Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Mystique of the Red Tag

Anyone following the sportclimbing scene on the Internets these days has probably encountered the red tag controversy discussion here, here, here, here, and now of course here.

Now the first impression I have is that this is a perfect example of pseudo-news on the web. Chris Sharma is feeling possessive about his project, a younger rising star wanted to have a go at it, then you stir in some video, a few blog posts and now there is news. However it does raise the interesting question of to what extent would a media-hungry climber "reserve" a route in order to make sure that video and photography was exclusively of him or her on it, branding it in a sense. While I don't think that's what Chris is doing, is it a possibility?

My 2 cents, if you're still reading this, is that Chris should let this one go. He has too much invested in the route based on this interview and would benefit from the competition and potential cooperation with other climbers. Speaking as someone who has benefited from other people's bolted projects, I feel that there are times when it is right to recognize the right of other people to try a project. While it is a lot of effort to bolt a climb, in the end, the route is what counts, not the FFA. And if you're getting bogged down in the project, leaving it alone for a while and letting others try it may give the incentive for eventual success. The equipper has the right to a period of active work on the route, for sure, but it may ultimately be in Chris' (or anyone else's) best interest to see what happens if others try it.

Update: Big Up has posted a lengthy and to my mind reasonable reply to the "controversy." One of the sad side affects of this fruitless debate is its overshadowing of Paul Robinson's success on Lucid Dreaming (V16?)Bishop, also nicely described at Big Up.

But wait, there's more here!

Finally, this topic is also addressed here. When will the Internet foolness stop?

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

The key component IMO is the availability of projects, if there are unlimited unbolted projects, as is certainly the case in Catalunya, then complaining about not being allowed to try one project until the bolter is done with it leaves the motives of the "claim-jumper", so to speak, up to question. Most of the criticism directed Chris's way seems to ignore this aspect, that it would be easy for Nalle to simply find his own project instead of getting on someone else's. That said, the clock is ticking and Chris does not own the rock; I think the etiquette should be that you have 2 years to try something before it should become an open project.

Ian said...

I generally agree with CS's reasoning on this. But, maybe there's another reason to open the route anyway: in the future, whatever new hard routes he puts up, people will say "Yeah, but he doesn't let other people try - of course he had the FA." Now that it's been given a life of its own via the intertubes, unfortunately, the issue won't just disappear.

pascal Heger said...

"even if i can't climb this, i wanted to plant the seed for somebody in the future to come in the future to inspire us all." Tommy Caldwell on Mescalito. Spoken like a true climber...

Weird irony BTW with Graham being an outspoken protestor of red-tagging (hogged a red-tagged project and renamed it at some point), but still working on Chris's route while isolating Nalle.

Anonymous said...

Didn't Dave Graham have to pay $100 to get the first ascent of Livin' Astro in Rumney?
Is there a way we can start to infuse the principles of the free market system into climbing etiquette amongst climbers in situations like this one? What if: Nalle offered Chris $1,000(seems an appropriate price compared to what Dave had to pay) to try FRFM for a couple weeks. Its like a video game, you get the 'game over' sign and you have to keep pumping quarters into the machine until you win. The creator of the game isn't bitching about somebody beating the game first because they paid for the rights to try the game. Seems fair from an economic standpoint. (this is a silly comment, I know)

Anonymous said...

I think sharma felt threatened by the abilities of hukkataival, something he didn't feel with the others he "allowed" on the route.

i suspect hukkataival would have crushed FRFM in a week-unfortunately we will now not know-but if it had happened, what would that have done to sharma's "mystique", and bigup's next movie revenues?

Peter Beal said...

I am not sure that Nalle would have been able to do the route quite so quickly as that but as I said in the post, sometimes being too possessive about a project distorts your view of it. The classic example in bouldering is John Sherman on what was to become Full Service in Hueco. He describes it in his book, Better Bouldering. He coveted this problem to the extent that he couldn't see an easier solution to the crux, one that apparently Dale Goddard saw. Dale did it first, christening it Serves You Right. John had the last laugh in a sense as guidebook author so the name never stuck.

