Ferrell, J, Milovanavic, D. and Lyng, S (2001) 'Edgework, media practices, and the elongation of meaning : A theoretical ethnography of the Bridge Day events', in Theoretical Criminology 5 (2): 177 - 202.
[This article refers back to what looks like an interesting body of work attempting to use the concept of edgework to explain the thrill of crime as well as of extreme sports. The references at the back of this article pickup this literature. There is some connection, clearly between the work on denial of risk and Sykes' and Matza's material on techniques of neutralization, which others have noticed. There are also strong hints in this account of some early subcultural theory.
The particular case study described here examines BASE jumping -- my voice recognition software will probably render the first word in lower case, and I can't be bothered to correct it. The event in question is unusual in that it concerns an occasion when base jumping is legal -- on one day a year at a particular bridge in the USA. The team seems to have spent the day with the jumpers and the media crews doing what might be called 'condensed fieldwork'-- Denzin has another name for it, referring to 'messy text... [and]... "interpreted slices, glimpses, and specimens of interaction"' (182).
The theme of this article concerns the effects of extensive media coverage of this event. Media coverage helps to consolidate a subculture of base jumping, and possibly even create it to some extent. This contrasts strongly and ironically with the individualistic and isolated nature of edgework in general, and base jumping in particular. Media coverage also helps researchers to pin down the pleasures involved in the activity, and the meaning, although there are clear suspicions that meanings are created by media conventions. These meanings extend to 'subculturally specific linguistic... and affective structures... "vocabularies of motive"' (178). Despite these conventions at work in the activity, the team still want to argue that there is something personal, unknowable and ineffable about the actual activity.]
Using terms such as edgework to describe criminal activity does help to explain the attractions -- 'purposive action grounded in the emotional and the visceral, in the immediacy of excitement and adrenalin rushes, in the situated rationality of the event' (178).
Interaction between media coverage and the event is complex. The jumpers themselves video and blog. Jumpers circulate media clips among themselves. In this sense media production is pervasive [and the authors cite McRobbie and Thornton in support]. What this means is that subcultures are now also 'communities of mediated meaning and collective representation' (179). There still are hints of their transgressive role -- 'alternative, nomadic ways of being that emerge and become visible inside, but to some degree outside, an actuarial order' (180).
The actual study consists of a descriptive account of what happens on the day, how dramatic and risky based jumping is, and how much it is covered or saturated by media and turned into a media spectacle. The event is strongly organised. Media crews see the events as a lead story. Media crews rehearse jumpers, and other veteran jumpers coach them in the correct techniques. 'The result is a frenzy of image production and performance' (185). Many jumpers 'engage in the form of automediation by wearing body mounted or helmet mounted video cameras' (185), and 'become [self conscious] stars of their own in-flight movies' (186) [and cameramen ]. They become performers. As further examples of these 'loops', spectators sometimes 'videotape the videos while they are being shown' (187), and are sometimes filmed by news crews doing so. Videos and other images are disseminated, sometimes through specific base jumping websites .
A constant 'circulation of mediated images' helps to extend the experience and 'fix [it] in subcultural memory' (188). Images appear not only in newscasts but in later documentaries and entertainment features [and on YouTube and equivalent]. For non-members, the images provide 'pre-packaged edgework and staged deviance' (188).
Overall, what this shows is that the media do not just report deviant activities. Nor are edgework activities simply a matter of individual fun and risk. This links to the more general point about how media images are important in constructing the self. It is also the case that the subculture itself produces its own images -- base jumpers circulate their own meanings, and use the event to publicize their activities. There are implications for the idea of moral panic, as in McRobbie and Thornton. It is no longer the case that the media is something external and parasitic upon activity like base jumping. Interestingly, the experience comes close to 'hyperreality', an effect noticed by the jumpers themselves who apparently report it as ' "more real than the circumstances of day-to-day existences"' (192).
Base jumping is also a limit/liminal case, producing 'an "excess" over and beyond nomination, beyond the possibility of full mass-mediated subordination" (191).
In this event, a largely illegal activity becomes public, changing a backstage into a front stage activity. It reaches new audiences and also demonstrates 'the effects of discursive production to a variety of others and outsiders' (192).
The variety of audiences actually present at the event might influence subsequent jumps, at least in the imagination of the jumpers. Some might be jumping to produce 'their own subcultural media' (192). In this way, 'a perfectly private moment -- the launching of oneself from the top of a towering bridge -- comes to be encased in the expectation of audience and collective meaning' (193).
This activity also shows a kind of practical semiotics, 'form-providing signifying practices' (193) [a lot of pseudy references to Lacan and Peirce ensue -- I think the idea is that watching videos afterwards helps you to reflect on the meaning of what you've just done]. The activity of researching base jumping itself provides an additional moment of understanding and insight. The researchers became part of the event -- the jumpers collaborated with them and helped explain what they were doing. The authors like to interpret this as another transgressive moment -- 'active search for difference, an always-emerging aesthetics of the nomadic' (193). Yet the jumpers also want to resist interpretation and symbolic representation, as somehow never fitting the reality. The media also wanted to interview the researchers .
The temporary liminal zone offers an interesting chance to observe loops of mediation, and tensions between transgression and pacification, or, in this case, between illegal thrills and domesticated spectacle.
The article returns to the links between extreme sportsmen and criminals. For sportsmen, the thrill is 'the opportunity to exercise great skill at the moment of a tremendous challenge', while for the criminal it turns on 'the deliberate abandonment of the subject to the spiralling emotions culminating in a violent act' (194). Yet both are struggling to understand and manage an ecstatic moment -- for the skydiver the normal and rational bits are provided by the rational mastery of skill, while for the criminal it is 'often traditional values (family, partner, country, idols)' (194).
In both cases, it is the dialectical tension between these two poles that is of interest, enjoying instability and then attempting to restabilise it, in 'concentric circles of mediated representation. What seem the most private and personal experiences become public' (196). In this particular case 'Ephemeral moments of edgework and adrenalin are elongated, endlessly and ironically, within emerging spirals of mediated meaning' (196).