Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sell, Sell, Sell: Is There an Alternative?

Is it time to just stop writing? The primary reason for asking this is that in the there appears to be no widely read outlet or sizable audience for the kinds of things that I think need saying. Online climbing media for example, has now settled into a few very narrow categories. There are "athlete" blogs, consisting mostly of mundane accounts of the "lifestyle," monotonous reports from the locale du jour that simultaneously bore and aggravate the reader with sponsor-friendly platitudes and forced optimism and enthusiasm. There are endlessly repetitive "news" accounts of ascents of marginal significance that can only be explained by a marketing imperative, also delivered with an ample helping of feel-good bromides, sentiments lifted from self-help pop psychology and faux humility. A seemingly infinite stream of wanna-be "viral" videos is now produced, each essentially a carbon copy of the last, time-lapsed views of whatever, depth-of-fielded, exhaustively processed through the magic of editing software, replete with trivial thoughts gleaned from interviews with the climbers being filmed, again always pitched with the sponsors in mind, be they present or future. Ever crisper, more highly defined, and artfully manipulated images of nothing parade past the viewer's glazed eyes.

 The marketing culture has so thoroughly colonized the sport that there is literally no terrain, real or cultural, that is not to some degree spoken for by a logo covered "athlete" promoting a product line of some sort. And can we blame the brands for moving in this direction? It seems to be what climbers want. The idea that climbing was a significant pursuit that created and carried real personal meaning and was not merely an opportunity for punchy visuals and superficial chatter seems to be on life support. The climbing environment is reaching a tipping point in terms of how much more commodification it can stand before a total vitiation of the core of the sport is achieved.

Am I the only one who sees things this way? To read the offerings in magazines and online is to recognize that there are no prominent outside voices, pun intended, who are willing to rock the boat in any meaningful sense, to call into question the numerous dubious assumptions built into the marketing-focused image of the sport that is achieving dominance today. Climbers don't seem interested in debating anything of importance, especially not the pros, whose meager sustenance exists at the pleasure of an industry who sees their value in terms of promoting a favorable image of a company or product. Those on the outside seem to desire nothing more than entrance to that exclusive circle, ensuring their cooperation with and perpetuation of the marketing model.

Understand that I am not saying that companies should not exist or that they should not advertise their goods. Climbing as we know it would not exist without them. Nor should magazines do nothing but seek controversy and debate. Eye candy and climbing inspiration is important. But the degree to which this promotional paradigm has infiltrated the sport on a micro-granular level is breathtaking. Everyone seems to want to become or represent a brand, as though this, not mastery of the sport or real personal growth, was the goal of climbing. Editorial comment in terms of tackling serious topics related to climbing seems to be muted at best. Self-censorship in this climate seems inevitable, meaning that some truly compelling and vitally important stories are not being told and differing perspectives are ignored owing to the discomfort they may cause.

Can anything be done about this situation? I would like to call on readers to suggest story ideas that they think are being ignored that are potentially important to the community as a whole. I have some of my own that I will be developing in coming months, ideas that some will find uncomfortable to discuss, but I would really like input from the broader community on this topic. It's time for climbers to take the lead in this respect and head out into truly unknown and committing terrain.


bmj said...

Sounds like climbing needs a "little" magazine to allow those outside the mainstream to have voice. My wife has been shopping a manuscript about the intersection of climbing and motherhood, and the larger media outlets have no interest in it (nevermind the manuscript garnered her the non-fiction prize in her MFA program). With a few vaguely dedicated volunteers, it wouldn't be hard to create site that provides a forum for those us not simply interested in big numbers and trip stories.

Anonymous said...

100% right on. Keep calling out from the wilderness.

Katie said...

We've published a number of articles addressing this topic in the print version of Alpinist over the years. (See, for instance, http://www.alpinist.com/doc/ALP35/9-the-sharp-end.) But maybe we're not "widely read"? Certainly, as you know, we support your efforts and will continue to offer you an outlet for your voice. So this is just to say: you're not entirely alone.

Katie Ives, Alpinist editor

tommy wilson said...

really great read.

capitalism always redirects value into a monetizable form; aesthetics, discourse, practice, all of it. i would imagine there is a sizable group (athletes, owners, etc.) of people cheering this "evolution", but for someone who understands how disjointed the commodity form is/will be, the trend is a bit disheartening.

as far as there being an alternative? sure. i'm working on a piece about the production of climbing landscapes. do i think it will alter the overall course of climbing's entry into consumer capitalism? nope.

Peter Beal said...

Hi Katie,
Thanks for the link! I think Alpinist clearly has shown itself as the leader in this and other respects among US publications. I wonder what the response to that piece was in the broader context? Also I wonder what kind of more political financial and environmentally controversial pieces have been written recently in the climbing press I may be unaware of?

Anonymous said...

