This morning I woke up to the news of ten people dying when two helicopters collided while filming a French survival reality television program. This horrible accident has me questioning, yet again, the wisdom – or lack thereof – behind popularizing highly risky adventure activities through reality television.
Several weeks ago, British television aired a two-part documentary about a British adventurer trekking the length of the Nile River. While on the trek, the adventurer and his guide, at this stage completely on their own, had to walk through territory they knew was under the control of armed men. They clandestinely filmed an exchange in which they gave the armed men some of their gear in order to secure their passage through the territory. Later, in the same documentary, a journalist and his photographer came across the adventurer and asked to join them for part of their trek. Apparently they were heading in the same direction. They were welcomed by the adventurer, who continued on his way to trek by the side of the Nile, during the daytime, in exposed 50-Celsius heat. The journalist got heat stroke. Due to the nature of this particular trek, the emergency evacuation available to the adventurer was hours away. All that could be done was to set up a makeshift shade for the journalist and try to cool him with the little amount of water the group had. The journalist died. The adventurer appeared incredibly sad. The end of the documentary showed a black screen with the picture of the journalist and a nice “In memory of…” And viewers were expected to then watch the second part of the documentary the following week and cheer the adventurer on for the remainder of his journey.
I felt insulted. A man died, in my mind and from what we were shown, directly as a result of this group engaging in unacceptably risky behavior, and I was expected as a viewer to take this in my stride as being normal and expected. I was supposed to accept that the adventurer continued on his trek, continued to film, and continued to enjoy and revel in his own experiences. I refused to watch the second episode of the documentary the following week. Not that it mattered to anyone.
I believe it is one thing for an individual to engage in risky behavior only at his or her own expense. But that it is a completely different and unacceptable thing to take inexperienced people under one’s wing while engaging in such behaviors. Much worse, I believe, is popularizing this sort of activity in a way that undermines the seriousness of the activities involved.
It is important for various activities to be accessible to those who wish to engage in them. It is important for people to realize that there are so many places to be seen and so many experiences to be had. It is important for us to find ways to make reaching far out places more affordable. But it is even more important that we continue to drill into the minds of people how incredibly dangerous and unacceptably risky some activities can be.
We have breathtaking mountainous regions in the southern Sinai of Egypt. Hiking in these areas has only recently started becoming popular. But with no maps for the region, no emergency evacuation facilities, and no marked trails, our relatively safe hiking grounds, when compared with other parts of the world, can become very dangerous, especially for the inexperienced. Not long ago, four young Egyptians died while hiking in southern Sinai when their group was surprised by an unexpected snowstorm. They were not dressed or equipped to handle this sort of a situation. Nor were their guides or trip organizers.
I can’t help but be concerned about the way some adventure activities are becoming popularized, whether through the media or by individuals or companies wanting to make a few bucks. The impressions that some people may be getting from these programs or companies, that adventure is “fun” and “exciting” and “glorifying”, undermines the reality of the immense risk that can be involved and the strenuous and sometimes very prolonged training and preparation that must go into it.
I would give anything to see more Egyptian women, for example, break out of their shells and experience life to its fullest. I would give anything but their lives and their general wellbeing. Those of us who have had adventure-like experiences and who want to see more people engage in them bear the important responsibility of being serious about communicating the risk involved in our activities and the preventive measures taken.