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The media practices of illegal parachuting

July 22, 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ferrell, J., D. Milovanovic and S. Lyng (2001) Edgework, media practices, and the elongation of meaning: a theoretical ethnography of the Bridge Day event, Theoretical Criminology 5(2), 177-202

This article discusses the events that took place at a BASE jumping event in West Virginia (USA) in 1998. BASE jumping is the practice of ‘[often] illegally parachuting from bridges, buildings, antennas and cliffs’ – an increasingly mediated practice. The event, known as Bridge Day, attracted a great deal of mass media attention. But rather than becoming ‘media fodder’, BASE jumping practitioners brought their own media equipment to the encounter, including small video cameras fitted onto their helmets and/or bodies that allowed some jumpers to become ‘stars of their own in-flight movies’. Although many of the practices of jumpers and media professionals were intertwined, the authors also stress the contrasting imperatives of the two worlds of practice: while for the journalists the imperative was to present an easily understandable relationship between doer and deed, for the practitioners the emphasis was on recreating through media technologies the actual experience of the jump. There are ironies here, as the authors point out: jumpers’ increased dependence on collective media representations (the ‘elongation of meaning’) does not fit well with their own accounts of their practice as individual, ineffable and ephemeral. There is also an activist dimension to the world of BASE jumping, more specifically what we might call ‘subcultural activism’ (cf. Faye Ginsburg’s notion of ‘cultural activism’ with reference to indigenous media productions). This is played out especially on the main BASE website, where journalists in search of footage or information are regularly accused of misrepresenting the BASE ‘community’ and leading practitioners seek to legitimise this largely illegal practice as a ‘sport’. Moreover, for jumpers their practice is not a flight from reality: quite the contrary, it is a ‘hyperreal’ (Baudrillard) experience that makes everyday life seem less than real by comparison (for similar accounts by BDSM practitioners in San Francisco, see Weiss 2005)

Summary by John Postill

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