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Mr. Wallenda’s wife, Erendira, who is also an acrobat, said she, too, opposed the idea of a tether. She summed up their occupation this way: “If we fall, we die.”
May 23, 2012 6:37 AM   Subscribe

"If anyone describes this as a death-defying stunt comparable to the amazing feats of Blondin, Farini or even Jay Cochrane, they’ll be lying. It’s not even close now." [NFReview] Nik Wallenda 'King of the High Wire', the seventh generation of the legendary Great Wallendas will walk across Niagara Falls, unfortunately it won't be the "thrill" that most people were expecting and wanting. "Apparently, ABC is new to this whole ‘daredevil’ thing." Nik Wallenda knows this better than anyone – his great-grandfather died after falling off a tightrope in San Juan, Puerto Rico 34 years ago. The YouTube clip is horrifying to watch [NSFW], but Wallenda has never denied this is part of the family business. He knows the deal.

A direct descendant of Karl Wallenda (founder of the The Flying Wallendas), Nik is known for performing death-defying stunts on highwire without a safety net. On October 15, 2008, during a live broadcast of Today, Wallenda walked and then bicycled across a suspended highwire 13 and 1/2 stories above the ground off the roof of the Prudential Center in Downtown Newark, New Jersey for a Guinness Book of Records world record for longest and highest bicycle on a highwire. [Previously]
posted by Fizz (60 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
I was not certain about the rules regarding youtube videos of this nature. If that link to the youtube clip of his great-grandfather dying breaks any rules, please remove it.
posted by Fizz at 6:38 AM on May 23, 2012


Gee, ABC doesn't want to show someone dying live on TV? Even a 10% chance of that? Shocker.
posted by smackfu at 6:43 AM on May 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is a real blow, honestly. The Disneyfication of everything continues.

Adding a safety harness makes this no more dangerous than what Niagara rescue crews do on a regular basis when they rescue people from the waters.
posted by smitt at 6:44 AM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Adding the safety harness makes it less dangerous than crossing the street. I suppose that by reducing your risk of mishap to very near zero you're somehow "defying death", but that's not what those words are supposed to mean.
posted by mhoye at 6:49 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I liked these sort of things until I watched Nik Wallenda walk over the Allegheny River 200' in the air in person a few years go. Watching someone risk getting killed turned out not to be a very fun viewing experience.
posted by octothorpe at 6:49 AM on May 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


The odd thing is how very quaint a live 3 hour daredevil special on ABC is. It's straight out of the 80s.

He should totally have done a Kickstarter to get the funding instead. Then he could have risked his life live on YouTube.
posted by smackfu at 6:50 AM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Can't he go out, say, fifteen metres and undo the buckle?

Shouldn't be too hard for a guy like him. It's not like he's schlepping out a stove and cooking an omelet out there.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:50 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


My son and I saw the Wallendas perform at the Dane County Fair last summer. What they do -- even on a highwire "only" twenty feet off the ground -- is breathtaking. If you want to see the real thing, see these guys when they come to your town.

I can't really fault ABC. I, for one, find the feeling of "that guy might fall and break the hell out of three or four bones" sufficiently thrilling without adding on "that guy might die." Indeed, I wouldn't take my son to a show where the performer might die.
posted by escabeche at 6:51 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I live 10 minutes from Niagara Falls and the cynical me was actually becoming pretty interested in this event (it's been in the news here for quite a while) - until the harness thing. Now, it all seems ridiculous to me.
posted by davebush at 6:52 AM on May 23, 2012


Would the safety harness be a non-issue if another company were filming? I wonder if youtube has similar restrictions/legislation/censorship with regards to stunts of this type? What about a network from another company outside of North America?
posted by Fizz at 6:54 AM on May 23, 2012


ABC still has a few weeks to also require that he has to do the walk while avoiding rotating soap covered foam tubes as a tie-in to their obstacle course show Wipeout.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 6:55 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's a bit like going to see a band lip-synch on American Bandstand, isn't it? Worse, maybe.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:56 AM on May 23, 2012


I'm not sure that declining to show a man fall to his death on live TV is precisely the same thing as disneyfication.
posted by DU at 6:57 AM on May 23, 2012 [13 favorites]


The video of Karl's death is odd.

