This is not the first time Nik Wallenda walked a tightrope, but to do so between two Chicago skyscrapers made for an awe-inspiring Sunday evening. As many as 220 countries were expected to watch the Discovery Channel’s production, hoping the daredevil would not falter.
The local NBC Chicago news provided intimate insight about Wallenda’s feat to help locals make sense of it all. Reportedly, Wallenda was scheduled to walk the tightrope, not once, but twice. His first walk would span two city blocks, crossing the Chicago River. For the second walk, the stuntman stated he chose to wear a blindfold because it seemed, in a word, exciting.
This may explain the blindfold, but the reason behind the urge to walk tightropes in the first place, one could say it is in his blood. Wallenda began practicing tightrope walking at the age of two, under the tutelage of his circus act family, the Flying Wallendas.
He appears to be on a mission and it is not simply to walk 600 feet above the ground from one Chicago building to another. Wallenda makes it clear the walk is in dedication to his family of tightrope walkers. At the center of his drive is Wallenda’s grandfather who loss his life, falling from a tightrope walk in 1978, in Puerto Rico.
Wallenda sidesteps focus on the danger involved, in favor of the awe it inspires as an act of service. It has been argued, however, that extreme stunts border on unethical and too dangerous to perform for any reason. The daredevil, though, defines his work as taking calculated risks, suggesting there is no cause for over concern.
Apparently, several precautions were enacted to demonstrate a certain level of prudence. For example, the New York Times reports that Wallenda has in place $20 million dollars of public liability insurance.
Additionally, the walk would be called off in any event that Chicago’s weather did not cooperate. Should there be lightning, ice on the high wire, or ‘Windy City’ wind speeds above 55 mph, the stunt would not occur. Then, the production was to be filmed with a 10-second delay allowing time to cut away if anything tragic took place.
Still, the issue of whether there would be considerable risk could not be readily escaped. There would be no net, and no harness for the stuntman and the only thing he could rely on would be his experience.
The Discovery channel describes Wallenda’s Chicago tightrope attempt as, pushing himself to the limit. Essentially, it is the type of live television programming that cannot miss with audiences. What this means is the death-defying act draws in viewership.
Reportedly, viewership has become fragmented given the ability for viewers to access programs on-demand. Translation, television networks are gunning for ratings. According to SFGate, 13 million viewers watched the broadcast when the stuntman walked Niagara Falls in 2012, as well as in 2013, when he took on Little Colorado River Gorge.
Thousands of Chicago onlookers were onsite, interested in the event and, likely, holding their breath for the results. The seventh generation tightrope walker successfully made it across the tightrope finish line. Simultaneously, the daredevil provided priceless Discovery Channel programming, and unique, awe-inspiring entertainment.
Opinion by Karen J. Dabney
Photo by Dave Papal – Flickr