El Capitan, El Presidente and El Testosterone

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
January 15, 2015 /

Click here to view original /

I don’t appreciate natural splendour. I understand the public good of national parks, sure, but the last time I was in one I was a sullen teenager about to be dragged from the back seat of a rental car to look at a giant hole in the ground.

Equally, the extent to which I’m interested in “conquering nature” centres exclusively on rubbing lashings of petrochemicals into my hair to tame the frizz.

Words like first and highest/fastest/longest/best all centre on feats that strike me as exclusively individualist and yet, alas, have come to occupy a severely disproportionate amount of media attention.

Such stories, of course, are effortless to tell, to understand and, happily, tend to proffer copious footage of sweaty, panting men – satisfying, apparently, many values of modern media outlets.

Needless to say, when I first read about two guys climbing some super big rock-face thing in Yosemite without tools, my immediate thought was: I hope you pay for your own rescue mission.

American taxpayers can, however, breath a sigh of relief: the daredeviling duo made it, sprayed the mandatory champagne ejaculate over themselves, and gave reporters ever more opportunities to attach “feat of human-” to all kinds of endurance/will/determination platitudes.

Job done, gents.

One thing I found almost interesting in this story is the response from Barack Obama. Admittedly only on Instagram – so, come on, it hardly matters – but nevertheless: El Presidente took the time to compliment the El Capitan “heroes”: “You remind us that anything is possible.”

Who is the “us” in this statement? What possible possibilities are these sweaty rock-climbing folk reminding us of? Am I the only one with a furrowed brow?

I do admit, though, that my attitude is grounded in my own personal lack of drive. Not a lack of work ethic – I have that bit sorted – but I’ve never understood the yen to push oneself to the brink of whatever mentality. Why, for example, does my cousin keep stealing from the bank in Monopoly? Why – in the face of all evidence – are my family still so hopeful that the Western Bulldogs will eventually win a premiership? Why, in 2015, do we still have horses being ridden into the ground as bloody recreation?

I watched Whiplash at the cinema last year, and Foxcatcher just recently: on both occasions I was struck by complete bewilderment. Who are these people – often, but not always, these men – who are drumming until their fingers bleed, who are swaddled like fat babies, peddling manically to get down to fightin’ weight? Why? To what ends? Is there really that much pleasure in being able to borrow a record until the time when someone breaks it and nobody remembers your name?

Sure, I’d be the first to mock the slow-food, yoga, tantra, stop-and-smell-the-patchouli approach to life: I don’t do laid back or relaxed and I think the only time I’ve ever used the word “chilled” is in relation to my fridge.

But the opposite end of the spectrum – with all the sweat and blisters and Tony Robbins mantras – strikes me as just as weird and perplexing and troubling. And packaging such pursuits as an inspiration for “us” – rather than just a tick on someone’s personal bucket list – is completely delusional.

Horses for courses, live and let live, yada yada: I get it. Worth column inches, news minutes and a presidential accolade? Of that I’m less convinced.

© Lauren Rosewarne