Crazy Stunts Then and Now

I fell for the hype and watched the televised stunt on ABC of Nik Wallenda's tightrope walk across Niagara Falls. I'm a sucker for daredevil gimmicks. Even though Wallenda had to use a safety harness to secure permission for the stunt, it was still an impressive, record-breaking accomplishment.

Nevertheless, I wonder if having that security measure minimized the perception of what Wallenda did.  If he failed, he would not have plummeted down to the rapids of the Falls, the harness would have saved him.  Even though Wallenda did not want to use it, the fact that he was forced to have it as a precaution definitely lessened the drama a bit. Did it also make the feat a little easier, since it no longer was "death-defying," but now just crazy -- like bungee jumping off a skyscraper or skydiving off a giant cliff? It's still pretty scary, still a rush, but you know the cord is there to save you, the parachute is there to ease your fall, the strap is there to catch you.

Much of the excitement of stunts performed by the likes of Harry Houdini is the danger.  What if they fail?  When Houdini was buried alive, people knew that the result if he didn't escape would be death. Evel Knievel never used a safety net -- he broke every bone in his body over the years, and that's all the proof we needed that he was putting life and limb on the line when he dared to jump the Grand Canyon in his suped up motorcycle.

Nik Wallenda did it the proper way, seeking permission, having the event publicized and telecast on live broadcast network TV. The compromise to do so was that he had to use that safety harness. Some daredevils across the world do not care for permissions -- they scale buildings, leap off bridges, all unauthorized, and they put not only their lives at risk but also the safety of the public and first responders, law enforcement officials, and others in jeopardy.

I'm sure folks like David Blain and David Copperfield are thinking of ways to top Wallenda's stunt.  Blain already spent time frozen in a block of ice and Copperfield walked through giant spinning blades.  What else might they have up their sleeves, and how death-defying will it be?

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