Trash TV Guru : “Skywire Live With Nik Wallenda”



Okay, I’m gonna step waaaaaayyyy out of my usual “comfort zone” as a self-appointed critic here — and probably step in it, quite literally, with some points I’m going to make about what the over-two-hours-in-length self-promotional, self-congratulatory pablum I just watched on the Discovery Channel, Skywire Live With Nik Wallenda — says about our society in general and our collective taste in television programming, but what the hell? I’m in the mood to piss off a lot of folks who deserve to have their delicate sensibilities prodded at worst, completely shattered at best, so here we go.

First off, Nik Wallenda , an umpteenth-generation daredevil and great-grandson of the legendary Karl Wallenda, has balls of brass. He just walked across a 1,400-foot gorge  that’s over 1,500 feet high on a fucking cable. It was incredible. It was an amazing feat I couldn’t undertake if the lives of myself and everyone I loved depended on it. Bravo, sir. That was some genuinely incredible stuff and I tip my cap to you with all the respect in the world. I’m not here to denigrate your amazing accomplishment, in and of itself, in any way, shape, or form. Unfortunately, the show that featured your breathtaking, heart-stopping, courageous, death-defying performance was complete shit. And a lot of that, Nik, is your own fault.

That’s because you allowed yourself, I’m guessing quite willingly, to be used. By a ratings-hungry cable network, a shove-it-down-your-throat segment of Evangelical Christianity (not that there’s really much of a mellow, “live-and-let-live” contingent among that bunch), your own fame-starved ego, and the American public’s passive-aggressive thirst to see our idols brought low at any cost — even and especially if it means their death.



Taking those culprits for this show’s demise, then, in order : obviously there are a lot of worthless channels on the tube competing for our attention right now, but few are are as openly hypocritical and shamelessly self-aggrandizing as Discovery. During the numerous commercial breaks that peppered  the interminable,  90-plus-minute lead-up to Wallenda’s actual walk itself hosted by low-rent presenters Natalie Morales and Willie Geist (go on, say it with me — “whoever the fuck they are”), which was every bit as hype-inflated as the Super Bowl pregame and loaded with obviously staged “candid interviews” with Wallenda and his family and “actual behind-the-scenes footage” of his training (that just happened to include a shot of him parking a Mitsubishi car and Mitsubishi just happened to be the main sponsor of Skywire Live), they kept pimping the show debuting right after, Naked And Afraid, a “reality” program that apparently drops an overweight, middle-aged couple into the middle of the jungle with no clothes, no food, and no dignity, and dares them to survive. Real classy stuff. And this from a network that still tries to pretend to specialize in educational programming? Please. Discovery is a channel featuring lowest-of-the-lowest-common-denominator shows that are developed by greedy, shameless executives and watched and enjoyed by stupid people. Rumor has it that not only was Wallenda’s walk not over the Grand Canyon as advertised (actually, that’s not a rumor — it took place on Navajo Land  along the Colorado River that, frankly, isn’t part of the Grand Canyon, and the local tribal chief is apparently quite pissed about the network constantly referring to his area as being something it’s not), but that he had a light-weight emergency parachute hidden under his shirt in case he fell. I actually hope that’s true, because I like to think that there’s enough humanity left in the assholes that make these shows to at least not want to see their star performers get killed, although that same promise of potential death seems to be at the crux of Naked And Afraid‘s apparent “appeal,” as well. But more on that in a minute.

Next up, the Christians. Despite Wallenda’s wife insisting that her husband’s main goal with this spectacular stunt was too — yawn — “inspire other people to follow their dreams,” it’s quite clear that what he was really trying to do was promulgate his religious faith, and make a boat-load of money in the process. You’d think a guy in his position would be doing everything he could to keep the amount of weight he was balancing on that cable to a minimum, but he wore a heavy, dangling silver cross around his neck, thanked Jesus with every step he took and God with every fourth or fifth step, and indulged in some of the most purple, over-the-top, nauseating proclamations of faith you could imagine. “Dear sweet Jesus whose precious blood sanctified us all and in whose honor and glory I move forward across this gorge, please, I beg in your holy name, make these winds rising from the canyon floor die down and carry me across in safety to the other side so I can give you all the credit for the work that I’m out here doing” isn’t exactly a verbatim quote from Wallenda, but it may as well be. And did you happen to notice the not-exactly-camera-shy televangelist phony Joel Osteen on hand to pray with Nik, his wife, and his kids just before he went across? Of course you did, a snake like Osteen wouldn’t be there otherwise. It seems a little bit weird that a guy of Wallenda’s background — who uses his mother’s last name rather than his dad’s, a most non-traditional way of keeping the famous family name going , and who grew  grew up in the ribald world of carny performers — would throw his lot in with repressive, right-wing Bible-thumpers, but that certainly appears to be the case . You’ll find less overt religiosity in any given episode of the fucking 700 Club than there was on Skywire Live.