Untrodden areas. The internet is saturated with pictures and films of supposed "king lines" in far away areas that most climbers cannot spend the time or money to visit. There are literally hundreds of local areas in the US alone that are rarely seen in mainstream (used loosely) climbing media. Paradoxically, these areas are made special both by their obscurity and their familiarity: they're off the beaten path but the efforts of the locals who have made them what they are is the same. A while back, MVM did a video piece on Timy Fairfield bouldering on some choss in NM. I'd rather watch that than some professional athletes climbing on a crimper that is 10% smaller than the crimper on their previous ascent (or aCcent, as the case may be).

Katie said...

Dear Peter,

The response to that article seemed positive--at least I never got any negative feedback for it.

David Pickford, who was quoted in the article, and who is the editor of Climb Magazine (in Britain) is also very receptive to "outside" voices and to critical editorial content--you should talk to him sometime.

We already have some more op-ed pieces in the works for future Alpinist issues (on media, the environment and other topics). I'd love it if you wrote an essay on some idea that you feel is important to address.

Over the years, as I've done research for various historical articles, I've become increasingly aware of how frequently the truly important stories lie beyond the margins of media attention and printed records.

Certain climbers seem to slip through the stream of written history (whether by choice or because of other, more troubling reasons--for instance, the way that non-Western climbers seem to garner less attention for their worthy achievements than Western climbers do).

As editors, readers and journalists, I think we could all do a better job of listening past the obvious and the loud voices of self-promotion and commercialism for the quieter--and often more significant--tales.

Take care,

Anonymous said...

i agree 100% with your opinion of videos. complete carbon copies of the previous ten thousand, based on the BigUp model. they're more or less boring to watch,

Jeff Struck said...

I've found that in my 22 years of climbing, I can easily "keep it real" if I pay attention to my own climbing goals and those of my friends rather than those of others. I just turn that stuff off, and it works like a charm. What fuels marketing in the first place? If you are feeling like the climbing world is inundated with boring magazine articles and ho-hum videos, the refocus on the fundamentals of the sport--your own climbing--and I think you'll find it easy to keep it real.

Jeff Struck

ivan j. vargas said...

I would love to see a comprehensive piece or series of pieces on the history and evolution of modern climbing. I feel like so many modern climbers don't realize that humans have been climbing rocks, cliffs, boulders, mountains, etc. for centuries! The history is a rich and proud one that I think could potentially have an effect on the way the sport is viewed and/or practiced. John Gill's site for example (johngill.net) has a wealth of photos and information on people bouldering as early as the late 1800s.

Jake said...

That's quite the rant peter; however, despite using a lot of big words, I don't feel like you said much.

You don't like the vids posted on DPM? aww shucks. You think DWoods writes like an 8th grader, but you're pissed that people would rather read his drivel than yours?

Just give me one piece of hard evidence in your post that things are the way you say they are. Instead you pontificate and generalize.

I'm not sure what these "uncomfortable topics" you have in mind are, but it sounds like a lot of bitching and moaning to me.

We consume climbing media to get psyched. You produce climbing media for your own financial reasons.

the Narc called this a "shot across the bow at the current state of affairs in the climbing industry" - more like a puff of hot air.

Anonymous said...

Bill Ramsey's Rock and Ice article on chipping was a significant contribution form an outside voice. Of course,Ramsey is not an outsider in the popular climbing world, but his stance on that issue certainly ran against the grain. I respect his effort to make climbers think critically about their assumptions. Although chipping is an ethical debate that has been taking place for a long time, and in that way may not represent the original content you are advocating, I do think his article could serve as a model for the type of serious reflection that needs to take place on topics of climbing.

Peter Beal said...

Hi Jake,
I've actually been in a DPM-sponsored video so no I don't have much of an issue with DPM per se. I don't remember mentioning Daniel Woods or anyone else as an example of 8th grade writing. If you really think that climbing has no uncomfortable issues, you are welcome to that opinion. If you think I produce climbing media for financial reasons, you are mistaken. With the exception of a few recently published articles and the minimal royalties on my book, everything I create, I give away for free. The costs of producing the free material substantially outweighs any cash benefit. If you get "psyched" consuming marketing and promotional media, you are welcome to it. That's what it's there for.

Anonymous said...

Jakes comments seem right on. Stop whining!

Peter Beal said...

Yeah, I'll get right on that :)

Anonymous said...

