I heard on the news today that Texas was in the last stages of outlawing every high diving board in the state. Now this may not seem like a big deal given what else is going on, but there are two very disturbing trends here. First, Texas used to be the most libertarian, devil-may-care state in the country, a group of people that would rather eat their own arm off than be held captive to a bunch of laws they didn’t like. It was this Texas of the 1970s and 80s that could be counted on to make semi-rational decisions, but it looks like they, too, have fallen lockstep with the zeitgeist.
The other disturbing thing is this: as NPR reported today, kids are going back to summer camp with almost all of the activities we loved – archery, diving, hiking, etc. – truncated to the point of Absolutely No Fun. Swimming pool owners are refusing to pay the liability costs associated with high diving boards, and thus the “can opener,” “jacknife,” “cannonball,” and “Fat Larry’s Ass-Out Revenge” will become great dives of the past.
Maybe this is the one area I will cross over with Republicans, but the litigation surrounding accidents, especially those that were done in the name of Fun™, has neutered the fuck out of being a kid. Before I had comments on the blog, I bemoaned the same phenomenon on the side of a milk carton, but now that I’ve had a kid, I’m even more adamant. Lucy must have adventure.
She must stand on the top of a high diving board, and contemplate her jump. She should hoist herself off a moving swing and scrape up her knees. She should climb to the top of a tree and have a brief existential moment, before she can pronounce “existential.”
The human animal, especially the young human animal, sees Denial as a virus and works to thwart it. If there’s anything thirty-nine years of anecdotal evidence and years of psychology study has taught me, it’s that we all need to get our ya-yas out at some point. Denying this will always lead to trouble: in small towns in Iowa, it means playing chicken on the freeway and killing your friends; in your thirties it means cheating on your wife and alienating your kids.
Since ya-ya’s must be gotten out, why not get them out at a young age when you are still relatively pliable and thirsting for adventure anyway? I swear, Americans (including myself) are always afraid of the wrong things. We grossly underestimate obvious threats (smoking, obesity, motorcycles) and overestimate things that are relatively safe (high diving boards).
Kids died in the 1970s, not from high diving boards, but from parental ennui. There was no adult by the pool telling their sons and daughters to wait 15 seconds before the next dive. Texas thinks it can get rid of this problem by making high diving boards illegal, but all they’re doing is displacing their kids’ thrills to somewhere much less safe.
I keep several sets of Jarts© around, both here in LA and in New York, not because I think Jarts is the greatest game of all time, but because it serves as a reminder that in childhood there necessarily must be some perceived danger. Nobody ever died from a Jart, but the urban legend makes it powerful. I keep it around as a trick, so that maybe my kid can feel exhilarated by the unknown so that later, she doesn’t feel compelled by the truly dangerous.
Will it work? Can we combine the fun of the 1970s with the mindful surveillance of this millennium? The uncharted wilderness of your children’s imagination is far past the jurisdiction of stupid laws, so maybe I’ll construct my own high diving board and see if Lucy ever wants to climb.