Thrill Seekers—Why the Fatal Attraction?
IN THE ancient Roman arena, the excited crowds—50,000 strong—were on the edge of their seats. Their anticipation had been building for days as widespread advertising had proclaimed that the events to take place would provide “spectacular thrills not to be missed.”
While magic shows, pantomimes, clowns, and comedy still drew crowds in local theaters, the events in the arena were very different. The discomfort of the hard seats and the cares of the day would soon be forgotten in the breathtaking thrills to be played out before the eyes of the spectators.
Now came the singers, followed by the robed priest. Then incense bearers led a succession of idols depicting gods and goddesses, carried aloft for all to see. This gave the events the appearance of having divine blessing.
Now the great entertainment features were about to begin. First, ostriches and giraffes, which few in attendance had ever seen, were loosed in the arena with no way of escape. Scores of skilled archers with bows and arrows slaughtered the helpless animals, down to the last one, to the joy of the thrill-seeking audience.
The cheering crowds were next treated to a life-and-death battle between two huge elephants whose tusks had been fitted with long, sharp iron spikes. There is thunderous applause as one mighty animal falls to the blood-soaked sand mortally wounded. This scene has only whetted the appetite of the spectators for the main event just minutes away.
The Main Event
The thrill-seeking crowds rise to their feet as human gladiators make their appearance in the arena, amid great fanfare. Some are armed with swords and shields and metal helmets or with daggers, and some are lightly armed and lightly clad. They fight hand to hand, often to the death of one or both as the spectators cheer. Records show that at one event 5,000 animals were killed in 100 days. At another event 10,000 gladiators were slaughtered. Still the public clamored for more.
Criminals and prisoners of war provided a steady supply of manpower for the games. However, states one source, “they should not be confused with the group of skilled gladiators who fought with weapons, who earned considerable fortunes, and who were under no life sentence.” In some places gladiators attended special schools to be taught the art of hand-to-hand combat. Adrenaline flowing, they were caught up in the thrill of the sport and its fatal attraction. The need to fight another day was a dominant passion. “It was a very successful gladiator who completed a career of fifty fights before he retired,” concludes one source.
In our time the world has entered a new millennium. But it is apparent that very little has dampened the passions of the many people who are captivated by living-on-the-edge sports, especially those that are death defying. For example, bullfighting has been a popular event in South America and Mexico for centuries. Today it flourishes in Latin America, Portugal, and Spain.
Reportedly there are about 200 arenas in Mexico and over 400 in Spain. One arena in Mexico seats 50,000 people. Many of these arenas are filled to capacity with people who come to watch men pit their bravery against charging bulls. Any show of cowardice on the part of the bullfighter brings the displeasure of the jeering crowds.
Now female fighters have become matadors, earning millions of dollars for killing bulls. One female matador interviewed on television declared that nothing could satisfy her thrill-seeking passions like being in a bullring with a charging beast, the ever-present threat of being gored to death notwithstanding.
Running of the Bulls
“The crowd is four deep at Sixto’s on Pamplona’s Calle Estafeta, and the noise level is a steady roar,” noted one report. “The talk is multilingual—Basque, Castilian, Catalan, English.” Crowds gather early to watch the event. Bulls kept for bullring fighting are housed in corrals only a half mile from the arena.
On the mornings of the fights, the corral gates are thrown open, releasing six bulls, plus one in reserve, that will fight that night. The street is lined with buildings, and barricades block entrance to side streets. This makes a suitable passageway for the bulls’ run to the arena, which will take them about two minutes if all goes well.
Years ago men, defying disaster, decided to try their skills at outrunning the bulls. Every year some still try it. Over time it has become an international event. Many have been severely injured by the bulls, and others gored to death. “If you think you can outrun them,” said one runner, “you’re making a big mistake.” In a 20-year period, according to the Spanish Red Cross, there was “an average of one goring injury each day.” Another 20 to 25 people were also treated daily for injuries.
Why this fatal attraction? Answered one runner: “Those seconds when you’re right up there with the bulls, pacing them, smelling them, hearing the clatter of hooves, and watching those horns go up and down a few inches away—that’s what the [running] is all about.” The runners are spurred on by the cheering crowds. Will some be disappointed if they do not witness a fatal goring or a runner being violently thrown over the shoulder of a 1,500-pound charging bull? Could bloodshed hold the same attraction for some of them as it did for the crowds in the Roman arenas?
Flirting With Death
Then there are those who have a passion for flirting with death in other ways. There are motorcycle stuntmen who defy death and serious injury by jumping over 50 cars parked side by side or over a number of huge passenger buses or over a wide canyon. One such stuntman reported that he had broken 37 bones in his body and had been in a coma for 30 days. He said: “Broken bones or arms mean nothing to me any more. . . . I’ve had twelve major open reduction operations. That’s when they cut you open and put a plate or a screw in. I suppose I’ve had about thirty-five or forty screws put in me, to hold the bones together. I’m always in and out of hospitals.” Once when he was injured in a practice run and was unable to attempt his jump over a number of cars, the crowds booed to show their disappointment.
Many thrill seekers take part in extreme sports, including death-defying stunts such as climbing the sides of city skyscrapers without safety equipment, snowboarding down steep 20,000-foot [6,000 m] mountains, bungee jumping off high towers and bridges, parachuting out of airplanes while strapped to another jumper’s back, or climbing sheer ice-covered cliffs with nothing but a pair of small pickaxes in their hands. “I expect to lose three to four friends a year,” lamented one ice climber. These are just some of the death-defying stunts that have become popular in the sports world. “It is the chance of a catastrophe that makes extreme sports so enticing,” declared one writer.