The media dollars theory that Deadpoint described seems far-fetched to me but I wonder if someone will try to trademark a climb somehow as their own. Stranger things have happened. Anyway the Big Up response to my mind hits it right. I just think that Nalle should have been offered the route to see what he thought and as motivation for Chris' success.

akorn said...

Didn't we kind of already hash this out in the friggin' eighties?

Peter Beal said...

The eighties will never go out of style

Anonymous said...

I think the media dollar might have a lot to do with it. Sharma is pulling large endorsement from various companies and Josh demands a large sum from companies to be represented in his films. On top of that, he makes a lot of money from the sale of his videos. To think money doesn't have a roll in this would be silly, but I don't think it is the only factor in play. Another would be ego.

Constantin said...

That's just people speaking their minds and I don't think it's internet foolness.
I climb and I must say that the climbers that I admire the most are not necessarily the best (in my group of friends) - but are the ones being cool, funny, generous.
Chris is somehow not cool keeping that project for himself...
That's just my opinion.
Cheers!

Anonymous said...

bigup is in the business of selling movies. they are a business entity, a corporation. a corporation just like shell-oil, microsoft, or the la lakers.

this doesn't mean lowell's a bad guy, but it does compromise his objectivity in this whole foofaraw. remember firstly that without sharma, without a doubt bigup would not exist in its present form. only by capturing exclusive footage of sharma grunting and groaning up rock faces in hi-def and neato angles, and then selling the product with various basic business and advertising methods did bigup succeed. he had some camera skills, motivation, and the right climber- a very fortunate combination, for lowell (and the consumers who are into that thing).

Anonymous said...

A couple of quotes from lowell's entry into said foofaraw:

It's a shame because everything we do is an attempt to celebrate and share the inspiring, beautiful, admirable sides of climbing

are we to take this seriously? i think lowell has fallen for his own PR. last time i checked, "sharing" would cost me around $25. perhaps sharma has learned about sharing from his biographers at bigup?

There are only two routes that Chris has ever asked anyone to give him some extra time on - Jumbo Love and First Round First Minute.

would this still be the case if someone was gunning for neanderthal, papichulo, golpe de estado, etc? i doubt it.

The very notion of a project being "officially closed" or open is bogus.

tell that to chris.

He was falling about half way up the wall and we realized he wasn't going to get it done that season, but we thought people would enjoy getting a glimpse of what the next level of sportclimbing would look like

more of the same unconscious hagiography we've come to expect from lowell. the "next level"? ummm, let's not forget akira, chilam balam, and perhaps others. also, people might indeed "enjoy getting a glimpse", for a fee of course.

He approaches new route development as an artist, not as a competitor.

an artist? i've never quite undertood that one. i've scoped many lines, bolted quite a few, some are classic, but i don't really understand the "artist" comparison....
plus, when you make your obsession be about the First Ascent (which sharma admittedly does, right?), then it seems about as far removed from at least the ideal of "art" as it can be.

On FRFM, the situation is pretty similar. Chris invested two full climbing seasons into equipping and trying the line

unless he's an attrocious bolter, probably 6 hours bolting the thing. no moss to scrub, lichen to remove, etc.

and 2 years of trying?!? maybe it's time to open the project!

But there's a big difference between Nalle flying in on a mission to get the FA of a route he saw on a video

a bit of an assumption regarding nalle's intent, no? nalle said he saw video and thought it was a super rad line.

bigup and sharma seem overly obsessed with "FA"'s....

Several posters have latched on to and amplified Nalle's comment that "...You can't claim a First Ascent if you won't let others try your project..." This view reflects a purely competitive outlook

i see a rather heavy lean on nalle by lowell. at first he says nalle's all cool with everything, but then starts to pick at him and pick at him....it's pretty clear nalle wasn't very cool with what went down at the crags....

i think what really reflects a "purely competitive outlook" is the fact that sharma didn't allow nalle on the climb. what could be more competitive than that?

But many other first ascentionists, including Chris, see the process of opening a route as a form of personal creative expression. Like making a sculpture and then sharing it with the world.

