At last count, there were 8,389 crash videos uploaded to Pinkbike. YouTube surfing always leads to a crash video. Spectators gather in great numbers at events in part because of the allure of danger. Heck, the success of my own career as a pro trials rider arose because of my ability to flirt with the potential of a crash. Clearly people ‘like’ watching crashes, so what’s with our cultural crash fascination? Here's one of many failed attempts of the chainride video from CRUX I shared last month
Are we evolving into more intelligent creatures or is our entertainment culture dumbing us down? That’s the question posed in the Mike Judge movie “Idiocracy”, where he humorously explores what would happen if dumb people mindlessly reproduced and smart people chose not to because they don’t trust the future. In the movie, a doctor reports about one of the ‘dumb’ people: “Clevon is lucky to be alive, he attempted to jump a jet ski from a lake into a swimming pool and impaled his crotch on an iron gate, but thanks to recent advances in stem-cell research and the fine work of Dr. Krenski and Altschuller, Clevon should regain full reproductive function.” Clevon in the background is heard saying to the doctor, “Get your hands off my junk.” Funny movie, but the thing is, the plot is eerily believable.
The Three Stooges performed slapstick physical humour to elicit a humorous emotional release for viewers, that was intentional. America’s Funniest Home Videos provides a similar laughable experience for viewers largely from unintentional and stupid accidents. The Jackass folks intentionally perform risky physical acts to bring about an emotional response. Red Bull Stratos was a life or death risk for Felix Baumgartner, one which captivated some 8 million live-stream viewers. These spectacles provide spectators an acceptable way to release their emotions. From my old film Manifesto showing a relatively low risk sequence with the crashes necessary to complete the line.
Historically speaking, the evidence shows we are growing ever more sophisticated in what we accept as entertainment. Gladiators were armed entertainers in the Roman Empire who fought other gladiators and wild animals. Entering the arena by choice, they risked their lives for admiration and were celebrated widely. Sound familiar? We do praise those who take risks for our entertainment, and the crash is an inevitable part of the show. The difference between then and now is that it is no longer socially acceptable to kill another human or creature for entertainment purposes, but, it is still socially acceptable to risk our own lives; the evidence comes from healthily rewarding those who do risk everything in hopes that they’ll do it again. A mixed emotion film shoot for Kranked 6.
While I have great admiration for the highly developed talents of the riders in Crankworx, I find it uncomfortable to watch, I shudder when I empathize with the feeling of a rider at the start gate ‘entering the arena’ exposing himself to danger. While I maintain they're not crazy, as discussed in my last article,
they gotta do what they gotta do, and to do so I’ve even heard of riders chugging a beer before a run to numb out the fear. In Warren Farrell’s book ‘The Myth of Male Power’, he says. “When I see how our cheers encourage boys to swallow their fears and repress their tears, we realize it is time to repress our cheers so our boys can express their fears.” The spectator is morally implicated in the rider's performance. Where do you sit in this relationship? It’s nice to be able to sit back and point fingers when things go wrong, but we need to own our part, and take responsibility for the risks we encourage our friends and our sport heroes to take. Mike Montgomery at the point of no return.
Upon witnessing a crash, we have an emotional response. It can come out as laughter or a gasp - even watching someone seriously injure themselves can be met with strange emotional expressions, but that might be just a sign of our (perhaps limited) emotional intelligence. As a kid, I remember it being more socially acceptable to laugh at the geek being tormented rather than having a more accurate heart-breaking response. As a rider, there comes a time when submitting to the cheers by ‘manning up’ is actually a cowardly act, and if something goes wrong it’s just not cool.
Taking a hard look at myself transformed how I approached my career as a pro trials rider. I needed moral and emotional development to untangled my true-self from the cheers to go bigger. Doing this personal work provided me with conscious choice, and I used it to guide my influence as a pro in ways that aligned with my deepest values. In videos I began choosing lines that were more technical and closer to the ground - train tracks and chains instead of roof beams. I began to notice my ego’s need for external validation during trials shows and replaced it with a more personal and interactive approach. As I reduce the risks I take on my bike the hero spotlight fades, but I find my enjoyment of riding and ability to contribute in meaningful ways rising.
Ride On! Ryan Leech is widely considered to be one of the most progressive and technically skilled mountain bikers in the world. Intimate with the benefits of yoga for a thriving pro career, he got certified to teach and thus began injecting a new generation of cyclists with the body mind intelligence necessary for long term optimal performance.
As a Professional Integral Coach™, he works privately with people, such as pro athletes, during transition to help them discover what’s next more quickly and with less suffering.