Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Climbing: A spectator sport

Harrer spends a lot of time detailing (and often criticizing) the publicity of mountain climbing.  Publicity is a much more apparent factor in the climbing of the North Face of the Eiger than it has been on any mountain in any other text.  Something that I think is really striking is people's ability to watch the climbers ascend the North Face.  They even have telescopes through which they can better view the climbers' progress.  In this way, climbing essentially becomes a spectator sport.  This takes the concept of an "armchair adventurer" (a person who likes to experience the thrill of adventuring vicariously) to a new extreme.  In a way, it predicts the popularity of reality television.  Though it is possible that these people watch out of concern for the climbers, it seems somewhat sadistic to sensationalize the climbers' life and death struggles and create a form of entertainment.  Harrer writes, "The spectators, avid for sensations, showed their disappointment.  Their gladiators are a lazy lot" (26).  The gladiator analogy reveals Harrer's attitude towards the non-climber public.  He casts judgment on those who watch climbers for their own enjoyment.
However, Harrer does not disparage all publicity.  Harrer speaks highly of Ulrich Link's news article: "That report from a knowledgable and experienced journalist makes pleasant reading even for a climber; for it is written in a manner which would also grip a layman, but without any uncalled-for dramatization, and without cheap sensations though up at a writer's desk"(116).  Link's article could serve as a model for other adventure writers.

1 comment:

  1. I was similarly shocked at the thought of a group of spectators eagerly watching Eiger North Face climbers through (paid) telescopes. I find your description of the activity as sadistic as extremely accurate and indeed comparable to many reality television viewers today. What kind of enjoyment, for example, do "The Biggest Loser" viewers get from watching participants toil on treadmills and cry from exasperation? I can just imagine spectators cringing with delight as an Eiger climber loses his grip or gets bombarded by rockfall. Harrer's description of the spectators as a "lazy lot" again exemplifies his tendency for excessive judgement and criticism, for I am quite certain he would partake in such activities if given the opportunity.