And Now, For My Next Magical Trick

Having just recently spent a week as a very public Man in a Bubble, Mr. David Blaine has announced his intent to do the only reasonable thing.

"I’m planning to live harmoniously among wild beasts" , Blaine told the New York Post. What, again ? Isn’t that more of the same ? No, as Blaine made clear: “ And I’d like to do it alone, in the jungle.”

Ah. A real, jungle, he means. Not the metaphorical jungle of New York’s mean streets, but the real thing. Lions, and  tigers, and bears. Oh, my.

Business as usual

He’s got to do something. Now, two weeks after Blaine was extracted from the spherical acrylic womb in a quaintly obstetric finish to his 177-hour gestation, it’s as if it never was.   He was still a hot item, or perhaps a re-heated one, five days after the Emerging, turning up on NBC’s Saturday Night Live – a show which has been running for about as long as David Blaine has been living. He joined the cast and hostess Julia Louis Dreyfuss in making sport of David Blaine. The sketch, it seems, had a cast member playing the role of Performance Freediving’s Kirk Krack, who is now the first professional freediver ever to be mocked on live national television. Blaine’s got to move on to his next dose of celebrity – hence, the jungle and the wild animals. That’s his business.

The freedivers, the ones who trained David Blaine and whose presence at the New York venue koshered the apnea finale, have also moved on. Back to their business.  The morning after Blaine show, Martin Stepanek and Mandy-Rae Cruickshank were in the air headed to a teaching gig in Newport Beach. Kirk stayed on in New York to clean up, then jetted out 24 hours later to join his colleagues. That’s their business.

We had dinner in Fort Lauderdale the very next week, when the PFI Team landed there with a real freediver’s appetite to satisfy. David Blaine has his catering and his fancy Manhattan eateries, but when in South Florida we’ve got all-you-can-eat fixed-price sushi. Yes, that is an alarming concept, what with the rising cost of quality fresh fish at wholesale, but we’ve got a regular place that nobody’s died from so far. Moreover, this place continues to let us in despite the heavy losses our water-fueled appetites wreak on their finances. Let’s see David Blaine do that.

Fame and Fortune

There was still a bit of Blaine buzz that Sunday night, 6 days A.B. (after Blaine) and counting. Kirk had to leave the table when he took a phone call from an Australian magazine and gave an interview on the spot.  A dive magazine, to be sure. Big Media, the CNN’s  (I didn’t see their email requesting my presence on the Headline News show until it was too late) and SKY-TV’s of the world having digested the thing and … well, done what is done after digestion. DeeperBlue.net Publisher Stephan Whelan reaped a bit of the whirlwind in London, graciously consenting to a limo ride to a television studio and an on-screen chat. At dinner in Fort Lauderdale, though, between pieces of dubious tuna, we wondered what it all meant.

For diving, that is, and for freediving in particular. There was some concern expressed. Will we now endure a season of news reports about people drowning themselves emulating those wonderful people on that David Blaine show? As of this writing, none yet. There is hope that a permanent if very minor niche has been created for this thing we do in the collective consciousness of mass media.  Perhaps David Blaine made it real. It was on television, after all. Perhaps the next time a freediving balloon floats by a network or studio executive, trial-wise, he’ll hear that clicking sound and think Oh yes, like David Blaine – followed by the ka-ching sound and the old green light.

Naaahhh – well, okay, maybe.

What say the Princes of our world?

AIDA spokesmen emphasized the distinction between the refined and specific domain of activity with which the global federation concerns itself, and were generally amiable toward Drowned Alive! AIDA President Bill Stromberg confessed he hadn’t closely followed Blaine’s escapade, but added "I guess David doing a good thing, ‘grabbing’ the media’s attention for the diving community. This includes us freedivers as well." 

Grant Graves, President of the  AIDA affiliate (USAA) in the United States, adds: "As they say in Hollywood any PR is good PR.  David did not do anything to hurt our sport, so in this case it is good PR.  He has done a great deal to promote both scuba and freediving with this stunt.  It is more attention than most of the efforts prior to this have generated… If the industry does not step up and meet this new interest with a welcoming attitude any new interest in our sport will fade faster than it increases."

Aharon Solomons is surely the anchor of the soul school of freediving. It’s difficult to think of anyone else of his stature with less interest in numbers or publicity. Responding to DeeperBlue.net Publisher Stephan Whelan, Aharon wrote: “I confess I am a little mystified as to why it warrants much attention…, a very long time ago I made a decision about what free diving was all about for me. Performances of this nature are not helpful in making freediving more accessible , but reinforce the myth of the superman.” The issue of ‘cheating’ on the breath-hold finale arose in Aharon’s comments as well – he singled out the possibility that Blaine contrived to ventilate on pure oxygen before attempting his apnea/escape.

Kim McCoy, the man who helped provide the medical sensors for Pipin and Audrey, was interested in the human element of the stunt and had this to say "However, David Blaine is providing a unique view, 360 degress to be exact, of an underwater world (albeit devoid of anything else but David). The public is provided with an experience of the anxiety felt by most of humanity when immersed in water. Houdini did it. Blaine has drawn attention to the underwater world, otherwise we would continue remain underwater and out of sight."

What does it all mean?

Time will tell. Meanwhile, things are getting back to normal for everyone with the possible exception of those wild animals in the jungle, who’d better get agents and publicists if they know what’s good for them.

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