"here world: from the goodness of my heart and creative mind, i give you First Round First Minute, BEFORE ANYONE ELSE!"


oh my, did i just spend an hour writing all that? :)

Peter Beal said...

Re: last sentence, I know that feeling well :). Here's why I don't think Big Up is necessarily that mercenary about the whole thing. FRFM is not a "king line." It's hard and steep but it's no Realization. Honestly, I don't think anyone would pay a dime to see footage of it being climbed by anyone even Chris. I think it's just Chris' own desire to send it first. That said, yes it was not the right thing to do to keep others such as Nalle off it. I think that climbing benefits from having really hard open projects available and sponsors should support this kind of work.

Anonymous said...

"last time i checked, "sharing" would cost me around $25. perhaps sharma has learned about sharing from his biographers at bigup?"

Please don't be ridiculous. You make some good points in your post but this isn't one of them.

"i think what really reflects a "purely competitive outlook" is the fact that sharma didn't allow nalle on the climb. what could be more competitive than that?"

Chris not allowing Nalle on the route is more a case of him not wanting it to become a competition for the FA. After the FA gets done, there can be a competitive aura surrounding quick repeats, downgrading etc.

"plus, when you make your obsession be about the First Ascent (which sharma admittedly does, right?), then it seems about as far removed from at least the ideal of "art" as it can be."

This is rather like saying that Michaelangelo should have allowed rival sculptors to take over David, because they could have done it faster, better, that M was being competitive in not allowing his rivals access to his work...but really, shouldn't M's rivals just pick another piece of marble and make their own sculpture?

Anonymous said...

Please don't be ridiculous. You make some good points in your post but this isn't one of them.

explaining the charge of "ridiculous" might go a long way from keeping you from appearing ridiculous.


Chris not allowing Nalle on the route is more a case of him not wanting it to become a competition for the FA.

yeah, sharma does seem pretty anti-competitive, for a guy who both competes AND obsesses about FA's.

This is rather like saying that Michaelangelo should have allowed rival sculptors to take over David, because they could have done it faster, better, that M was being competitive in not allowing his rivals access to his work...but really, shouldn't M's rivals just pick another piece of marble and make their own sculpture?

even though sculpting has never done it for me as an art-form, FA's do it for me even less. it is farcical at best to make the claim that slapping some bolts on public property somehow equates to M's David, much less other forms of art. hell, synchronized swimming choreography is more "art" than anything concerning climbing. (don't get me wrong: i very much enjoy climbing, finding and bolting routes, and even getting FA's, but it isn't art.)

ktmt said...

"this is a perfect example of pseudo-news on the web"

--that's the only "real" story here. The rest is all just sideline commentary which the Internet accelerates and makes far more visible than when it was spread only by word of mouth. Like in the 80s.

Anonymous said...

"it is farcical at best to make the claim that slapping some bolts on public property somehow equates to M's David, much less other forms of art."

Agreed. Also farcical to claim that BigUp should prove that it has altruistic motives by freely distributing it's product, or that Chris not wanting his project to become a competition for the FA is in and of itself being competitive. Again, there are scores of extremely difficult already-sent routes in that area, and unlimited untouched rock, for Hukkataival to "huck" himself at. Strange how none of his athletic supporters ever bring that up...

Anonymous said...

also farcical to claim that BigUp should prove that it has altruistic motives by freely distributing it's product

heh, such a claim would be rather farcical, wouldn't it? (if someone had made it.)

and why do you assume that if nalle had been allowed on the route, it would have turned into a competition for the FA? what a competitive assumption! someone's got FA fever, and from everything i've gathered, it ain't nalle.


let's also keep in mind the early promotion of FRFM by bigup, aka sharma.

i mean really, let's broadcast to the whole world this great new contender for hardest line, let's film it, let's create a buzz (it's called promotion, folks), and after it gets interest from someone who could probably crush it rather quickly, we'll say "oh noes, it's closed. so sorry bud! here are some other consolation lines for ya!".

class act, all around!

Anonymous said...

"let's broadcast to the whole world this great new contender for hardest line, let's film it, let's create a buzz (it's called promotion, folks), and after it gets interest from someone who could probably crush it rather quickly, we'll say "oh noes, it's closed. so sorry bud! here are some other consolation lines for ya!"."

