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'Jetman' zooms along rim of Grand Canyon in first US flight

Jetman, aka adventurer Yves Rossy, hit 190 m.p.h. Saturday as he flew with a jet-pack above the Grand Canyon. Where some see self-promotional stunt man, others see a boundary-breaker.

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Still others say the Jetman fascination is a cultural Rorschach test that says more about who is watching than it does about Rossy or his achievements.

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“He’s a stunt guy like Donald Trump … do what you can to get attention, and then after the check is cashed run back to the cave and start all over again,” says Richard Laermer, CEO of RLM PR in New York. “None of this is real or adds value. He climbs, the French guy [highwire artist Phillipe Petit] climbs, and every so often [magician] David Blaine disappears or submerges. All for PR and/or money. What should a reporter ask...? When will you go away? They’re all carnival barkers looking to get attention one way or another.”

Others disagree.

“This is the future promised to us since the end of World War II, and I, for one, am still waiting for jet packs and flying cars,” says Robert Thompson, founder of the Bleier Center of Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University in New York. Even for those suspicious of Jetman’s motives, at the very least he provides a diversion for a country caught up in a tough economy and Middle East unrest, says Dr. Thompson.

He cites the 2009 case of “balloon boy” – in which a runaway gas balloon reported to have a young boy on board was chased down on live TV, only later to be found to be a hoax perpetrated by someone angling for his own reality TV show.

“Balloon boy never happened and that was tough to deal with, but this [Jetman exercise] appears to be the endeavor of someone pushing for discovery and we are fascinated," says Thompson.

Another culture theorist, Peter Lehman, director of the Center for Film, Media and Popular Culture at Arizona State University, has an observation about masculinity and asks a question he says could be very revealing about America.

“Note that Jetman and all the well-known historical precedents including Evel Knievel are not just men, but men of a certain type,” says Mr. Lehman. When Evel Knievel tried to jump the Snake River Canyon in Idaho in 1974, several reporters wrote that it was a welcome diversion from the exhaustion of Watergate and President Richard Nixon’s resignation.

“So the most intriguing question is not whether figures like them take our attention away from serious issues like Watergate and the death of Osama bin Laden, but rather why does it take the spectacle of a certain death-defying macho masculinity to distract us from such serious issues at times like this? We seem to seek an almost comic-book or superhero-filmic hyper-masculinity to divert us away from reality. It is disturbing that we place so much value on conventional spectacles of masculine power at times like this.”

IN PICTURES: Jetman

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