Saturday, October 31, 2015

Stop acting Like The Taliban. Start Acting Like The Hell's Angels

Skaters like to wax poetic about the virtues of core skateboarding, the values fostered by the underground...they go on about how important all of that is, how vital it is, yet, when anything comes along that might (gasp) move skateboarding outside the boundaries of their own personal, subjective and usually overly idealized ideology of "core" skateboarding, they start ranting about how skateboarding is in peril of being "ruined".

I have to wonder: Just what is this fragile thing they call skateboarding that needs so much protection?  It's not something I recognize. The skateboarding that I have cherished for three decades is not some precious, fragile little flower, it's a fucking weed that won't die no matter how hard it gets pulled, stepped on, or doused with poison. It's a weed that can't be killed because its roots are too strong.

All the hue and cry over the Olympics and corporate skateboarding reminds me of the antics of religious fanatics like the Taliban or the Christian right. These nutjobs  go on and on about how strong their faith is, yet feel the need to strike out violently against anyone with a different opinion or way of life than theirs because it "threatens" their god. It's absurdly ironic: if your god is so great, why is it threatened by a cartoon or two men getting married? 

Likewise, if the soul of skateboarding is as strong and important as we all say, how can it be threatened by the Olympics or Monster energy drinks?
There's a weird irony in the fact that the lifers, the 20 plus years on board contingent, are often the ones leading the charge against all of these dire "threats" to skating's soul. On the surface, it makes sense: after all, these are guys who have seen the ups and downs of skateboarding over decades; they've seen everything from the embattled roots, to today's bright lights and big money. Change is a threat.

But these same lifers have also seen seen hardcore skateboarding survive everything the world has thrown at it: recessions, crashes, public outrage and criminalization, social marginalization. After witnessing all that, the idea that some shoe company or the Olympic committee could sweep in and ruin skateboarding is laughable. Veteran skaters are living proof that all these things they worry about are mostly powerless.

The hardcore will survive no matter what. Otherwise they wouldn't be called "hardcore".

No doubt, mainstream influences will take skateboarding to places it hasn't been before, places a lot of us have absolutely no interest in going.  Maybe parks will become as standardized as basketball courts and kids will obsess over their tre flip averages. It is conceivable that, in the future, the most common and popular form of skateboarding may be some flexing, jocked out form of rolling little league.

So what?

But all these things people worry about, all they can really do is change what everyone else thinks about skateboarding. They can't take the board out of your hand. They can't kick you out of the parking lot. All they can do is change what is popular.

And when did we start giving a fuck about what is popular? When did we start investing ourselves in what everyone else thinks? When did that become part of the "hardcore" ethic? If you are really hardcore, you've been ignoring what's popular and how everyone else defines skateboarding from day one.

So Nyjah gets on the Wheaties box with a neck full of gold medals. Some douche sportscaster with plastic hair will suddenly know who Chris Cole is. So what. You should be too busy skating to even notice. The pavement will still be out there.

Ask yourself this: If street league became as popular as the super bowl and every college had a skateboard scholarship program, would that make you quit? If the answer is yes, you don't get it. You never have. Proceed to a different subculture. I know where you can get a set of Rollerblades real cheap.

Of course, there will be financial ramifications of a full mainstreaming of skateboarding. The Olympics may very well put skate culture in a position where all sorts of new corporate players will be seeking to reap dividends off skating. Some of the small fish in the industry, and even some of the bigger ones with legacies may take a hit. That is certainly something to resist. The ramifications for the local skateshop could be dire as well...then again, they could also be beneficial. It's a coin toss. But all these concerns, as valid as they are, are not about skateboarding. Not really. They're about the skateboard business.

That's different.

Just how is the Olympics going to ruin skateboarding, you know, getting on a board and rolling? Is the IOC going to come to your hometown and stopper your favorite spot?

The corporate money is already here folks. It has been in the mix for a while, it's going to be from here on out. The Olympics may turbocharge that a little. The Olympics could very well change the context of skating for people who don't skate and those who start in the future. Honestly, I'm not sure norms will give any more interest to Olympic skateboarding than they have to televised street league and Dew Tour contests.

Either way, I still don't see how any of this will "ruin" anything for people who really ride. You want a look at where skateboarding is going in the age of Nike and The Olympics, look to the Bikers.

