Sunday, January 27, 2013
Repost: The Art Of The Spectacle
A man was going to do what was clearly dangerous. He was going against the odds. He had courage, desire and a single-minded focus. Despite our bravado, the vast majority of us would never do what he was about to do. It was the perfect stage to keep the undivided attention of millions around the world.
Perhaps like many families, we stumbled across the Redbull Stratos project through news reports and social media mentions. We went to the website of the live mission first, then added the Discovery HD Channel telecast as a second screen. We also actively chatted with others on Twitter as things unfolded. Three screens for one special event viewed spontaneously.
The drama of watching Felix Baumgartner slowly drift up toward the edge of space was heightened by the camera shots of his wife and family members. The announcers built the suspense. The fundamental idea that he was going to jump out of his capsule and free-fall some twenty-four miles back to earth with just a parachute was hard to grasp.
Every spectacle needs moments. Eventually, the capsule reached the height needed for the record attempt. After adjusting the cabin pressure, the live video from inside the capsule gave us the first moment. The door opened and there, in all its High Definition glory, was earth. It was a long way down.
As Baumgartner finished his final checklist, he slid his feet out of the capsule door. Across the world, folks watching on every single kind of device from TV's to cell phones got the very same feeling. This guy was actually going to do it right now. The sense of danger was very real, even if the only thing I had to ride was my couch.
The video showed Baumgartner standing on the small ledge outside the capsule. The angle switched to one from overhead looking down. Key to the tension from the start of the event were the pictures. Then, with a small lean forward, he was gone. It was actually happening.
That moment of being terrified, thrilled and amazed all at the same time felt familiar. As Baumgartner hurtled toward earth risking his own life in front of my eyes it hit me all at once. This is the way I used to feel about a Sprint Cup Series race. This heart in your throat can't stop watching excitement is what got me into NASCAR.
The cheers went up when Baumgartner's parachute finally opened. There was still a long way to go but at least things were going according to plan. The thrill had changed into an appreciation of just how much effort had gone into this one event. Now it was time to see if he could bring it home.
From twenty-four miles up Baumgartner eased his way back to solid ground and just for good measure, he stuck the landing. My viewing partner and I looked at each other. Without saying a word, we both knew what had happened. We had shared a unique moment with each other from just being there.
That is the way I used to feel when a top-notch NASCAR race was over. It could be a high-speed run at Michigan or a short-track slugfest at Richmond. The drivers were ready and willing to take a risk to win. The drama would unfold with the announcers and pictures playing a key role. The story developed without any of us knowing the result.
The real key to making this work was that each race was a spectacle. Each race offered an individual challenge that would last until the final turn of the final lap. Fate and luck would play a role that was yet to be determined. The danger was real, the intensity was high and sport was driven by the personalities involved.
I stopped enjoying Sprint Cup Series races a while ago and stopped watching live telecasts this season. Rather than let the spectacle of each unique event unfold, things seem to be centered on simply getting in position to participate in the post-season Chase for the Championship. Team decisions are centered on what can be lost, not gained, by taking risks.
Inside the Chase, it's even worse. The announcers are caught-up in trying to promote the playoff format at the expense of the actual event in progress. The stories of most of the teams in the field are rarely told, regardless of the racing value. Teams not in the Chase just don't matter, despite the fact those drivers are taking the same risks and working just as hard as the chosen twelve.
I miss that lump in the throat feeling when watching racing. When Baumgartner leaned forward and stepped off the ledge, you knew he was committed. You knew he was willing to take a risk. It was pure spectacle. Maybe someday racing will change back to embrace that style of celebrating every event in a unique fashion and let the season championship be a result of risk rather than calculation.
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