Freediving and the media: a love-hate story?
The late Netflix show, Home Game, brought a strong light on the discipline of freediving, showing to the masses what this discipline is about… The show focuses mainly on the sensationalist aspects of the sport, and in the process do maybe more harm than good.
The trailer and its Jaws-movies-like soundtrack directly draws our attention: the brain cannot fight it, it has to know, there is something worrying we need to understand. Main TV news programs use the same trick, the anxious soundtrack basically instructs the brain that something dangerous and important is about to be unveiled, some news we simply cannot ignore, be aware, get ready, your survival is at stake. The brain is very dumb in its own ways, but is perfectly adapted for survival.
The images coming along don’t disappoint: blackouts, seizures, blood, … One protagonist (the main one but we don’t know that yet) mentions that one of his friends died while freediving. Then the narrator concludes: “freediving is one of the most dangerous sports on earth”; culmination of the worrisome soundtrack, you’ll know more about it watching the third episode of Home Game… Uninitiated viewers cannot help but think “WTF is wrong with these lunatics, why do they do that?” Well, you’ll know more watching the episode…
But do we? Watching the episode, I find the narrative around Imam’s life and performance refreshing, interesting and instructive, it brings a light on the lives of Sama people within the Philippines, and how the quest of Imam can help improving the perception of the Sama people amongst Filipinos. I find the narrative around Wei and Marese interesting too, being two female Filipina freedivers living from the discipline. In the end, the episode gives quite a fair view of what a local freediving competition looks like.
Yet, as we usually see it in the media, the TV show focuses mainly on the sensationalist side of the discipline, showing freediving as an extreme sport, dangerous and accessible only to some cold-blooded elite… It is like freediving is suffering from a curse: or traditional media don’t speak about it, or they focus on the sensationalist and dangerous aspect of the sport, which are actually uncommon. I still have to convince all my friends and family that no, I am not doing something dangerous. Nobody believes me. And fewer people will, after watching Home Game…
Extreme sports are all about adrenalin, approaching death to feel more alive. Freediving is actually almost the exact opposite of an extreme sport, we don’t approach death, we just let go and reach the bottom of who we are. In both cases we tend to reach a flow state. In extreme sport, you need to be in a flow state to ensure your survival, you just cannot make any mistake, you need to stay focused, in the moment.
In Freediving, we willingly and consciously decide to let go and enter a flow state in order to go deeper or longer; it demands a lot of repetition and training to reach the necessary level of relaxation. If we get out of the flow and cannot go back into it, we only risk to turn early and to come back to the surface with a not very nice feeling, but that doesn’t involve anything dangerous. In the end, freediving is essentially a practical meditation methodology, not an extreme sport.
Anyway, how to bring the media to speak more positively and truthfully about this beautiful discipline? In my opinion, we should at least take some measures to avoid the media to tell their sensationalist and attractive stories. One of the solutions could be to systematically negotiate a right to review the content before publishing. Without that, the media will be impelled to speak about the scary aspect of freediving, and it will continue damaging the image of the discipline: will Home Game rather attract new people to the discipline, or scare them and restrain them to try? In my opinion, Home Game will do more bad than good. Especially considering the trailer, that will unfortunately be seen by many more people than the show itself.
Yet it is also possible to show the magic of the discipline and to attract new people to it: Every single production from “Les Films Engloutis”, by Julie Gautier and Guillaume Néry, got it right for instance. The short films are eye-catching, magic, fantastic, and sexy. When you watch them, you understand there is something hidden there and you want to discover it for yourself. The movie le Grand Bleu still inspires some people to try freediving thirty years after its release, even if there again, the story takes some distances with the reality and emphasizes on the drama.
As a conclusion, let’s hope that more and more media will be interested to speak about freediving, and that they will come to show the true depth and complexity we find in this discipline, rather than focusing on its more crude, sensational and finally quite unusual aspects. The sport can generate amazingly beautiful and attractive pictures and videos, and the philosophy behind it is worth investigating and sharing. Maybe one of the best ways to proceed would be to teach freediving to everybody willing to speak about it? Then they would also understand…