Here's a quick history lesson: In the years after world war 2 returning vets disillusioned with life in the increasingly conformist postwar America turned to motorcycles as an escape from society and as a wellspring of personal freedom. Not surprisingly, in the Eisenhower era, something as simple as loving to ride a motorcycle could earn a person a one way trip to society's margins. This negative pressure from the masses wound up having the opposite effect on cyclists than the one intended. The pressure turned a simple passion and a pastime into a lifestyle. Bikers banded together to insulate and protect themselves from the mistrust and disdain of mainstream society: the icon of the biker and the biker gang was born.

For 4 decades the bearded, leather-clad Harley "biker" was a figure of pop culture menace: a brawling, drunken, drug addict on a loud, dangerous death machine just itching to mow down your grandma with his steel hog. Pop culture made them stock villains in every genre in every form of media. Bikers responded by making their own culture: Their own music, their own art, their own fashion, their own literature. Through it all, the hardcore kept rolling, and the subculture kept growing.

But then something happened. By the 80's, thanks to the growth of the subculture and the aging of the demographic, the pop culture wheel of fortune spun a 180 on the outlaw biker, and before you could say: "Easy Rider", the biker became a symbol of good ole American freedom. The Harley Davidson became one with mom, dad, and apple pie, and Wall Street bankers who had sold their souls to corporate America began to try to buy them back at their local Harley dealership. Soon, the outlaw bikers were awash in a flood of weekend wheelers. An outsider culture soon became a consumer product for the masses.

Any of this sounding familiar?

I'm sure there was a lot of grumbling, complaining and growing pains in the hardcore bike culture when this shift came up...but bikers dealt with it by doing what they always did: riding to live and living to ride. Some of those Wall Street weekend warriors and suburban Harley riders eventually got tired of their bikes. Others kept them for the occasional ride. A chosen few got pulled in deeper and earned a place for themselves in the core of the culture.

The end result: lots of people of all kinds started riding motorcycles, but there was still a difference between someone with a motorcycle and a "biker". A difference evident to anybody, even in a world where the motorcycle itself had lost its automatic cachet as a counter-cultural signifier.

That still holds true today. The core of outlaw bike culture endures. It's even spun off its own alternative variations. Guys not into the big Harleys found an outlet in customizing smaller, cheaper bikes. There are the guys into classics and antiques, guys who don't want any part of stock bikes who are deep into fabricating and riding customs. Sure, the wannabes still dip their toes in these movements...and the hardcore often capitalize on it quite well. People with money and no soul will always shell out hard cash to buy a chromed up symbol of what they'll never have.

Here's the point: The Olympics and Wall Street, they may turn skateboarding into a mainstream pasttime. There will be more kids on skateboards. Many of them, maybe even most of them, may be people you can't relate to, skating for reasons you don't agree with.

But that doesn't matter, because there will still be a difference between someone who rides a skateboard and a Skater, like the line between cyclist and Biker, it will be a line that anyone can see.

The hardcore may end up being a small, underground movemet in a big culture, but there is nothing the rest of the world can do to skateboarding that will get them to stop. They will be skateboarding's one percenters. The ones who will always possess something no corporation, no international broadcast, no corporate infiltration can ever own.

The IOC and wall Street never have any power to stop that.


  1. Yesss! Right on! in all the rage and thunder of trying to make sure kids in the city here get a fair shake at a proper skate park, and that the money culture doesn't subsume the stoke, nothing can touch the feeling of riding my wooden plank with wheels around... Guys like Rex Harris, Dan Overfield, Dan Destroyer, Mark Noland and so many others stand untouched by the drama...
    ...and yet, all share a burden... a passion,even, to make sure the "hardcore" culture doesn't preclude the kids who need those wheels under them to open alternatives to drugs and suicide...

    this is the midwest. those are real things that could/can/will be interrupted if skateboarding's "hardcore" culture INCLUDES real care for the stoke, not just preening and posturing as "hardcore".

    In this, we are neither Taliban, nor Hells Angel. We are skateboarders. We are friends. We are fathers... speaking, creating, writing, and acting from this... this... LOVE, causes a kind of "third lobe" to the skateboarding identity crisis...

    please continue destroying!

  2. acting like the taliban... blacklisting, defamation, killing free speech with intimidation, stopping the conversation, assault, death threats... stuff like that?
    acting like the hells angels... brotherhood? ratpacking outsiders? silencing witnesses? wait... are these two things even different in real life? requiring a uniform... defining identity by loyalty to a group leadership?
    as far as Cincinnati goes, the mainstream shopcore embodies both Taliban and Hells Angels tactics...
    while free speakers, thinkers, and writers... fatkids and old men... and real diversity, are sidelined in silence or shouted down with taunts and threats.. yeah. sounds like another option might be timely...

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