The key phrase being "after it gets interest". Interest ("buzz", as you put it) that would not exist if it didn't have the notoriety from being a filmed, unfinished Sharma project, or if Chris had not put in the work to bolt it and invested effort to climb it in the first place.

Which would you prefer - that these unfinished projects are in the BigUp vids, or that they should remain secret until they're sent? Because if people like you are gonna freak out over the fact that they're not open projects because they were in a climbing video, then I guess they should stay secret. Which would be a shame.

Peter Beal said...

FWIW, the buzz on this project seems to stem solely from the red-tag issue at this point.

The Michelangelo analogy is interesting since the David was the result of his taking over someone else's project. Nobody else know what to do with it, so he was allowed to work with the huge chunk of marble that became the David. Art history is interestingly full of rivalries and even artists finishing and modifying other people's work.

Anonymous said...

The key phrase being "after it gets interest". Interest ("buzz", as you put it) that would not exist if it didn't have the notoriety from being a filmed, unfinished Sharma project, or if Chris had not put in the work to bolt it and invested effort to climb it in the first place.

yeah, like 2 years of effort now? any reasonable humanoid would have thought it was open for anyone to try (which it is, even with bigup's efforts to coopt etiquette).

Which would you prefer - that these unfinished projects are in the BigUp vids, or that they should remain secret until they're sent? Because if people like you are gonna freak out over the fact that they're not open projects because they were in a climbing video, then I guess they should stay secret. Which would be a shame.

i hardly think i'm "freaking out" over this, nor does anyone else seem to be, but yeah, i kinda think that if a promotion company (bigup) starts advertising for its next film on an unclimbed route on public property, there is an issue. obviously there is money at stake. we're talking hundreds of thousands of dollars, potentially.

so this promotion company is potentially grossing this kind of money from the "development" of public property, and declaring some sort of exclusive rights over said piece of property. this is exactly what is happening in this case. of course, there is no legal recourse for bigup to limit access, nor are they wont to physically impose limitations; their only recourse is to pander to some form of "morality", or a sense of "fairness" in trying to secure their self-described "rights".

also, pandering to the notion of all the "hard work" sharma put into this line is silly at best. i thought this was all a labor of love?

i've bolted plenty of lines, and you know what? it ain't hard. i'd never use that as an argument in trying to "protect" my line.

Anonymous said...

"so this promotion company is potentially grossing this kind of money from the "development" of public property, and declaring some sort of exclusive rights over said piece of property. this is exactly what is happening in this case. of course, there is no legal recourse for bigup to limit access, nor are they wont to physically impose limitations; their only recourse is to pander to some form of "morality", or a sense of "fairness" in trying to secure their self-described "rights".

What you're describing is basically the same rational paparazzi photogs use to justify harrassing celebrities. The celeb's only recourse against being hounded in public and having their privacy invaded is to appeal to simple human decency - a principle the papparazzi and tabloids sneer at because, it the celeb actually wanted those things, then they wouldn't be celebs in the first place.

So, again, what are you saying? That unfinished projects should remain secret, or that by publicizing them, the author loses any right to claim they're closed? If the latter is the case, then the simple solution is to not publicize them. If no one else knows about them, then it doesn't matter if they're closed or not. That, however, would be just as arbitrarily unfair to the audience for BigUp's vids as you are claiming it is unfair to those who want to jump on Chris's unfinished projects. It's like you're the papparazzi telling George Clooney "Hey, you don't like being hounded in public? Then you shouldn't be making movies in the first place, pal!" Which everyone knows is BS.

Anonymous said...

What you're describing is basically the same rational paparazzi photogs use to justify harrassing celebrities. The celeb's only recourse against being hounded in public and having their privacy invaded is to appeal to simple human decency - a principle the papparazzi and tabloids sneer at because, it the celeb actually wanted those things, then they wouldn't be celebs in the first place.

mr. lowell, I would suggest that you are losing control of the narrative. Mel Gibson's PR guy alan nierob did wonders for him, after his anti-semitic histrionics. you have the money now, and you have too much riding on this to allow your own misguided sense of aggrievement to display itself in all its irrational wonder.



