Monday, July 02, 2012

Are Celebrity Adventurers a Sign of Cultural Immaturity?

Today is the 75th anniversary of the disappearance of Amelia Earhart.  Trying to become the first woman to pilot a plane around the world, she disappeared.  She was already a significant cultural figure for her feats of daring and her gender.  She wrote books, received awards, gave lectures, appeared on magazine covers, and endorsed products.  But when she vanished without a trace, she became an enduring phenomenon, a lasting part of our collective cultural consciousness.

She was part of a generation that prized explorers and adventurers, people who took risks to do something or go somewhere no one had before.  And these risk-takers often ended up on the wrong side of the odds.  Many lost their lives seeking glory and novelty.

Such behavior seems odd today.  Our heroes fight computer-generated graphics in simulated contexts of danger.  Or they play sports with new and stronger pads to assure that the investments of team owners are as little likely to be injured as possible.  This is not to say that these folks don't train and work very hard; they do, but we are much less enthralled with people putting themselves in places of actual potentially lethal peril.

Is this a sign of cultural maturity?  Or is it, as Fight Club enthusiasts might claim, a sign of cultural decay?  Do we expect less of ourselves, are we too mild in seeking new limits to challenge or are we smarter in being able to push limits in ways that do not threaten lives of those pushing the envelope?  Does our collective fascination with reality television's Lord of the Flies plot-lines, mean that we've just shifted from physical to psychological harm?  Or is it that we've explored everything there is to explore?  Why do we not have celebrity adventurers putting themselves in harm's way?