- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 1, 2005

From shark-attack survival to superhero and office-espionage manuals, writers and publishers are coming up with plenty of ways to disperse quirky knowledge to the American who dreams of living a life of adventure and intrigue.

The guides are like “Chicken Soup for the Soul” for the daredevil crowd — and their popularity offers insights to the American psyche.

“At every stage of life, you either fantasize about, or dream about, or want to learn to become, a hero in whatever form you can, so that might mean learning how to do a Jedi mind trick or learning how to save someone who has fallen into quicksand,” says David Borgenicht, author of “The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook” and “The Action Hero’s Handbook.”

The books, which are largely for entertainment purposes, are chock-full of step-by-step instructions to get would-be heroes through the most harrowing of situations. Solutions for most scenarios are explained in five to 10 points. Everything from protecting your child from a ferocious beast to withstanding a poison kiss to training a sidekick is laid out in the easy-to-understand steps.

“Everyone would like to be more heroic, but we don’t often find ourselves in situations in everyday life where we can — unless you see someone getting mugged, but how often does that happen?” says Jennifer Worick, co-author of “The Action Heroine’s Handbook.”

“Being a hero is a chance to kind of challenge yourself,” she said.

“Everyone’s looking for a little more excitement in life,” says Danielle Burgio, stuntwoman and co-author of “The Stuntwoman’s Workout.” “Too many people work 9 to 5 or don’t get out enough.”

Television and movies allow Americans to watch the adventure they’ve always dreamed about living — but adventure is not a spectator activity.

“It’s really about trying to inspire people, to get them out there and find adventure, because it’s around every corner,” Miss Burgio says of her book. “One thing I learned from becoming a stuntwoman is how much is out there … and how easily it can be accessed.”

Hollywood didn’t invent the hero, Miss Burgio notes.

“Even before TVs and movies … there was storytelling. We want idols, people to look up to and to strive to be like,” she says. “If we didn’t rely as much on them, we would be more apt to just go out there.”

A handbook for superheroes taps into a rich vein of cultural tradition, Mr. Borgenicht says.

“The greatest storytelling has always been about heroes, whether it’s a Greek myth or a comic book,” he says.

“People — ever since we learned how to speak — we’ve probably been telling stories of people with magical powers or heroes who saved the world or the princess or the city. Our books are simply the practical incarnation of the kind of mythology and storytelling going on ever since man could speak.”

The modern-day action hero is an Americanized update of that timeless tradition.

“The idea of the Rambo or the Terminator seems to be distinctly American — that kind of cowboy, John Wayne mentality,” Ms. Worick says. ” But I’msure there’s role models and action heroes worldwide. I could imagine all cultures have heroes or role models to aspire to.

“The idea of seeking out something that is your own that is secret and private to you, such as a secret identity — a lot of people have that. They want to keep something that is unique and individual to them.”

The key is to turn the inspiration of heroes into the motivation to do something besides watch TV, Miss Burgio says.

“The media in general has a huge influence on the mental state in America, and movies and TV shows now more than ever are about action stars,” she says. “We sit behind our computers all day long, and we look to that to take us away mentally.

“We go to movies to take that mental journey. But it’s because most people think that they can’t do it themselves. I don’t know who taught them that, but it’s not true.”

But Mr. Borgenicht cautions that his guides are written mostly for entertainment’s sake and are not meant to spark anyone to perform daring deeds.

“The original ‘Worst-Case Scenario’ book was an idea I had that came from pop culture and a desire of mine to learn if there were real-world answers for the things superheroes run into. We take great pains to do a lot of research and talk to experts in the real world when writing the books, but by no means are our books a real guide to being a hero in any situation,” he says.

However, he adds, “If by some quirk of fate, so to speak, they also happen to provide information that saves someone’s life, then so much the better.”

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