Last night a “daredevil” (such an old-fashioned word) walked on a tightrope over Niagara Falls in a well-financed stunt, and every news source I’ve looked at this morning, even those you might think would cast a cooler eye, is agog with breathless admiration.
Is anyone else as puzzled as I am by all this hype? I mean, sure, walking on a steel cable is a skill, but aside from a vague appreciation of Nik Wallenda’s sense of balance, I’m left with an empty “So what?”
In fact I’d have ignored the whole thing except that I’m so insulted by the constant use of the word “inspiring.” Not least by the “daredevil” himself. Faced with the standard question from a Canadian customs agent – “What is the purpose of your trip, sir?” – he replied: “To inspire people and the world.”
This is bullshit. If anyone had asked what exactly he was inspiring them to do, he’d probably have continued the stream of clichés with something about fulfilling one’s dreams. In fact he did: “This is what dreams are made of,” he said.
Not my dreams.
Degrading inspiration this way leaves me, appropriately, kind of breathless. Inspiration literally means breathing in. It means inhaling not merely air, but spirit and life. The spirit of life, that is – or the life of the spirit. It implies transcendence, going beyond oneself, reaching for a higher and presumably better level of existence.
Risking your life to save another: that’s inspiring. Refusing to be silenced by fear: inspiring. Expanding your own sense of the possible: inspiring.
But walking 1,800 feet on a steel cable? As any circus pro can tell you, that’s entertainment.