And yet, for all the talk of wanting to give the “praise and glory” for his achievement to his “lord and savior,” Wallenda sure seemed to enjoy stroking his own ego, as well. Every one of the completely scripted “interviews” with his family before he actually hit the high-wire was a puff-piece designed to portray our ostensible hero in the most glowing — dare I say radiant — light, and when he did finally begin his perilous crossing, he first insisted that he just wanted to ‘quit talking” and be alone with his thoughts , before  duly proceeding to to yak (and, as we’ve already established, preach) to the camera the entire twenty-plus-minute duration of his trek. He complained of being thirsty when he was finished. Gee, wonder why that would be?

Finally, we need to focus some of the blame for this debacle not on its star, nor his hangers-on, nor his network bosses, but on ourselves. We watched Wallenda’s tight-rope act, at least in part, to see what would happen not if he made it, but if he didn’t. Just like the folks who are really watching NASCAR hoping to see a fiery and fatal crash. Or who are watching an NFL to see a gruesome, career-ending injury. Or who are watching Naked And Afraid to see the couple starve to death or be eaten by wild animals (another thing Discovery would, presumably, never allow to actually happen, at least for legal, if not moral, reasons). At least in the Roman gladiatorial arena they were upfront about why the crowds were there, but these days we don’t have the guts to look at ourselves that closely and honestly. There’s something deeply flawed within the human mind, or heart, or soul, or wherever it is, that the supposed blood of Nik Wallenda’s supposed savior can’t fix — in fact, the very notion that we think we need some poor schmuck’s blood to save us from anything (well, okay, specifically to save us from ourselves) is just further proof of what I’m talking about. We feel that the death of another somehow not only justifies our existence, but even more perversely sanctifies it. I’m no saint. I’m a flawed, contradictory, complex, perhaps even entirely unfathomable human being. And so are you. There’s no way that somebody’s demise is gonna change that and somehow make us “pure”  — whether that somebody is Nik Wallenda, John F. Kennedy, Dale Earnhardt or Jesus Christ. We may desperately want to think that seeing someone of great accomplishment die a very public and spectacular death somehow “proves” that we’r every bit as good and worthy as they are, but honestly, folks — that was never in doubt. Nik Wallenda puts his pants on one leg at a time just like you and me. He doesn’t need to die to prove that, and his “savior” — whether real or imagined, which is another debate for another time — didn’t need to die to prove it to him. Can we please just grow the fuck up as a species and leave all this blood sacrifice bullshit behind us one and for all? Countless “living gods” and heroes of one stripe or another have either mythically or actually sacrificed themselves for us by this point, and we’re still the same sorry-ass bunch as ever. This whole “purification by blood” thing just ain’t working. Can’t we try something else?



Well, no, apparently we can’t. Not as long as there are TV networks willing to tease the possibility of death in order to grab ratings, and not as long as there are people willing to prostitute out their talents to said networks for that purpose. Wallenda can pray with Joel Osteen to find any other angle on why people were watching his show tonight all he wants to, but the ugly truth of the matter is that lots of folks were secretly hoping to see him perish, and 2,000-plus years of the kind of Jesus-freaking he was doing tonight haven’t changed that fact. It’s said that every society gets the monsters it deserves, and while Nik Wallenda hardly qualifies as a monster by any stretch of the imagination, his show tonight — and all its ilk — are definitely monstrosities that exploit the darkest recesses or our human nature, stoke them to a fever pitch, and make suckers of us all. They pervert even the most astonishing feats and twist them into something cheap, ugly, degrading, and degraded. And we respond by loving every minute of it and lining up for more.

