Speaking of Janet's and Justin's Halftime debacle... there is a group of people in Sydney, Australia who spend their time ardently spelunking in the city sewer system. They call themselves the Cave Clan, and they didn't start searching for the lowest, filthiest pits of excrement the bottom of the world has to offer, but they seem to have ended up that way.
I'm talking about the spelunkers, not the Jackson/Timberlake Blue Light Special (everything half off). Everybody else has already talked the Halftime Show to death. I personally choose to take the moral high road. I am not going to encourage that kind of behavior by generating more media space devoted to discussing it. Besides, at least fifty other journalists have beaten me to 'the breast seen round the world' punch line already.
But back to the Cave Clan. The roots of this strange sport began in Melbourne with legitimate subterranean exploration, rummaging about through old mines and caves. That's normal. Lots of cavers do that. Good, clean fun, with nothing more disgusting than bat guano and the occasional cache of remnants from ancient rituals of cannibalism. Maybe a cave painting or two of some primitive sport, with the Halftime Ceremony hastily painted over after Goolak the Mighty decided that it would be a really memorable finish if he shaved his mammoth's butt and then displayed it proudly at the finale of his dance.
But as fun as spelunking is, there are only so many caves and mines to explore. So when they ran out of local spots, the Cave Clan turned to the local storm water drains. Sound disgusting and inadvisable? The FCC agrees with you. No, wait. We're talking about the Cave Clan. I forgot. City authorities agree with you. Anyway, once they discovered the fascinating features of urban infrastructure, the breast was history. Rest. The rest was history. Sorry.
Sewers aren't the only things that draw the Cave Clan. They head for any unused underground area. They also consider it something of a mission to allow people the opportunity to join them on their "urban exploration" from the hepatitis-free comfort of their own homes via the Internet. There is a darkly beautiful website at www.orchy.com/underworld that will take you on a thrilling tour beneath the surface of the world you know, where history is revealed in layers, from WWII bunkers to the digested remains of what the neighbors had for dinner yesterday. It's actually a phenomenal website and a rather fascinating topic, especially when you don't have to be one of the ones risking mugging, disease or arrest to reap the informational benefit.
But the Halftime Show and the Cave Clan aren't alone. There's a trend toward unusual and seemingly inadvisable outdoor activities in our society lately. People want to lead more active lifestyles, and they want to do it despite common sense.
There's Critical Mass, the movement that started in 1992 with a herd of protesting bicyclists who decided to snatch the roads from automobiles based on the theory that while a motorist might mash one cyclist without really noticing, they'd think twice about gunning it into a swath of several hundred people on bicycles. (You'd need four-wheel drive to do that.)
There's the Burning Man, held yearly in Nevada, which has been named the world's largest "leave no trace" event. You could describe it as "camping for anarchists" and be just as correct as wrong. People come from all over and set up a temporary city the seventh largest city in Nevada, according to some. Kind of like the Monarch butterflies that go to Natural Bridges State Park every year to spend the winter, the Burning Man event in the Black Rock Desert is the annual destination for large numbers of "radical self-expressionists". (That's the politically correct term for weirdoes.) It's like going camping with thirty thousand of your oddest friends.
What do you do when you'd rather shoot moderately painful projectiles at seven hundred of your oddest friends instead? Why, take part in the annual SPPLAT Attack. It's a yearly paintball tournament for charity. Featuring William Shatner. Seriously. The 2002 event saw William Shatner leading a team of players labeled "the Federation", in a competition against two other teams calling themselves the Borg and the Klingons. For 2003, he led "the Cavalry" against "the Cyborgs" and battled over inflatable cows.
Finally, my new personal favorite, there's "extreme ironing", a sport born from the urge to take a boring household chore and spice it up with an element of risk. The official website, www.ExtremeIroning.com, is full of photos of people ironing on the sides of nearly inaccessible cliffs and the tops of rock spires. Participants iron on bicycles, on trampolines, on canoes and even underwater. There was even a World Championship event for the sport in Munich in 2002. My favorite part of the website, though, was the answer to a question asking whether the actual wrinkle removal of a garment is more important than the unusual manner in which the chore is being performed. According to the site, "There are occasions where the danger and the thrill of extreme ironing are more exciting than the actual ironing." Now, if only I can find a sport to make doing the laundry more exciting.
It's like the world has suddenly hit eighteen and realized it can't be grounded anymore. People are rushing out in droves and finding something to do that would give their parents fits. Riding their bikes in traffic. Playing in raw sewage. Showing their private parts to boys in public. Taking the ironing board in the swimming pool. Hanging out with William Shatner. Are we as a culture becoming more self-expressive and fitness oriented, or are we experiencing delayed adolescence? I'll answer that right after I get done putting on my scuba gear so I can do the laundry. Hope this wet suit works right. There's going to be a heck of a finale when the drier timer goes off.
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This article first appeared in the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.