For those who don't want to watch it: He gets in trouble with his balancing pole, kneels down, briefly straddles the wire, and can be seen grasping it with one hand. Then in an instant he's falling. No visible attempt to hold on to the wire.

It seems like it would have required a hurricane gust of wind to blow him clear off. And if the wire had been too sharp to hold on to, even with certain death as the alternative, I imagine it would have been too sharp to walk on.

Professional code of some sort? Or knowledge that rescue would be impossible and choosing to accept the inevitable?
posted by Trurl at 6:58 AM on May 23, 2012


Just the same as I no longer want football players to suffer brain damage for my entertainment, I have no desire to have someone potentially die for my entertainment. But daredevils gotta dare, I suppose.
posted by charred husk at 7:01 AM on May 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


Professional code of some sort? Or knowledge that rescue would be impossible and choosing to accept the inevitable?
I'm guessing he was still trying to get back on his feet and slipped. Since his torso went rfirst, he had no chance of grabbing the wire in time.
posted by Think_Long at 7:03 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


This comment, previously made on metafilter provides some further history/background.
posted by Fizz at 7:03 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Or knowledge that rescue would be impossible and choosing to accept the inevitable?

Or the guy was 73 years old and he had a heart attack or brain aneurysm or something else. There's no telling why it happened.
posted by komara at 7:13 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


It may just be that his name is Wallenda. The Flying Wallendas have a history of catastrophes that goes well beyond just the one old man. So much so that they're often called the Falling Wallendas. Hell, even the "Flying" comes from a spectacular fall:

It was at a performance in Akron, Ohio that the group all fell off the wire, but were unhurt. The next day, a reporter who witnessed the accident was quoted in the newspaper: "The Wallendas fell so gracefully that it seemed as if they were flying" -- thus coining the name "The Flying Wallendas".
-- Wikipedia

Count the deaths.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:17 AM on May 23, 2012


But daredevils gotta dare, I suppose.

Another high-wire walker, Philippe Petit put it another way.

"Life should be lived on the edge of life. You have to exercise rebellion: to refuse to tape yourself to rules, to refuse your own success, to refuse to repeat yourself, to see every day, every year, every idea as a true challenge - and then you are going to live your life on a tightrope."

If it's a guy risking his life in front of an audience to make a buck, the high-wire act is as tawdry as it comes, but if it's a guy doing his art why should I not watch and revel albeit the risks involved are all the same?
posted by three blind mice at 7:17 AM on May 23, 2012


The Wallendas are consummate show(wo)men - if he's wearing a safety harness, it seems hard to believe that it will not be put to use for dramatic effect if at all possible.
posted by CaptApollo at 7:19 AM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry there's very little chance of him dying, and the only thing we get to see is him walking on a freaking wire over Niagara Falls.
posted by inigo2 at 7:20 AM on May 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


Fizz: "I wonder if youtube has similar restrictions/legislation/censorship with regards to stunts of this type?"
Previously.
posted by brokkr at 7:24 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Later, still drying perspiration from his bristly orange hair, Wallenda cops to a secret: "I tell my mom to ‘watch it’ in every show. When I look like I’m off balance? Moving my bar like crazy? All to build drama." Asked whether he might regret pulling back the curtain quite so far, Wallenda nonchalantly shrugs. "People understand that we’re entertainers. That’s where our skills come in, and believe it or not, it's the hard part of what we do."

Is all this, perhaps, part of the entertainment? Protesting the decision is far more dramatic and newsworthy than conceding, considering as I've read before that he'd be wearing a harness
"Since the Niagara Falls walk was announced, he has hinted there may be a harness. While speaking to sudents from Notre Dame Elementary School last week, he offhandedly revealed he'd be wearing a safety harness, but didn't specify whether it would be for the whole walk. That's now the case."