13 responses to “Trash TV Guru : “Skywire Live With Nik Wallenda”

  1. Reblogged this on Trash Film Guru and commented:

    My look at the seriously disturbed — and disturbing — “Skywire Live With Nik Wallenda” TV special for Through The Shattered Lens website.


    • I’m glad Nik Wallenda safely made it across the gorge.

      If he really was using the event to illustrate the power of prayer, and that Jesus/God protects the righteous (only upon request, apparently), and he had nonetheless fallen to his death (assuming the parachute rumor is untrue), it might have provided a valuable lesson for the beguiled and faithful among the viewers. (Actually, if he had fallen, but was saved not by Jesus, but by a successfully deployed parachute, that would have equally clearly provided the same lesson, though it wouldn’t have driven it as deeply home.

      Still, I’m glad he didn’t fall. Maybe no one will have to die for them to learn. Bur I doubt it.

      Very interesting sociological analysis, Ryan.


      • Thanks, I appreciate the kind words and the fact that apparently my post gave folks something to think about!


  2. My brother watched this and I think his reaction was somewhat similar to yours.

    As for the Discovery Channel, I think they stopped being educational many, many years ago though I still watch it for two shows: Mythbusters and Deadliest Catch. Though I will say that compared to The Learning Channel, Discovery is quite tame when it comes to it’s current programming.


  3. There was something on the news this morning about this fellow–I think they crossed regularly to updates of his stunt, I’m not sure–I left the room in a cloud of ennui.

    Basically, what this doofus was doing was actually considerably less dangerous than what countless mountain climbers do all the time. In fact, one could reason quite fairly that your garden-variety rock climber takes a bigger risk every weekend, because honestly, what’s the difference between falling 50 feet and 1,500 feet? Answer: not a damn thing. If you can fall even 50 feet onto a pile of jagged rocks and survive, then I have some sick and crippled people that I want you to heal. Just falling from the roof of a house is enough to take care of most people. Tacking on an extra 1,450 feet is meaningless, it’s just a figure to astound people. As for the length of his walk, pfffttt, it would probably be more challenging for him to scamper 20 feet across any major city street during peak hour.

    Quite honestly, I don’t pay much attention to the crap on television these days. I don’t own a mobile telephone, my life doesn’t go better with Coke, and no, I’m not “worth it”, I’m worth more, much more than whatever shit you’re trying to sell me, thank you very much, Madison Avenue.


    • I didn’t see this event, but as described, the packaging and presentation would have annoyed me as well. I would say, however, Mark – Your dismissal of the risk and difficulty of the feat is invalid (with acknowledgement of the astuteness and informedness of your usual writings).

      Now, I’m neither a rock climber nor a tightrope walker. But I’ve never let my ignorance stifle my contributions hereto before, so…

      Unlike rock climbers (especially those of the garden variety), the walker sees where and how far they could fall the entire time. They cannot stop in the middle and, potentially,receive assistance from someone else, were they to decide they had had enough. And at 1400 feet, unlike the roof or 50 feet up, there can be considerable winds and other environmental factors making the situation extremely volatile.

      People often take risks, sometimes foolishly, or even obliviously. Wallenda has to stare the risk in the face the entire time. It’s not just the severity of the consequences of failure. It’s the mental crucible one would have to endure to avoid it.

      Of course the Discovery channel is now crap. And it is easy for me to believe the coverage was hyped up and obnoxious. But let’s not mix our metaphors – that was an extremely dangerous and difficult undertaking, and there very, very few people on the planet that could pull it off, or even have the nerve to attempt it.

      Whatever else this guy may be, he’s bad-ass.


  4. I’m glad I missed it this time. I watched the show last year when he walked across Niagara Falls and it was the exact same thing you describe here. The only difference was he was tethered to the cable to avoid falling to his death. Other than that, all the praise Jesus and God stuff and overblown hype were all there. I just wanted the guy to shut up.


    • Agreed, especially sincel he claims he WANTS to shut up and be left alone and only THEN proceeds to spend the next twenty-plus minutes shoving his God down our throats.


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