I agree with Jeff. Climbing is a broad and diverse sport that allows for and encourages personal growth in many ways. I've been most impressed with the individuals who operate under the radar and balance both climbing and their own personal lives with balanced passion. Individuals with a sense of exploration and adventure - those with diverse interests and skill sets, and a profound love of and respect for nature. Bouldering and Sport Climbing have made climbing accessible and more mainstream, encouraging the type of marketing and culture you describe in your post, Peter. That's fine. Competition, sponsorship, the raising of standards, and the ability it gives to those talented individuals who are enabled to dedicate themselves fully to the "sport" of climbing is ok and maybe even required for the evolution of the sport. There are few things in life, I think, that can compare to climbing (weather that be bouldering or an alpine ridge scramble in crampons). Skiing steep, technical terrain comes close, as probably does big wave surfing. I personally feel very fortunate to have climbing in my life. It is my passion, and it has seen me through many rough days, months, in my life. As my passion evolves I find myself less and less interested in the gear, the magazines, blogs, videos, etc... and more interested in exploring the rocky hills yonder.

Kevin Landolt

Anonymous said...

Great post. I find that I am very bored with climbing media in general. Though, I will say that I have been very impressed with Joe Kinder's work and dedication to his blog.

Keep up the great posts!

Morgan said...

the european magazines seem to have it dialed when it comes to content vs. advertising...most of the french mountaineering mags I saw were word heavy and very ad light, and all the articles were thoughtful and well written!

of course...those magazines cannot be subscribed to for "ONLY $15 FOR ALL TWELVE ISSUES!" ;)

Unknown said...

Jeff Jackson's piece on Hank Caylor was one of the most fun things I've ever read in a magazine. I also thought that Andrew Bisharat's had some insightful writings about pros that weren't sugar-coated. Samet and Thesenga are enjoyable to read as well. (Samet's article that appeared [I believe] in Outside which chronicals his struggle with benzodiazapem was amazing in its honesty and bravery)

I tend to appreciate most pieces that dig further into the character of people. I am bored to death with the quick soundbites related to projects, training, etc.

So, yeah, in a nutshell... depth.


Eric said...

This comes from the guy who complained just recently about losing a sponsor. Stop grasping at straws, watch some sweet climbing videos and go climb.

Peter Beal said...

Hi Eric,
I didn't criticize sponsorship per se. Like Organic, I felt that Moon was the kind of company I would want to work with. And yes I go climbing from time to time :)

Walt said...

Peter, I think you could expand this to include a lot of media in general, rather than just climbing media. Bottom-up "media" has yet to find its footing and for a lot of us old folks, it's hard to intuitively grasp that people tweeting to each other constitutes sort of the same thing as reading the Times. The wiki-ization of information, or the banalization of the stuff we hung posters of on our walls in middle school (ask Bobbi about my poster of her when I was a kid sometime!)

In short; this isn't a climbing issue, this is a postindustrial society issue. Kudos for daring to explore it.

Anonymous said...

Its called capitalism. Deal with it.

Micah Bryan Humphrey said...

Yeah Peter, stop whining and join the climbing herd of sheep. Its so comfy in this pasture of redundant media and closet egomaniacs. :)
I appreciate the fact that you are able to put into writing what so many have trouble verbalizing (probably because they are scared or don't know any better).

Peter Beal said...

I consider critiquing the contradictory and self-destructive patterns of capitalism a useful way of "dealing" with it. Acceptance poses more serious dangers.

mies said...

dear Peter, we live in a world dominated by commercials, its only logic this is seeking its way to the climbing. it is possible to ignore this and just keep on climbing for the fun, the movement, the fear, the overcoming of fear, personal growth, friends, meeting new friends, nature, rocks, the list is endless. There is so much in climbing, from the corner of your eye you sometimes see a commercial. But hey, just as in the rest of the world, we choose to see, just look at the beauty around you and go climbing. Michel

Blackford said...

agreed. acceptance is worse.
thanks, and keep writing.

Nic Lazz said...

