Tuesday, February 22, 2011

normal vs. extreme

One more thing bugged me about this teaser for Breathe:

at 57 seconds into it, they ask Will the question "Do you consider yourself a normal person?" That question is about as loaded as Bill Gates with a .45 Magnum.

There's the aspect of the whole chewed-out 'what is normal?' discussion: what do you base a norm on? You can base it on averages, which for the general public would make Will a superfreak, and by freediving standards still quite exceptional. You can also see a norm as normative, setting the standard, so the highest achievable. In that case Will has set the bar, eh, lower than anyone else, and he is the current norm in CNF. But being the norm is quite abnormal.

Obviously Will is a normal person in that he sleeps and eats (though from the look of it not quite enough cake), he has no gills or fluorescent eyes, he is not 18 feet tall and by all accounts his farts don't smell of baby powder. But he does do extraordinary things. He has dedicated years of his life to do this, which in and of itself is exceptional, and he has worked hard to get where he is. It is, then, quite normal that he is where he is: training yields results, there's nothing new about the story of dedication and perseverance. He didn't just drop down to that 300 feet or the 100 meters, it took him literally thousands of dives.

I think it is normal for a freediver to progress to a point where you're getting deeper than you thought you could when you started freediving, and because of this progression, you get used to the depths and don't consider them extreme anymore. I can see how my friends who don't freedive would think that what i'm doing is extreme,

hammer time
photograph by Erika Schagatay

but among freedivers i'm really quite average. And i've seen enough beginners progress very quickly to know that normal, non-freediving people are just as extreme as were are: people can do extraordinary things, our bodies can handle much more than we think.

That's one of the things that bug me about that question; it doesn't seem to hold into account that normal people with normal bodies are quite capable of doing extreme things. It belittles normality. Another thing that bugs me is how both that question and the 'why risk it?' question seem to be excluding questions: they separate Will from the interviewer and the audience as an abnormality. But i think freediving, much like the Olympic Games, shows what humans are capable of. It is a celebration of human capacities rather than a freak-show. Will is a front-runner in that celebration. The same kind of questions could have been posted to him in an inclusive way, so instead of 'why risk it?' you'd get 'what compels you to go deeper?' and instead of 'do you consider yourself a normal person?' you'd get 'do you consider yourself an extreme person?'

Personally, if they asked me 'do you consider yourself a normal person?' and given the opportunity and means, i would have yelled "Yes!", then socked the interviewer in the nose with an eel while standing on one hand with a Hula-skirt on my head and a pan-fluit up me bum, screaming "I'm Buddha's baby bro and my wee is green!". I doubt Willy will do that, but i'm very much looking forward to seeing his replies this documentary. Two of the questions in the first teaser i find utmost crap, but the interviewer might just be teasing Will. And the imagery in the second teaser is again stunning.

People are quite extreme -maybe extreme is the norm.

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