Entertainment comes in many forms. Sometimes it comes in a completely passive form, such as holding down the couch and absorbing a healthy dose of television. Sometimes it comes in more formal or organized settings, such as concerts, fairs or off-track betting venues. And, for many, entertainment takes on a more active form, such as camel racing or alligator wrestling (or maybe just flag football).
But, for many people today, entertainment isn’t really entertaining unless it is “extreme.” From extreme snowmobiling to motocross, from extreme ballroom dancing to extreme crocheting (you’ve got to watch out for the needles), it seems we can take any activity and make it “extreme.”
And, we seem to be increasingly enthralled with the extreme. We love to look on in awe as a man flings the soft, fleshy bag of bones and blood that is the human body upside down through the air on a snowmobile.
We watch in morbid fascination anticipating what is a seemingly inevitable disaster, given time. Dare I say that we hope, on some unconscious level that we don’t like to admit exists, that he will succumb to the laws of physics and common sense and satisfy our primal desires with a spectacular crash that mangles man and machine in an indistinguishable mass.
That thirst for the fiery crash that all-too-often accompanies extreme behavior is not something that we like to face. It is very comforting for us to believe that we, as a “modern” society, have come a long way since the days of Roman gladiators. And yet, we keep watching the clips of bone-crushing mishaps and mangling wrecks with an eagerness fit for the Colosseum.
But, our fascination with the extreme goes beyond exhibiting the incredible skills of adrenaline junkies with dilated pupils and a medicine cabinet full of pain killers.
Today, we seem to be increasingly a society of extremes. Even those who scoff at activities such as the ‘X Games’ gravitate steadily towards the poles of excess and extremism, to the social “ex games.”
It seems that we wholeheartedly commit ourselves to doing something to complete excess, or to not doing it at all and judging anyone who does.
This applies to any number of daily activities, from exercise and eating, to less beneficial activities such as gambling or drinking.
We either eat until we are in pain (a common pitfall when I go to any sort of buffet), or we decide flat-out that we’re not going to eat anything except [fill in the blank]. For every person who tries to eat the entire hot bar, there’s another person who follows totally illogical diets that arbitrarily ban whole food groups.
We either worship models who diet and exercise until they look like they’ve just been liberated from some sort of prison camp, or we do our best to go to excess in the other direction. We either drink to excess or we cast knowing glances at and talk in hushed voices about who we saw having a beer with dinner.
These are obviously exaggerated, or perhaps even extreme, examples. And, of course, most people fall somewhere in between excess and extremism. But, we as a society seem to be moving steadily further apart, closer to the extremes of the spectrum.
We increasingly find ourselves cast in between intolerant fundamentalism and a complete denial of all things greater than ourselves and our self-interest.
Understand that by ‘we’ I mean all of us as a collective society and community. We all, at one time or another, find ourselves on one end of the spectrum or the other, indulging in our own excess or extremism.
And, that’s perfectly okay. When we choose to wholeheartedly throw ourselves in one direction or another, to irrevocably cast ourselves into a particular practice or belief like a snowboarder jumping out of a helicopter, we make that decision freely and for ourselves.
And, complete devotion to a practice or belief is often critical to reaching the pinnacle of achievement or personal growth. Extreme belief and practice are, by themselves, not dangerous or harmful. They can be very beneficial.
The danger only comes when we try to drag others off of the cliff with us, when we sit atop our perch on the extreme end of the spectrum, casting aspersions on the other end and looking down on anyone in between.
In closing, I would say that we should all feel free to gravitate towards our own version of the ex games. We should however, refrain from trying to force anyone to take the trip with us, or judge those who freely choose a different path.