gotten me out of a tight spot." —MacGyver
F YOU SOMEHOW BOUGHT THIS BOOK WITHOUT KNOWING WHO , MacGyver is—well, God bless you. That's quite a leap of faith.
As the rest of you are well aware, Angus MacGyver was the greatest action-adventure television icon of the 1980s. MacGyver, starring the mullet-headed Richard Dean Anderson, debuted on ABC on September 29, 1985, and lasted seven magical seasons. The title character was a Midwestern secret agent who refused to carry a weapon, relying instead on his wits—specifically, his ability to solve any problem using basic scientific principles and whatever materials happened to be lying around—to foil the enemy, usually in the nick of time.
Of course, this book would not exist if MacGyver were merely a television program, even one produced by Henry Winkler (who definitely has a knack for creating iconic TV characters who are somehow cool and nerdy at the same time). Long before the series finale aired on April 27, 1992, MacGyver had begun to transcend MacGyver, entering the vernacular as a verb: To "MacGyver" something is to fix it in a resourceful and improvisational way, e.g., "Our raft sprang a leak halfway down the river, but I MacGyvered a patch with my Swiss Army knife, a condom, and some tree sap, and we made it to the takeout." There's also a "MacGyverism," which can be either a) the act of "pulling a MacGyver," or b) the thingamajig—the makeshift invention—created in the process. And finally, there's the proper noun as honorific, bestowed upon especially creative handymen (and -women), as in, "Nice job, MacGyver."
What's equally remarkable, though, is MacGyver's staying power as a cultural reference. Almost fifteen years after the show ended, the character lives on, bubbling through our culture in strange and wonderful ways. On The Simpsons, Marge's spinster sister, Selma Bouvier Terwilliger Hutz McClure, is a huge fan. (She ritually treats herself to a smoke after MacGyver.) A couple years ago, McDonald's ran a TV ad in which a beleaguered mom stared at the camera and wondered, "What would MacGyver do?" Ice Cube, Big Punisher, and a handful of other rappers have mentioned Mac in their songs. ReadyMade, an excellent bimonthly magazine for people who like to make new stuff out of old stuff, has a regular section called "The MacGyver Challenge," in which readers compete to build something useful from a list of simple parts (a defunct radio, for example, or an old shipping pallet).
But two specific moments in MacGyver's afterlife tower above all others. One was in February 2006, when Mac scaled the Everest of American pop culture: He appeared in a commercial during the Super Bowl. It was the fourth quarter. In a perfectly executed gadget play, Antwaan Randle El of the Pittsburgh Steelers had just thrown a touchdown pass to his fellow wide receiver Hines Ward. Steelers 21, Seahawks 10. Game (basically) over. And there, all of the sudden, a few pounds heavier, a few steps slower, and without his mullet, was Richard Dean Anderson: MacGyver! He was tied to a chair in a warehouse; a time-bomb ticked nearby. Fortunately, he'd just used his MasterCard to purchase a tree-shaped air freshener, some nasal spray, a pair of tube socks, and a turkey baster, all of which came in handy as he MacGyvered his way to safety, mere seconds ahead of the blast. The tagline: "Little things that get you through the day: Priceless." An estimated ninety million Americans saw that ad, compared to the 13.1 million who watched the MacGyver finale in 1992. And despite the fact that Anderson hadn't played the character since Trail to Doomsday, a made-for-TV movie based on the show that aired in November of 1994, MasterCard saw no need to remind viewers who they were watching.
The other huge moment for MacGyver came in August 2003, when Ira Glass of NPR's This American Life (the cultural opposite of the Super Bowl) produced a terrific episode about real-life MacGyverisms. That episode, which you can still hear at thislife.org , inspired this book. In fact, Susan Burton's story was originally written for it, as was Chuck Klosterman's.
So MacGyver has entered the lexicon—as a noun, as a verb, as a symbol for craftiness, quick thinking, and a good, clean brand of improvisational genius. MacGyver has endured. As an icon, a legend, he is here to stay. Why?
My theory is that it's because we live in an age of declining know-how. There's a genuine crisis of competence: Nobody knows how to do anything anymore. Consider this statistic: In 1950, 46 percent of America's gross domestic product came from the "service" industries, i.e., businesses that perform services rather than make goods. By 2004, that number was over 60 percent. Not so long ago, a man was expected to know how to change his oil, unclog a drain, and maybe even do some basic carpentry. Now there's a thriving cottage industry of handymen who will come to your house and assemble the cabinet you just bought at Ikea. (You can find them on Craigslist.) In short, we've become a nation of specialists. We're all good at the one thing we're paid to do, but clueless about most everything else; this makes a supremely competent guy like Mac-Gyver even more exotic (and admirable). And this appeal is universal. No matter where you live or what you do for a living or how old you are, who can deny the basic satisfaction of solving the problem and saving the day? Bottom line: We'd all love to be MacGyver, if only for one shining moment.
The forty-two people who contributed to this book pulled it off.
It would be logical to assume that, as the editor of What Would MacGyver Do?, I've got a little MacGyver in me. I don't.
The truth is, MacGyver would be ashamed of me. I'm intimidated to the point of paralysis by mechanical things. I've never used a paper clip for anything other than clipping paper. And I have no real gift for improvisation. Like most of us, I always think of the perfect solution (or the perfect comeback)
too late, after the opportunity to seize the moment has long since passed.
