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The new American way of life: extremism

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By JAN GLIDEWELL, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published December 1, 2002


More people remember that Barry Goldwater said, "Extremism in the pursuit of liberty is no vice" than remember that he added, "Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."

But, even so, when did extremism stop being a political position and start becoming a way of life? We've always had political extremists who think blowing up banks will deter capitalism or forming militia will keep the people in black helicopters from taking over the country, but what is it in our psyches that makes us pursue virtually every aspect of life to its most bizarre extremes?

Football fans in Columbus riot because their team won, and, to be fair, fans in a lot of other cities over the years have done the same thing. Cars get burned, sometimes people get killed over a game!

There was also fan trouble in Berkeley, Calif., related to the Cal-Stanford game; in Clemson, S.C., after the Clemson-South Carolina game; and in Raleigh, N.C., after the North Carolina State-Florida State game. Also, players from both teams fought after Hawaii's 20-19 win over Cincinnati.

Hey, guys, grab the reins, will you?

The reality television stock shots of dads getting hit in the groin with softballs hit by their well-meaning offspring are now replaced by skateboarders getting a face full of gravel or a groin-full of metal stair rail while demonstrating that they really don't care that "no fear" can also translate to "no teeth," or worse.

Jackass: The Movie is the latest example of extreme stunts, some of which can't be described here. What started off as a part of the show Survivor showing contestants learning how to eat things like grubs as part of a real, or at least semi-real survival regimen, has now moved over to Fear Factor where contestants are eating maggot-infested cheese, boiled buffalo testicles and unhatched duck embryos in attempts to win a lousy $50,000.

Yes, I am the guy who ate 14 agave worms in return for two gift certificates that I never used (the restaurant doing the promotion, for some strange reason, went under.) I should point out that the victory also earned me the right to wear a giant sombrero that was hung behind the bar and, I think, went to auction with most of the other stuff there. I never did get the promised plaque.

Maybe that stunt was acceptable extreme on a west Pasco County level 20 years ago, but it wouldn't get me past the first casting cut on most of today's extremism shows.

To be honest, I might well have been in the ranks of the extreme movement today if I had been born a few years, okay, a few decades, later. The only drug of choice available when I was in high school was beer, but I was among its foremost abusers in my group. After I stopped playing football and started watching, I was -- or would have been -- in the forefront of the goal-post rushers like those who got pepper-sprayed at the Ohio State game last weekend.

In the military I gravitated, or occasionally was pushed, toward units known for extremism in everything from physical training and operational techniques to the use of shoe and brass polish, and it's probably fair to say that some of the persona I have constructed for myself in the 30 years I have written this column has been based on extreme actions (wrestling a woman in a vat of pudding) or taking trends and thought processes to extreme ends, literarily if not literally.

What is important to me now is that I really want to get this in print so I can explain myself if anyone sees me entering or leaving the movie Extreme Ops during what I expect will be its brief trip from theater release to the video store.

The movie is based, from what I have heard, on a rather thin story line supported by a life-or-death chase through the mountains including skiing, snowboarding, skydiving, white-water rafting, helicopters, motorcycles and BASE jumping.

But the trailers for the film show what I am pretty sure is an aerial view of one of my favorite spots on earth, the top of Mount Pilatus just outside Lucerne, Switzerland, and I want to go see if there are any other good shots of it.

Yes, I'm willing to suffer through 90 minutes of a movie I wouldn't otherwise see just to see what may be a few seconds of film of a place I long to visit again.

Kind of extreme, isn't it?

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