...types a very horrified, relieved and Acrophobic peagood, who can't even watch her kid ride a rollercoaster without taking an Ativan; who was taken of a small parking lot Ferris wheel not too long ago in tears; and who watched Hugo in 3D with her fingers over her eyes and much whimpering.
posted by peagood at 7:26 AM on May 23, 2012


Petit is some guy. BBC2 showed the film about his 1974 Twin Towers crossing in Man on Wire at the weekend, first time I'd seen it. Amazing. I was in awe of his focus but angry with his selfishness. Seemed like the whole thing took a really heavy toll on the friends that helped him do it. I don't think I could watch a close friend put their life on the, er... line, like that never mind help set it up.
posted by jiroczech at 7:29 AM on May 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was in awe of his focus but angry with his selfishness.

This seems like a ridiculous comparison to make (especially in the context of this thread) but I thought the same thing about Kevin Clash in the documentary Being Elmo. I think it's just something that comes with talent, genius, artistry. A devotion to the craft at the expense of everything else. This may include: friends, family, and one's own life.
posted by Fizz at 7:31 AM on May 23, 2012


I thought the same thing about Kevin Clash in the documentary Being Elmo

Yeah, but the difference between Elmo and Nik Wallenda is that people don't want to watch Nik Wallenda die.
posted by escabeche at 7:36 AM on May 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


In other Niagara Falls news, a recent suicide attempt had an unexpected result.
posted by davebush at 7:37 AM on May 23, 2012


Yeah, but the difference between Elmo and Nik Wallenda is that people don't want to watch Nik Wallenda die.

I'd love to get on the bandwagon with you and round up other people who hate Elmo as a character, but that documentary should be watched. It's a beautiful love letter to Jim Henson and his legacy. Worth your time, even if you hate Elmo.
posted by Fizz at 7:38 AM on May 23, 2012


In other Niagara Falls news, a recent suicide attempt had an unexpected result.

Whoa! Here's hoping this guy's newfound celebrity will give him something to live for.
posted by resurrexit at 7:53 AM on May 23, 2012


List of objects that have gone over Niagara Falls.
posted by Fizz at 8:06 AM on May 23, 2012


Also in weird related Niagara Falls/death history & news:
The demise of the Michigan appears in every nineteenth-century guidebook; today, it’s almost always left out. When it’s mentioned, it’s usually cast as the opening salvo in spectacle’s attack on the sublime at Niagara—the moment crass commercialism began replacing natural wonder.

Posters advertising the event were very specific. The schooner Michigan, once a Lake Erie freighter partially owned by Peter Porter, would be decked out as a “Pirate” and loaded up with a cargo of “animals of the most ferocious kind, such as Panthers, Wild Cats, Bears and Wolves.” The caged animals would be displayed on board the ship at Black Rock, where visitors would have the opportunity to come aboard and check them out, for a “trifling expense.” On the morning of the eighth, the Michigan would be towed by steamship to the foot of Navy Island, a little more than four miles above the Falls. For the hefty sum of 50 cents, visitors could ride with the doomed critters. At Navy Island, the visitors would leave, and Peter Porter’s business associate Captain James Rough, “the oldest navigator of the Upper Lakes,” would tow the ship into the strong currents above the Falls and cut her loose, leaving her creaturely crew to its fate.

Every hotel bed in town was booked, and people slept on tables and floors. Taverns ran out of food and liquor. Estimates of attendance ranged from 10,000 to 20,000 spectators.

While they waited for the Michigan to meet her fate, the jostling masses were entertained by a ventriloquist, an astronomy lecturer, a menagerie, a learned pig and a card-playing dog named Apollo. Temperance lecturers railed against the evils of drink, violinists and pipe-players solicited donations, kino and three-card monte experts separated the gullible from their coins, pickpockets worked the crowd.

The hoteliers had been unable to lay hands on the promised ferocious panthers, wildcats and wolves. In the end, the crew consisted of two bears, a buffalo, two foxes, a raccoon, an eagle, a dog and fifteen honking geese. Apparently anticipating misgivings on behalf of the dog, the organizers assured the press that he, at least, deserved to die. He had bitten a reporter.
~ Inventing Niagara by Ginger Strand a wonderful history of Niagara Falls, filled with interesting factoids similar to those above.
posted by Fizz at 8:12 AM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


ABC's not new to the daredevil thing. Wide World of Sports used to have daredevils all the time.
posted by empath at 8:19 AM on May 23, 2012


crass commercialism began replacing natural wonder

Niagara Falls is weird - the local Niagara Parks Commission (a body with a rather secretive history and degree of scandal) does a pretty decent job of maintaining the beauty of the falls and the surrounding parks, but a mere stone's throw away is Clifton Hill, a kind of mini Times Square, and all the nonsense that comes with 2 casinos.
posted by davebush at 8:21 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


but a mere stone's throw away is Clifton Hill, a kind of mini Times Square, and all the nonsense that comes with 2 casinos.