“Even the most extreme of extreme sports are booming,” wrote U.S.News & World Report magazine. “Sky surfing, in which expert parachutists perform circus-worthy twists and turns on graphite boards while free falling from 13,000 feet [4,000 m], didn’t exist in 1990; now it attracts thousands of devotees. And a sport known as BASE jumping (for Buildings, Antennas, Spans, and Earth), officially established in 1980, now lures hundreds, who parachute—often illegally and at night—off fixed objects such as radio towers or bridges.” This sport has already taken dozens of lives. “There aren’t many injuries in BASE jumping,” said one seasoned jumper. “You either live or you die.”
Rock climbing up the sheer sides of mountains with nothing but tiny fingerholds and toeholds is attracting thousands. Even television and magazine commercials advertising everything from trucks to headache remedies show climbers hanging precariously from steep mountain precipices hundreds of feet in the air, secured only by a thin rope. It is reported that in 1989 some 50,000 people in the United States dared to take part in this sport; more recently an estimated half-million are drawn by its fatal attraction. Worldwide the numbers are increasing.
In the United States, “a growing number of ‘typical’ boys and girls are being killed or maimed playing bizarre new dangerous games,” reported Family Circle magazine. “Car surfing”—climbing through the window of a speeding car onto the top and standing while the car speeds along—or standing on top of a moving elevator or on top of a speeding subway train have taken youthful lives.
Even towering Mount Everest is involved as never before. Climbers without adequate training will pay as much as $65,000 to be led to the top and down again. Since 1953, more than 700 climbers have reached the top. Many never made it down. Some of the bodies are still up there. “Climbers now compete to set records as the youngest, the oldest, the fastest on Everest,” wrote one journalist. “Unlike any other sport,” wrote another, “mountaineering demands that its players die.” Must one defy disaster to prove courage? “Courage doesn’t mean doing stupid things,” warned one veteran climber. Among “stupid things,” he lists “‘adventure tours’ up Mount Everest by less-than-expert climbers.”
And so it goes. The number and kinds of death-defying pursuits that are becoming common throughout the world are limited only by the imagination of those willing to create new ones. A psychologist predicts that extreme sports, in which participants live for a while on the edge between life and death, “will become the major spectator and participant sports of the 21st century.”
Why Do They Do It?
Many sports extremists defend their participation in death-defying stunts as an escape from boredom. Bored by routine jobs, some have left their work and have pursued a new career in the world of extreme sports. “I started to use bungee jumping as a drug, as a way to clean my slate,” said one. “I would jump and I’d be like, ‘Problems? What problems?’” “He is a veteran of 456 jumps, including leaps from Yosemite’s El Capitan, the San Francisco Bay Bridge, and the world’s highest tram in France,” a magazine reported.
Declared another extreme sports participant: “Time stands still. You couldn’t care less about what’s going on in the world.” Another said: “What we do for kicks [which for many includes a monetary reward], most people wouldn’t do if you held a gun to their heads.” Newsweek magazine commented: “All of them are hellbent for thrills.”
Some psychologists have done extensive research into thrill seeking. One categorizes thrill seekers as a type T personality. ‘The T stands for “thrills”—risk taking, stimulation seeking, excitement seeking, and arousal seeking.’ He says: “There are some people who hold on to the handrails of life—the rules, the traditions. The Type T let go of the handrails. They create their own life.” He claims that studies have found that type T personalities have twice as many highway accidents as others. “Accidents are the leading cause of death among teenagers, often because they put themselves in a dangerous position from a need for thrills.”
Scientists and psychologists admit that it is unnatural for anyone to seek out sports that have a high-level fatal risk factor. The fact that many have suffered serious, life-threatening injuries, only to recover after long stays in hospitals and rehabilitation centers and then continue in their death-defying pursuit, indicates that all is not well with their thinking ability. Yet, often these may be highly intelligent people.
Experts are not sure what draws the thrill seekers to risk life and limb. The answers, they suggest, may lie in the brain. “You are not going to stop that thrill-seeking,” they say, “but you try to prevent them from taking lethal risks. At the very least, you want them to avoid putting other people at risk.”
The Christian View
Christians view life as a precious gift from Jehovah God. When one deliberately puts his life in danger by taking needless chances just to demonstrate his daring courage—his machismo—or to excite the crowd or satisfy his own need to experience a rush, he is, in effect, showing contempt for the marvelous gift of life that God has given us. Jesus certainly showed deep respect for his life and did not unnecessarily endanger it. He refused to put God to the test.—Matthew 4:5-7.
Christians, likewise, have an obligation to show respect for life. “I once climbed a steep rock cliff and found myself unable to go backward or forward,” wrote one Christian. “To this day I shudder at how close I came to dying. What a stupid waste it would have been!”
‘Where I live,’ wrote a Christian youth, ‘the kids participate in many of these thrill sports. They are always trying to get me to join them. In the news, though, I often see reports of people dying or getting seriously hurt from the same supposedly fun sports that kids tell me about. I realize that it would be unwise for me to endanger the life that Jehovah God gave me, for such a short-lived thrill.’ May you be of the same sound mind and judgment.
[Picture Credit Line on page 21]
© Reuters NewMedia Inc./CORBIS
[Picture Credit Line on page 24]