Virgin Galactic: when daredevilry goes wrong

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
November 03, 2014 /

Click here to view original /

Just this past weekend serial risk-taker Nik Wallenda high-wired himself between a couple of Chicago skyscrapers.

Wallenda in fact regularly takes his tightrope and ballet flats to all kinds of ridiculous places. The Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, Other Stupidly High And/Or Wet Places.

I watched his Chicago air-walk, brow furrowed.

How should audiences have reacted had he plunged to his death? Were we all in fact quietly hoping for it in that voracious blood-lusty way that we invariably deny in ourselves? Alternatively, were we supposed to beat our breasts and howl in faux shock that, OMG, tightrope-walking blindfolded isn’t actually as safe as it seemed?

I don’t get daredevils. Never have. Worse is when they pitch their jaunt as being about charity. But I’ll spare you that particular diatribe.

So let’s chat about the kind of daredevilry that in fact makes Nik and his slippers-shenanigans look like a cakewalk.

Virgin Galactic. Because after saturating Earth with his gyms/record stores/phone plans/plane travel and abysmal advertising, Hank Scorpio – I mean, Richard Branson – has the remainder of the universe left to conquer.

A space plane was sent up by Branson Corp and it came back with fewer beating hearts than it took off with.

So how are we supposed to react here? Is it a tragedy? Is it a shock? Is it the sad but also thoroughly inevitable consequence of participation in the most extreme of extreme sports?

Branson’s presser actually made a few decent points. New technology often does have a slow and sputtering start. And yes, the history of transportation is replete with tragic lessons.

But is the commercial enterprise of space tourism in the same league of public goodness as, say, travel by car and boat, train or plane?

Surely speaking of Virgin’s space capitalism in the same breath as the development of steam trains and passenger liners is gilding the lily ever so slightly?

I’m no fan of Branson – hell, I still have dark and disturbing flashbacks when I recall stumbling across a copy of Losing My Virginity on an ex’s bookshelf. But I’m not ready to tar and feather him just yet. After all, Branson’s just doing what our culture has long praised him for: selling stuff in his ostentatious, dancing-girls and glitter cannons kind of way. Sure, if regulatory bodies decide he’s peddling a bad product, then he needs to stop. But last I heard, he’s not kidnapping and strapping young’ns into rockets.

There’ll always be people – men, usually, but let’s leave that to one side – who want to do things that are dangerous, that are stupid, that risk life and limb, that pump their bodies full of adrenalin. Men who don’t need Branson’s glossy locks and cheesy grins to get enthused about the possibility of adventure.

Sometimes these men will get involved out of bravery, out of social good. More often than not, however, it’s about being the first, being a pioneer, being able to piss the farthest. Men who are in fact drawn to the activity because of the risk of death and not in spite of it.

Death is always sad. Hell, once a month I’ll tear up over time-lapse photography of a decomposing apple. But death needs to be put in perspective. If likelihood of demise is listed in the fine print of your employment contract and yet you still sign on, it’s less tragic and more so a finale fit for a daredevil.

© Lauren Rosewarne