My mother manages a gift shop on Clifton Hill. It's right next to a haunted house and a museum devoted to serial killers and famous criminals. Fun for all the ages.
posted by Fizz at 8:23 AM on May 23, 2012


I honestly don't understand why being tethered while walking across Niagra Falls on a wire (and not falling) makes it any less of an accomplishment than doing it without the tether. It still takes enormous amounts of skill and bravery to even attempt such a (still very dangerous) feat. I for one, wouldn't be able to do it even with the tether, and I seriously doubt anyone else here could as well.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 8:23 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fizz - I walk by that shop often. As tacky as that area is, I admit it's entertaining to prowl around down there.
posted by davebush at 8:29 AM on May 23, 2012


As tacky as that area is, I admit it's entertaining to prowl around down there.

Oh, it's definitely entertaining. It has the feeling of circus. And Niagara Falls has always straddled this fine line: between natural beauty and entertainment.
posted by Fizz at 8:37 AM on May 23, 2012


The Canadian side, at least. The US side is a depressing shit-hole.
posted by empath at 8:40 AM on May 23, 2012


Drive-By Truckers - The Flying Wallendas
"Webisode" about the song
posted by kjh at 8:42 AM on May 23, 2012


Meanwhile, in Russia
posted by Sutekh at 8:50 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have an intense urge to watch Wonderfalls
posted by HuronBob at 9:17 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


If ABC is so averse to the possibilty of showing some one die on live TV, that would at least explain why they don't show, say, auto racing. Oh, wait. Well, perhaps this year they will insist that the Indy 500 be raced with cars powered by lawnmower engines.
posted by TedW at 9:55 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I still see this feat as an amazing exhibit of skill and talent. I actually prefer the harness, as I would not want to see anyone die in the name of "entertainment." I understand that this is an attraction for some people, but I do not see the thrill in watching anyone potentially die (or even get injured). Maybe I'm just squeamish.
posted by blurker at 10:01 AM on May 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Indy drivers wear helmets and seat belts. Does that reduce the thrill of the sport? The point some are making here -- that this is a trivial stunt if he wears a harness -- is stupid. Either he can balance on a wire across the Falls or not, and there's the thrill. Dying need not be part of the downside risk.

I think some of y'all "this is no more dangerous than crossing the street" types ought to try walking a high wire 3 feet above a soft pit of sand.
posted by spitbull at 10:35 AM on May 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't know about tightrope walkers, but acrobats are far more amazing when they use a safety net. When their life isn't on the line, they can (and do) attempt stunts that are incredible and insane compared to the necessarily conservative and safe acts that are performed if a fall ends in career-ending injury or death.
Tightrope walking has always seemed kind of boring to me. A safety line makes no difference.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:42 AM on May 23, 2012


No, it is trivial if he wears a harness. I have no desire to see a man fall to his death, but a harness pretty much makes the height and location of the walk meaningless. The location would make a sans-harness walk quite a challenge IMO - there's a ton of swirling wind and mist generated by the falls.
posted by davebush at 10:55 AM on May 23, 2012


- there's a ton of swirling wind and mist generated by the falls.
To prepare for his greatest stunt yet, Wallenda trains on land using a wire identical to the one he will walk on over the falls this summer. In training, he is sprayed with heavy mist from a fire hose to simulate the falls' raging waters, and put up against a wind machine, generating gusts up to 60 miles per hour.
posted by Fizz at 11:04 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Absolutely frightening. I both like and hate this stuff; it pushes one to the edge (no pun intended) of imagined self-endangerment. It plays with the psyche in cruel, yet compelling ways. Some onlookers are inured, and entertained. For me, it's too much, even though I want to (and sometimes do) watch death defying feats on youtube (I think "in person" would be too much).

