the uncommon beauty of diana nyad, & the relentless corporate & media censorship of real beauty
In case you missed it (and honestly, you couldn't be faulted if you did), today, sports history was made: a woman named Diana Nyad finally set foot on the Florida Keys, after swimming the entire distance from Cuba to the United States. She was the first person ever to do this without the benefit of a shark cage (this distance has only been conquered one previous time, by a 22-year-old Australian named Susie Maroney, who used the protective cage when she accomplished this feat in 1997). This means that while Diana faced sharks, storms, jellyfish, and other untold horrors, she just kept right on swimming, with nothing but the power of her arms and legs (no fins!), and a prosthetic mask to minimize jellyfish stings to her face and mouth.
Oh, also, one more thing: Diana is 64 years old.
This was Diana's fifth attempt. I have actually been following her for a couple of years; first in 2011, when her third attempt was aborted because of jellyfish and Portuguese Man-of-War stings (and dude, those things hurt); then again last year, when her fourth attempt was aborted for the same reason. This morning, when I saw an update on Twitter that she had beat Penny Palfrey's distance record (Penny had an aborted attempt in 2012, as well), I started paying close attention; when the news came that she was only 6 miles off the coast of the Florida Keys, I began looking for live news media coverage of this historic feat.
We don't have cable in our house, so ESPN and CNN weren't options, but I was surprised to discover that the main American news networks, ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS weren't covering it either, instead continuing their regular programming. (When I returned to my computer, I learned through a general outcry on Twitter that it didn't matter that we don't have cable, ESPN and CNN weren't covering it, either.) After about an hour or so, I finally found that CNN.com was offering a live feed with no audio; then, as Diana could finally be seen from shore swimming in the distance, the audio feed was turned on -- but only shared the noise of the crowd gathered on the beach, without any official commentary at all.
I called Alex in to my office, so we could watch Diana make history together -- but unfortunately, we didn't see anything, since CNN.com couldn't be bothered to have a camera nearby when Diana made landfall. All Alex and I saw was the crowd rushing to a spot in the distance where, presumably, Diana began walking again, the moment being caught by thousands of camera phones held aloft, trying to capture a glimpse. But as far as I could tell, there was no live video of the moment she achieved her dream, when records were shattered and Diana became officially the most bad-ass athlete in the history of sports -- did I mention the woman is 64?! -- and I've only seen a couple of recorded videos of that moment since.
Folks, I'm not going to lie to you: I was livid.
I wasn't the only one, either. One friend said that it was clear that the media was only interested in broadcasting historic events if they were achieved by a man first. Still another suggested that, among other things, perhaps the media didn't believe Diana was young enough to warrant the coverage. Yet another offered that perhaps if Diana had stopped to twerk with a few jellyfish, she might've made the networks.
(I confess I stopped being angry long enough to laugh right out loud at that last statement).
Now that I've calmed down (actually, I'm still pretty mad), I have to admit that I have no idea why the networks decided it wasn't worth their time or money to cover this historic event -- I can only presume that they didn't see a return on their investment to do so. But whatever the reason, I do know this: they had the opportunity to broadcast a moment of strength, determination, inspiration, courage and straight-up beauty, and they absolutely, positively blew it.
I mean, I get it: reality television and shows that humiliate others and give the general public an opportunity to mock and deride their subjects make money (bonus points if one of the subjects is named "Kardashian"). Concepts that include images of women who diet to, literally, within an inch of their lives, sell. The commoditization and subjugation of women and minorities brings in the big bucks. I understand this. But honestly, in my naîveté I hadn't realized that the networks also willfully ignore opportunities to share beautiful different, even if they're dropped right into their laps, as it was today.
Ultimately, I've got a daughter to raise, and I've never been one to rely on broadcast television to provide me guidance as to how to do it (which, honestly, is the main reason we don't have cable). So I'll continue to seek out beauty in my own way (and happily, I can do so and support Diane Nyad at the same time, by pre-ordering her documentary, out this fall). But I shared this rant with you today, primarily to say this:
Never, ever, ever stop looking for the beautiful. While it's generally all around you, sometimes you're going to have to work a little to find it, because media and the "beauty" industry and corporations are going to be doing all they can to obscure it and redefine it. Nonetheless, real, uncontrived beauty is definitely out there. So keep searching, because it's absolutely worth it.
And for the record, today that uncommon beauty came in the form of the inimitable Diana Nyad.