What I do have, however, is a deep well of awe and admiration for those who possess the MacGyver gene. And that's why I was so eager to take on this project. I was fourteen when MacGyver premiered, and watching those early episodes, I remember being conscious that there were people in the real world whose minds were MacGyveresque—and that I wasn't one of them. My hero in high school was my friend Doug Brazy, who completely restored a '65 Mustang at the age of sixteen and was always responsible for designing and building our class's homecoming float. I begged Doug to contribute a story to this book, but he was too busy working for the National Transportation Safety Board. (They're the people who, among other heroic duties, salvage the black boxes from plane crashes and try to figure out what went wrong.) As I sifted through the stories that make up this collection, my sense of awe for people like Angus MacGyver and Doug Brazy only grew—and then turned to full-on jealousy.
Before I get into which stories I selected (and why), a word on how I collected the submissions. First, I built a Web site: WhatWouldMacGyverDo.com. The site served as the hub of the project; it included a FAQ section explaining the concept, a simple mechanism for submitting stories, and a few sample MacGyverisms. Then I invited everyone—friends, acquaintances, friends of acquaintances, acquaintances of friends, writing students, science teachers, science students, the readers of ReadyMade magazine, etc.—to contribute. And contribute they did. Altogether, I received hundreds of submissions. Some weren't more than a sentence or two. ("Once I used to duct tape to fix my brother's glasses.") Others were great stories but lacked a true MacGyver moment. Others had solid MacGyver moments but lacked a strong story. And of course there were some that had no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
Now I'd like to introduce you to some of the authors whose stories did make the cut. I'm talking about brilliant jury-riggers like Paul Padial, a Manhattan social worker who fashioned a rudimentary coffeemaker in the wilderness. And publicist Cynthia Morse, also a New Yorker, who discovered an alternate source of salt when her van got stuck in an ice storm. And Joshuah Bearman, a writer living in Los Angeles who, along with a clever friend, employed gravity to heat up a hot tub and save New Year's Eve. I'm also talking about evil geniuses like Vince, the antihero of Francine Maroukian's story, an actor whose cheater's mind and sleight-of-hand saved the two-timing author from a mighty awkward situation. And Vincent O'Keefe, a stay-at-home dad from Toledo, Ohio, who takes a truly emasculating step to coax his baby daughter into taking a bottle. And Chris Jones, a sportswriter from Ottawa, Canada, whose simple but brilliant strategy helped him track down running back Ricky Williams when Ricky grew bored with the NFL and ran away—all the way to Australia.
These last few contributors didn't invent anything—their stories involve no duct tape or Swiss Army knives or half-melted Milky Way bars—but in my book, they absolutely qualify as MacGyver stories. Wikipedia, the open-source online encyclopedia, states in its "MacGyver" entry that to pull a MacGyverism is to "fix, repair, rig, solve, build, invent, or otherwise save the day." It's that last part—saving the day—that all these stories have in common. But What Would MacGyver
Do? takes Wikipedia's definition and broadens it even further. This book celebrates acts of improvised genius, period.
Shortly after Richard Dean Anderson got the MacGyver job, he told the Akron Beacon Journal, "I'd been turning down a lot of things for the last year or so. I'm trying to let integrity be an integral part of my personality. This character has a lot of the qualities that I've been looking for. He's a very physical character, (but) there's a humanity about the character that is very attractive to me. He's not relying on an underlying vein of machismo to get through all this. I'm going to embellish the hell out of this character. They have no idea how well they cast this."
Well, Richard, you really nailed that one. For many MacGyver fans, the character's fundamental goodness goes to the heart of his appeal: In a dark and stormy world, Angus Mac-Gyver can always be counted on to do the right thing. But to the younger generation of MacGyver fans—to those twenty-and thirtysomethings who vaguely recall the TV show from their childhood but were reintroduced to Mac though hiphop and The Simpsons—Macs appeal is more about his resourcefulness, his unflappable cool no matter how high the stakes. His kitsch value is also part of the equation, and, yes, so is his hair. In editing this collection, I've done my best to include stories that will appeal to the full range of MacGyver fans—fans of the show, fans of the man, and even fans of the idea of MacGyver.
One last thing. In the About the Book section of WhatWouldMacGyverDo.com, I wrote the line: "We've all pulled a MacGyverism or two in our day." Actually, that's not true. Many of us have never pulled a MacGyverism—not even once. I had every intention of coming up with a story for this collection, despite my incompetence in the improvisational arts. So did my editor at Hudson Street Press, who came up with the idea for the book in the first place. But after wracking our brains for six months, neither one of us could come up with a single story that seemed worthy. (We'd both found ourselves in plenty of tight spots, but the MacGyver moments were lacking.) And that's because it's hard to be this clever. It's hard to be MacGyver, if only for that one shining moment. Especially in real life, when the only script is the one you write for yourself.
So to all you contributors, including those who submitted stories we weren't able to publish, I thank you. My editor thanks you. Hudson Street Press thanks you. And most of all, MacGyver thanks you. Wherever you fall on the continuum of MacGyver fanhood—whether you own all seven seasons on DVD or simply love the man for his mullet—we hope you have as much fun reading this book as we had making it.
Oh, and if you ever lose your bookmark, you know what works pretty well? A paper clip.
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