That said, some people "know" more about how to do stuff like this and survive, than others. Perspective: Is walking across Niagara Falls on a tightrope more dangerous than a walk through Fallujah by an American soldier, a few years ago?

Posts like this make me think about the preciousness and sometimes absurdity of life, within a narrow sliver of possibilities. There's something about this that makes me angry, but I'm still drawn to it. Life is strange and wonderful, all at the same time. Heck, I know a few people who suffer from panic attacks that drive more fear into their respective hearts that a Wallenda ever felt on a tightrope. They can be raw with fear sitting at their kitchen table.

Also, there is something really selfish, in an unselfish "dare-to-imagine" kind of way, about letting oneself be the *subject* of entertainment (the entertainee, if you will). Our brains are filled with mirror neurons that put us in the place of those we see in danger. In a way it *us* who do these stunts, and at the same time it's *us* who accomplish these feats. So, for those who like this sort of thing, they are, in a very real way, living vicariously through the daredevil's act. the latter lets us taste danger, from a distance. Man, it's primal.

I was going to post something here of a Darwin Award stunt, but I just couldn't, because some thrill seeker might see it someday, down the road, and try to duplicate it to ill effect.

Just be careful out there.
posted by Vibrissae at 12:25 PM on May 23, 2012


I just watched Man on Wire and holy fuckballs.
posted by Fizz at 1:09 PM on May 23, 2012


a harness pretty much makes the height and location of the walk meaningless. The location would make a sans-harness walk quite a challenge IMO

I'm confused. I'm picturing a slack line that, if he falls, will catch him. Would not affect the difficulty at all. Is this harness something different?
posted by inigo2 at 2:03 PM on May 23, 2012


Isn't preferring the version where he has no harness kind of like wanting blood sport?
posted by smackfu at 2:13 PM on May 23, 2012


The harness removes the possibility of dying, which was, as far as I can tell, the thing that made this event interesting. They don't call these guys "Skilldevils". Like it or not, without a huge risk attached, the drama's not there.
posted by davebush at 2:20 PM on May 23, 2012


I was once friends with someone who was/is very distantly related to someone who had gone over the Falls in a barrel back in 1920. We did some research on him before visiting Niagara; apparently only part of his arm was ever found.

I'm glad Wallenda will be wearing a harness for his walk.
posted by DingoMutt at 3:05 PM on May 23, 2012


The very idea that the feat is easy with a harness, or that a harness somehow does away with the effects of the location on the challenge, is simply ludicrous. A feat need not be literally death defying to be impressive.
posted by spitbull at 5:57 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


As a kid, I saw the Flying Wallendas high wire act at Sea World Ohio in the late '80s. I remember my Grammy telling me a bit about the family as we were waiting for the show to begin. I asked if they ever fell, and my Grammy whispered "they fall all. The. TIME". I watched that act with such nervous energy and anticipation, so excited to see what would happen when one of them hit the ground. I remember feeling disappointed and cheated when the act ended with everyone safe and sound. My Grammy was horrified and probably disgusted with me. What can I say, I was a morbid little shit.
posted by pupperduck at 6:58 PM on May 23, 2012


Fizz: I wonder if youtube has similar restrictions/legislation/censorship with regards to stunts of this type?
If it did, surely they would remove the videos of El Camino Del Rey?
posted by fearnothing at 10:57 PM on May 23, 2012


Tightrope walker Nik Wallenda may face falcon attack on Niagara Falls crossing.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:22 AM on May 24, 2012


Of course he should wear the harness. The point is to see someone accomplish it. If he does, there is no difference between wearing it and not wearing it. If he doesn't, good thing he had the harness.
posted by BurnChao at 9:24 AM on May 24, 2012


The problem isn't a binary one.

The whole point in daredevil stunts is the danger. Remove the danger and there's nothing interesting. But showing a person die live on TV for entertainment is also horrible.

ABC shouldn't require him to wear a harness when they film him. They shouldn't not require him to wear a harness when they film him. They should take the third option: realizing that there is no good way to pull this off, so therefore they shouldn't make the show in the first place.
posted by Bugbread at 9:34 PM on May 28, 2012


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