Sometimes I don’t think I watch enough TV.
Last June, a Wallenda walked a tightwire across a stretch of the Grand Canyon. I missed it. Missed knowing about it. Don’t know how, exactly. I was tuned in, hip, turned on (in the electro-media sense); on top of The News. I just missed it.
I just looked into it a few minutes ago. I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, really. Vaguely, now, I remember a few details that might have nudged my attention away from the event. It was a Wallenda, to be sure. But the tightwire wasn’t across The Grand Canyon of the Colorado River, it was across The Canyon of the Little Colorado River, near The Grand Canyon. And, it was on ABC, on a Sunday afternoon.
A legendary moment for the scheduling of The Sports that TV Forgot. Not precisely concentric, perhaps, but in spirit it was right on. Late Saturday afternoons, actually, from January 2, the day after the college football season concluded, until the baseball season really took form in late June, was the scheduled moment and dial-address for ABC’s Wide World of Sports, the first reality series.
From 1961, when it debuted as a one-season summer fill-in, until 1998, when it dissolved into its own 24/7 network called ESPN, Wide World of Sports broadcast 90 minutes of sports and sportsman’s activities per week. Jim McKay’s stirring opening voice-over,”… the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat” emphasizing library footage of downhill racers flashing across frozen finish lines and Indy cars flipping end-over-end before great blossoms of fire clearly depicted the visceral values of these experiences; and that they could be yours in the next yawning gap of your insipid lives, waiting just on the other side of these commercials…
Talk about Evolution. The idea of getting some corporate sponsorship for every second of everybody”s life probably didn’t spring full-grown from the brow of 14-year-old David Sarnoff as he received a feeble “SOS” from the doomed “Titanic”. It grew. In 1920, in Pittsburgh, where “selling time” was born; in 1926, as NBC formed its first national network in Washington and Chicago, and selling time across time zones was implemented; in 1996, the ban on owning more than six each radio and tv stations was lifted; in, I think, 2007, the ban on owning more than 40 combined licenses was lifted; and of course the birth in around 2005 of individualized internet marketing contributed its own step in the development of the process. In addition to the fad of wearing commercial labels as decoration begun around 1978 and expanded continuously to the present, and combined with the campaign to eliminate access to abortion, aided and abetted by the destructive over-pricing of higher education, it is estimated (by me – I estimate) that by 2040 fully 22% of Americans will have corporate insignia tattooed at birth on their foreheads and their butts, and will receive annual compensation for those displays. Furthermore, unwanted infants will be born in corporate kennels and tattooed head to toe. They will be maintained by the PR departments of these corporations and their lives will be devoted exclusively to the promotion of their sponsors.
And that brings us back to wire walking.
Skywriting. Wing-walking. Stilt-walking. Juggling extremely heavy, sharp objects. Sword-swallowing, fire-eating, and, for those properly endowed, fan-dancing. All of these have their promotional value. None though, make the clear-cut wordless parallels with superiority and success simply by associating the product with the act.
– be sure of your rigging: not too tight, not too loose
– stay straight on the line. Purity of thought.
– sure of foot, straight ahead. Everything is with you.
– singlemindedness. Life without doubt.
“Being on the tightrope is living. Everything else is waiting.” – Karl Wallenda. Couldn’t say it better. Nobody could.