I will condense my position with the following:

sharma has sat on FRFM for way too long now, and should step back. he has already shown himself to be greedy (to put it simply), and 2 years is too long.

if you can't do the route in 2 years (especially in sharma's case), it's time to let the ones that can, step up to the plate.

Anonymous said...

"sharma has sat on FRFM for way too long now, and should step back. he has already shown himself to be greedy (to put it simply), and 2 years is too long.

if you can't do the route in 2 years (especially in sharma's case), it's time to let the ones that can, step up to the plate."

That really is the only argument you have that holds water, and which I agree with on principle (if it really has been 2 years, which I don't know). An extenuating circumstance would certainly be if the author, after 2 years, was actively working it and falling off the last move - as is the case here.

The other stuff, about BigUp denying access to public property for commercial gain, is neither true nor would it be relevant to the issue even if it was. Ditto the stuff about publicizing a project, or an area, being tantamount to opening it up - no. If that were the custom, FRFM would never have been publicized and Nalle would have never heard about it. He did, though, hopefully learn a valuable lesson - either repeat routes, work on open projects, or bolt your own. Or stick to bouldering.

Anonymous said...

That really is the only argument you have that holds water, and which I agree with on principle (if it really has been 2 years, which I don't know). An extenuating circumstance would certainly be if the author, after 2 years, was actively working it and falling off the last move - as is the case here.

you either know, or you don't know; your knowledge is not the cat in a box. hence, one can only surmise that you don't know.

and, if the last move is the crux? such extenuation. certainly this warrants a decade of attempts.

The other stuff, about BigUp denying access to public property for commercial gain, is neither true nor would it be relevant to the issue even if it was.

not relevant? i'm glad i'm coming to my senses, and kissing this entire discussion goodbye. along with your pablum.

have fun!

Peter Beal said...

Wondering how long this would play out... My guess is that Chris and Nalle will play nicely together soon enough and chuckle at all the bloggings, at least that is my hope.

Anonymous said...

"Wondering how long this would play out"

It finished as they usually do, conclusively on one side and insultingly on the other.

Anonymous said...

"you either know, or you don't know; your knowledge is not the cat in a box. hence, one can only surmise that you don't know."

Orwell coined double-speak...the likely source of this being Boulder Co., this would be...bubble-speak?

Peter Beal said...

Bubble-speak or not, I agree with the writer complaining about the tone of most online discussions. I really don't understand the edge these things can take on, especially when talking about a route on a little cliff thousands of miles of way and whether someone most of us have never met felt excluded or not.

gian said...

FRFM is not a "king line."

I disagree.

i've watched progression with a few pals (all boulderers).
Everyone was psyched by the FRFM footage and would have done as nalle (flying to spain) if having the required climbing skills...

maybe it's a crap line when seen live but the footage really didn't make it look like that.
every hold seemed something you would like to clone and bolt on your gym wall (except maybe the mono).
every move looked classic.

other things in the movie divided our opinions: someone was psyched, others were seeing their climbing nightmares realized.
It was not the case of FRFM...

Peter Beal said...

It's not a "crap" line, but it's not Realization. I have no doubt that it's very high quality but the aura just isn't the same. Whatever Nalle's motivation might have been, surely part of it was that the route is short and powerful.

gian said...

of course he would have been attracted by the short-and-powerful nature!

I see nothing wrong with that, unless we still have huge margins of personal improvement it is a healty thing to be self-indulgent and show off our climbing talents, i think.

on the other hand I don't believe that size is an primary factor in the quality of a bolted climb, unless it is so short that there was no real need for a rope.

or, are you saying that what makes many routes @céuse king lines of their grades, is above all the fact that they justify that brand new 80 meters rope???

Peter Beal said...

Among other things, there are variants heading off to the left and right, the wall it climbs is not particularly stunning or featured in an interesting way, and it seems not just short, but really short. I like short climbs a bunch myself, but this one, while aesthetic enough, just doesn't have the impact of some of his other FAs