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.