The Dark Side

News item: This autumn, executives at National Geographic — John Fahey (Chairman & CEO), David Lyle (CEO of the National Geographic Channel), and Howard Owens (President of NGC) — will produce a global television “event” featuring Alex Honnold, who will attempt to free climb the side of skyscraper on live TV. The dramatic hook: Will Alex slip and fall to his death? 

From Jan Adkins

Have a drink. Oh, you’re a recovering alcoholic? Oh, come on; you know you want a drink. Have a drink. Six years sober? Good for you. That’s probably enough. Have a drink. It’s bad for you, it brings out the worst parts of your personality? That’s okay: we’re all like that, we all have dark sides. Since all of us share the dark, dark must be good. Anything’s okay if we all do it. Have a drink.

Jan Adkins

Jan Adkins

Here, kid, try some of this crack cocaine. It will make you feel weird and cool. It’s against the law? Ridiculous. Anything’s okay if we all do it. I’m bad for offering you something unhealthy and illegal? But it’s something everyone wants: look at the ratings it’s getting! Crack is obviously popular, clearly something the people want, so how can I be wrong in filling a need? Okay, so I fill the need for my own profit; isn’t that what capitalism is all about? Try a jolt of this crack. You’ll learn to love it.

Let’s go to Bedlam and make fun of the crazies. It’s wrong to amuse ourselves at the cost of someone’s dignity? Ridiculous. We all do it; how can it be wrong? Seeing people who are plainly beneath us will make us feel better, more righteous, more superior. Bad to do it for profit? Isn’t that what capitalism is all about? Appealing to our basest instincts? How can they be so bad if everyone has them. Make fun of defenseless people! Feel better about yourself! You deserve a break today!

Let’s use this empty temple as a video arcade and crack house. Good location, just up the street from the White House. It was for sale; we got it for cheap. Important, even holy services were held here? Ridiculous. That was then; this is now. No one cares about ethics or superlatives; this is the Age of Glorious Mediocrity. If some old farts practiced a religion of enlightenment and exploration, here, it couldn’t have been important. They wouldn’t have sold us the temple, would they? And who would leave greedy nihilists in charge of a holy place unless it didn’t matter? Nice building. Maybe we can sell the fixtures. Hell, maybe we can sell the inmates.

  • Bob

    This is great! Next we should try to get NASCAR cancelled, then football and hockey. (Well, not that many people watch hockey.) then we can boycott Breaking Bad and try to get The Walking Dead cancelled. Have all the DVDs of the Sopranos destroyed. I’m already looking forward to the day when all that is on TV is golf and the Hallmark channel.

    • Jan Adkins

      Puh-lease, Bob. No one here is damning risk and adventure (though your suggestions for removals are sound, especially the Walking Dead). We ARE saying that the Society isn’t in the titillation business or the pandering business. It was and should remain a Society of exploration and education. A lot of our friends risked life and limb (frostbitten toes were our specialty) but not for stunts or gee-whiz. They overachieved beyond normally safe bounds (but with sensible fallbacks) to fulfill the Geographic dictum of technical photography: “f8 and be there.” They brought back important insights and new perspectives. The most adventurous and wildest of them would scorn a building-climbing stunt, empty of geographic or logical meaning. The Society is becoming a carnival rather than a tool of enlightenment.

    • Football & hockey games are dramatic without Death haunting the proceedings. … Breaking Bad is fiction. So is The Sopranos. But if Alex dies during this stunt, then Alex really will be dead. See the difference?

      Q for you, Bob: If you’re John Fahey, and if Alex dies during this stunt, how would explain the fact that you’ve underwritten the whole “event,” and profited handsomely from Alex’s death? … Go ahead. Give it a shot. I’ll wait here…

      • bob

        Death/violence, real death & violence/fictional death & violence – you can try to separate them but they are strongly connected. The fact is that the viewing public wants the tension, the visceral experience of injury and possible death. Years ago NGS gave up the comfortable position of only having to produce a few hours of TV each year for the monumental task of filling a cable channel 24/7 and in finding enough eyeballs to tune in so that that channel survives.

        I do agree with Jan that most TV is crap. Is some of the NGC stuff crap, most likely. Is all NGT stuff crap – not at all.

        As for your question about Fahey, it is a silly one. You and I both know that he will say what any exec would say (if he was even required to speak; he could pass it all over to Fox to handle) – “it was a great tragedy,” “we are all saddened by the death of this brave young man….” What you really want to know is whether or not he’ll lose any sleep over it. Personally, I’m not going to lose any sleep pondering the depths of Fahey’s conscience.

        • Are “real” and “fictional” violence & death “connected”? Yes. But is it difficult to separate them? No. On a TV show, when an actor “dies,” he gets a paycheck; in real life, when a person dies, he’s buried.

          Re: your comments on NGC & NGT — I agree. But as I’ve said before, my focus is on how John Fahey plans to keep the Society afloat. I’m interested in his business model, and whether or not it’s sustainable. “Great Migrations” clearly won’t pay the bills, so he gives the green light to this skyscraper stunt. Which suggests, to me, that John is rapidly running out of ideas.

          Re: Fahey saying “it was a great tragedy” — please. That response would be insane. … When a young woman leans against the balcony railing of her apartment on the 17th floor, and that railing gives way, and the woman falls to her death, that’s a tragedy.

          But when the Chairman & CEO of a struggling media company pays a young man to risk life & limb for no reason other than selling advertisements — and that young man then falls to his death while simultaneously delivering big profits to said company, then the operative word is certainly not “tragedy.” To be charitable, the words would be “corporate negligence.” Or “executive malfeasance.” Or worse.

          • bob

            First, negligence is when you have a balcony railing that collapses when you lean on it. Which does not make it any less tragic.

            Second, I don’t see anyone holding a gun to Honnold’s head. I believe that he is an adult and not of diminished capacity. So, if he decides to make the climb, it is ultimately his decision. Not a decision I or anyone I know would make, but then neither is watching the Kardashians, which I gather many people do.

          • You’re right that a balcony railing collapsing is a form of negligence. But imagine if, when the railing was installed, the contractor’s payment was dependent on leaving the possibility of death-by-railing-collapse wide open. In other words: the contractor installed the railing, but didn’t anchor it solidly on purpose.

            That’s basically the type of negligence we have in the case of Alex Honnold & the National Geographic Channel. We’re selling this “global TV event” by removing the net. The railing is loose on purpose.

            Re: no one “holding a gun to Honnold’s head” — that’s not the point. This isn’t about Alex. It’s about John Fahey. What sort of Society is he creating? What’s his business model to sustain the organization? And: Why has he come to a point where his main cash cow — the Channel — now is trying to draw a crowd by encouraging Alex to put a gun to his own head?

            What do I expect from John Fahey? I expect him to say this: “Alex… son… please put down the gun. You killing yourself to entertain others is wrong. And while I can’t stop you from climbing up a skyscraper, I refuse to enable it. Our society — and our Society — is about affirming life, not eliminating it.”

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