My role


A different class of risk-taking?

As TV presenters seems to take ever bigger risks in the desperate search for an audience, the Forum found themselves discussing risk-taking among men. MHF president Ian Banks and parliamentary officer Colin Penning have a thought-provoking take on the issue and are not afraid to risk expressing it.


Banks and PenningFirst, the Australian 'Crocodile Hunter' Steve Irwin. Then British 'motoring journalist' Richard Hammond. Recent accidents among the world's daredevil television presenters have raised some interesting questions about our attitudes to risk.

Clearly risk is part of everyday life. Some people such as fire-fighters, police officers and soldiers take major risks as part of their job. For children learning through making mistakes over matters of risk is part of the process of learning and growing up.

The big difference, of course, is that when soldiers and fire-fighters take risks they are doing it for the greater public good. Moreover, they are professionally-trained for the dangers they will face and theirs is, in intention at least, a tightly-disciplined and organised response to a situation.

Poking crocodiles or driving cars at 300mph can hardly be seen in this way. These risks are being run largely for the adrenalin kick that they give the runners and much of the appeal seems to be in accentuating the risks rather than reducing them.

So why is such behaviour is seen as heroic? Why do some people even seem to regard these individuals as 'role-models? Hammond's accident was still the 'most-read' news story on the BBC's website days after it had happened. Higher than the final conference speech of British prime minister Tony Blair. Far, far higher than anything on genocide in Darfur. (Now there are some people running real risks). In Australia, some people even suggested a state funeral for Irwin!

A state funeral for a man who decided the buzz from bullying fish was worth the risk of leaving his two children fatherless? That was Irwin's choice and nobody would want to deny him the right to make it but in what sense was it heroic? Why are the selfish risks of Irwin and Hammond seen as so very different from the selfish risks of those of us who drink or smoke? There's more to it surely than simply our obsession with celebrity.

From time to time, the British Medical Association debate the question: should we treat 'self inflicted injuries'? Some medics argue that smoking, obesity and alcoholism are 'self inflicted injuries' and that limited NHS resources should not be spent on treating them.

In the debate, sports injuries, however, are somehow seen as different and honourable. But why? They are every bit as 'self-inflicted'. Indeed, such is the powerfully addictive nature of alcohol, nicotine and drugs that you could argue that these risk-takers have far less choice in their dangerous behaviour that those who choose to climb mountains or race cars.

Everyone is looking for a little excitement in their lives. Some simply have broader horizons than others. But are those horizons limited by imagination or by income? Perhaps we truly admire the men who run the risks we'd like to run — like wrestling crocodiles — but haven't the nerve to do so. Maybe such men help our confidence as a species and allow us to kid ourselves that we are masters of our universe.

Or is it simply that the poor tend to be the smokers, the rich the mountaineers?

Page created on October 2nd, 2006

Page updated on December 1st, 2009