Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Value of Dissent

The winter has been a strange one. In some ways it has been incredible productive with all kinds of projects realized and others underway. In other ways, a sense of frustration has set in, especially with an often brutal and erratic weather pattern that has been fundamentally incompatible with work and other demands. Part of the sense of frustration stems from figuring out where to go in my writing. Surrounded by an infinity of updates from Spain (or Catalunya) or Font or Hueco, I am frustrated by the lack of substance in any of this. Thank heaven for Stevie Haston for at least some sense of reality.

 Recently I have been looking at the viewer numbers for this blog in the hope of figuring out what people want to see based on what they actually read. The results are interesting to say the least. Head and shoulders above the rest was the "About that Citibank Ad...." post with views closer to what I would see with a climbing star interview. But the trend continues with #2 and #3 being the Matt Samet interview and "Can You Afford to be Sponsored?" All of these pieces have one thing in common; they question aspects of the climbing world that many take for granted as desirable or at least as acceptable. This aspect of writing seems to me a diminishing component of climbing media at this point. Serious questioning of destructive or ethically dubious ideas or practices seem to be limited primarily to competitive and symbolic ethics such as the bolts on Cerro Torre or other climbing-specific issues such as permadraws. Deeper questions, ones that go to the heart of the sport tend to be evaded or passed over altogether.

 This was the essence of the Citibank post. I was concerned about the way in which capital was framing the sport and even more concerned with the adulation and praise that the advertisement received from the climbing community. If there was any substantial critique of the ad, I somehow failed to see it, a situation I found disturbing, especially considering the heritage of the sport, a heritage that that has always had a complex and ambivalent relationship to financial and political power. So why did no-one else engage these questions? A quick survey of the literature of the 70s and 80s shows a wide range of responses to questions that remain vitally important, in fact that are even more important than ever. What has happened to the writers who are/were willing to seriously tackle these issues? Carping about babies at the crag or fretting about whether hold X was manufactured is not what I am talking about here. Minor local controversies are distractions from the bigger picture and the trends that threaten important aspects of the sport.

 In coming months I will be focusing more in-depth on issues that I think are at the center of the future of the sport. Primary among these are environmental issues but I also want to dig deeper into the questions raised by the mainstreaming and professionalization of the sport at the highest levels. I would not call this direction so much "muck-raking" but instead reflective and critical writing in the best senses of those terms. Climbing needs more independent voices, not fewer. From where I stand, there are very few indeed.

8 comments:

Justin Roth said...

Interesting stuff, Peter. I do feel that intelligent, well-reasoned dissent is lacking in today's information-heavy / substance-lite culture. In writing, TV, radio, etc., we have too often replaced keen observation, critical thinking, and honesty with what formulaic dreck devised only to fill time slots and sell ad space. Along these lines, I recently started my own blog (god help us) at thestonemind.com. It's not nearly as climbing focused as your blog, or Andrew's or Brian's, but I do have plenty of climbing posts in the pipe already. As a former climbing magazine editor who saw from the inside how biased and watered-down the ad-based revenue system can make our media, I felt a blog would be an excellent way to talk about topics without fear of offending this or that valuable (from a business sense) entity. In short, I hope to add another voice of dissent to the mix. I look forward to offering dissenting opinions on your dissenting posts -- it all sounds so very incendiary.

Blackford said...

Good points. I"m looking forward to your future posts.
Also, thanks for the Stevie Haston link. Great stuff.

ktmt said...

This is good news. There is no other source I have found that attempts regular critical thought and explorations of our sport. I look forward to seeing how your topics and voice evolve this year.

splitter choss said...

Looking forward to it Peter!

chris schulte said...

insightful, and question marks appear.. to play the devil's (?or who's?) advocate, i think there is a bit of support from the community for a move to a more professional way of conducting the business and exposure of climbing (though i have a sneaking suspicion it's as perennial as the public interest has ever been regarding climbing). on one hand, you have a group of people who are performing at a "major-league" level, and often unable to sustain the lifestyle without external support, as illustrated in the "can you afford to be sponsored" powow. on the other, you have a history of... subversive(?) characters in the climbing world, dodging and dogging the commercialization of the pursuit as a tarnishing of the purity of the lifestyle who give flavor to, and who truly shaped the world and community of climbing... but then the third hand, that of commerce, and growth, and exposure, that hand relies on, well, Reliable, predictable behavior (even if it be subversive a la most "extreme" sports..) for it's feasibility vis a vis a bottom line of dollars invested in a forecasted return in sales, mindshare, or whatever.. the fourth hand says that dissent is marketable, too.. maybe all the hands can pair off for handshakes. that won't change the fact that climbing is still fun, hopefully... it surely won't change the panoply of characters in the world of climbing.. never has.. but we fluctuate too...

Calvin said...

Peter,

You state that you're frustrated with the lack of insightful commentary and the direction to take with your blog, and yet you note that most people would rather read something less substantial. No surprise the climbing media panders to its audience. Tabloids far outsell news-magazines for a reason.

Focus on what you want to write on and what you care about. I read your blog for your opinion, although I would respectfully mention that many times I do not read it because your more "serious" take doesn't strike me as all that interesting.

You've never articulated your overall goals for your blog (unless I missed that) - but from what I gather you seem to want to be the beacon of erudite climbing analysis. I'm sure there's a place for that, perhaps even a need as Haston alludes. But I don't believe you should be surprised most people don't give a crap. It's not a personal assessment of your blog, just an acknowledgment that the climbing masses care more about the most recent 5.15x/V.1X send than the critical underlying issues confronting climbers.

Peter Beal said...

Thanks for the comments everyone! @Calvin, if you read my post more closely, you can see how I point out that my most popular posts are in fact the ones that could be called critical to some degree. To me this indicates some kind of demand for that sort of writing, as opposed to news fluff or fake controversy. I am not worried about absolute numbers or who cares about the blog, though a surprising number of people visit on a regular basis. I do think it curious how much has changed in terms of discourse in the past 20 years.

Eman said...

While I don't always agree with you, I always enjoy reading your views. Sends like your future posts will continue to be interesting.

Anything I read that makes me think about the issue is good. If it challenges to to rethink, reconsider, or just review, I find the material much more interesting than if it's what I already know and agree with.

Your blog has done this for me on several occasions. Keep the critical thinking coming.