Sunday, January 25, 2009

Skateboarding then and now

Skateboarding has paralleled broader American culture in many ways. When it first went "big" in the late 80s it was still small and guys who rode were still considered misfits and outcasts, definitely anti-establishment. Like the greater establishment culture of today they still project an image of rebel outcast while making millions of dollars telling the rest of the culture to be just like them. Bam Margera presents the rebel image on MTV, but he dutifully believes and absorbs whatever the establishment tells him. In essence, it's all an act, and American youth are buying it big time. The dissonance can be hilarious and perfectly reflects the discontinuity of broader American culture. All of the entertainment industry supported Obama and they won big, but in their minds they still like to think of themselves as hip anti-establishment types fighting against the entrenched ruling order of America. Which would be... middle class Christians from Kansas? Skateboarders supported Obama with the same type of goofy "fight the power" attitude, even though a majority of youth wear their clothes, buy their shoes, worship at their altar. Skateboarding is the fastest growing sport in America and a billion dollar industry. The two videos I have posted below perfectly mirror this change.

Disclaimer: I may be nostalgic, and I am posting a "legendary" video of Ray Barbee, one of my favorite skaters in the world. But I believe even with my preferences the diference between the two is obvious. The first is a work of art in its simplicity. Both in filming and videography. The whole thing was probably filmed over the course of a few days in Los Angeles. He is wearing the same clothes in the entire video. Nothing fancy, just a guy skateboarding. In contrast, the second video of Chris Cole, took at least 6 months to film, and was shot all over the world: China, Barcelona, etc... Yet if you analyze the "image" and "attitude" presented in both you get a stronger sense of rebel punk from Cole's video, even if he is anything but that. Barbee's outfit was intentionally crafted to not have logos and brands prominently displayed, but Cole's entire ensemble, from the torn jeans, to the tattoos and wrist bands is a carefully crafted image designed to sell product and a lifestyle. In fact, when he first broke into the scene the manager and owner of his company had a quiet sit down with him to explain that his image wouldn't work. Skaters today, in spite of the rebel image, are actually meek peddlers of merchandise. When a skater gets sponsored they are not allowed to wear any clothing but their sponsors'. You only need to watch a few minutes of each video to see the contrast. The amazing irony is that skateboarding has built a corporate empire peddling its anti-corporate, anti-establishment roots.
Just like the rest of the entertainment big business fat cats, skaters live in a alternate reality where they protest the corruption of "big business." It's an elaborate mythology grown out of 60s counterculture that has yet to be honest with itself.

No comments:

Post a Comment