Thanks for your thoughts on the current climbing market and culture. Stimulating and different, which I take to be your main points of grumbling that there is lack of good communication (if that is ok to say).
One aspect that I think is more significant than you make it out to be is the business aspect of climbing. There is something more significant going on in the business/industry/culture/artform/sport of climbing than just shallow writing and sponsors whoring out their athletes, namely a transition in the sport as a whole from a subculture to a culture. Things change and climbing is not the activity that it used to be. A growth spurned all the more by the business that enables climbers to climb. So you give a little disclaimer at the end about how ‘everyone needs to make money’ and I hear you on that. But, some hard evidence (against those slanderers and 8th grade thinkers), is that in the last few years 2 climbing companies on have gone public on Wall Street (and please no diatribes about the ethics of this). Can you guess who they are? Yup! You got it! Black Diamond and The North Face. Two very influential companies in the world of climbing. I only bring this up to point out that climbing is growing, and growing a lot. It is readily becoming a mainstream (dare I say the word!) sport. And from what I can gather of you, forgive me if I am misrepresenting you, this is not why you, or at least I, partake of the joy that we call climbing (trying not to call it a sport). We entered the sport because we were taken with the awe and grandeur of this world around us. The solitude and yet community of a bouldering project deep in the woods revitalizes our souls in the midst of a chaotic and harsh modern lifestyle. But with the growth of these companies I think you are signaling something more significant, a change in the sport of climbing as a whole. Climbing is on the verge, also with its entrance into the Olympics, of becoming a measured, catalogued, and sellable endeavor. Another aspect is how Alex Honnold in the last two years has made it on the cover of National Geographic, on a Capital One commercial, on 60 minutes, and other nation wide programs outside the mainstream climbing community. The sport is growing as no publicity is bad publicity. Which is the opposite of the core of what we think it is. I got into climbing because it was none of that. In fact, climbing outside is something that is rather unpredictable, unlike a football game where someone in spandex gloats over his larger calf muscles that allowed him to score irrelevant points for the win. And on a climbing project, no one could win, for years, but that makes it all the more fun and majestic. This change is something I think you meant to get at but ended up just bitching a little because you love the sport/art so much. Which is fair because its something we love!
I guess what I want to say is that I think we are on the bulge of a large change in the climbing culture/business that is learning to appeal to a larger audience because the companies have one now. This is also analogous to the world of skateboarding because of the singular nature of climbing’s endeavor and how both sports come from the outside in to the mainstream. I have seen the same happen in the tiny subculture of skateboarding, now nationwide sport. So, Peter, stay strong, please keep writing, work on your own projects, and continue the communal organic nature and simple purity of going out into the woods to go climbing, alone or with friends. I hope you find this helpful and stimulating. Keep writing and raise up the younger generation in the right way, the only way to keep climbing from being whored out to its sponsors.

Chronic Runner said...

I'd say one topic that might need covering concerns politically/ethically blind climbers climbing in areas where oppression and atrocities rule (think China), I'm a runner and a climber, and sport and politics have always been intimately intertwined. During apartheid in South Africa US runners would not run races in South Africa - this was a statement from the running community. Many climbers seem completely oblivious to the politics of the places they visit. Our actions express our beliefs. Our actions support the status quo. And it seems that many climbers are willing to turn a blind eye to immoral states for the sake of climbing. Pretty shallow if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

Other good climbing blogs that actually write interesting things about climbing:
highinfatuation.com (steph davis)

toothbrush said...

It is important to keep this type of "radar" on so I have no objections to the point of view expressed. As of now, I see no one at the high end of this industry that does not deserve to be there. I think we start shouting louder when cookie cutter climbers doing nothing to advance the sport but have a pretty face and wear skimpy clothes begin taking the lion share of the attention and sponsorship. There may be some preferences in todays climbing world, but like I said, they deserve to be there due to their achievements. Climbing is a tough sport to judge and in the end thats what we do, we judge it, just like getting a 10 in gymnastics, there is no other way to do it but make a judgment call. Keep up the good watchdog work!

Ken said...

Oh, the irony! My complaint about climbing gear companies and sponsored climbers in particular is that they don't provide ENOUGH product information. I can think of only four climbers --Dave MacLeod, Joe Kinder, Sonnie Trotter and Jon Siegrist-- who routinely talk or write about the products they use. Yes, of course they are going to be biased, but that doesn't prevent a sponsored athlete from reporting useful, technical data. Why should a glossy ad of Daniel Woods wearing Native sunglasses compel me to buy that brand? Why should I buy Evolv just because Sharma wears and reportedly designs some of their shoes? Most climbers aren't just gear collectors, we're also very technically aware and into the nuances of what we use. We crave the details of the products we're considering. Magazine "product reviews" are so washed-out I seldom bother reading them. But as Kinder has shown with his reviews and videos of Sterling ropes and Gregory packs, and MacLeod with an examination of the application of downturned shoes (Scarpa), and Trotter extolling his Five Tens, and Siegrist on many Arc'Teryx and other products, you can promote your sponsor's gear while still supplying honest, technical information.

A BD hat on a pro climber's head doesn't cut it for me. Give me the facts, man. Give me the facts.

Anonymous said...

I would like to see more articles covering the contributions of local climbers to local crags.

Ignore the 5.14d projects. Who had the vision for it and the motivation to equip it? Chances are they have also bolted a few other lines nearby and can offer unique insight to their perspective area.

Jonathan Ramirez

Justin Roth said...

another controversial post -- but what's at its heart? it certainly is a good way to spur debate, just knocking everyone and everything without offering up specifics or solutions, appealing to everyone's base frustrations rather than their reason. but it's precisely because it's so easy and tempting to criticize that i'd like to respond here.

peter, i know you see all the content out there as the same, and indeed there are trends and similarities and plenty of stuff that isn't great, but i just don't see how you can deny that there are more and more diverse voices creating quality climbing media now than at any time in the past. recently i've enjoyed reading pieces by brendan leonard, kelly cordes, reading alpinist and the climbing zine, listening to the dirtbag diaries, reading your blog, andrew bisharat's blog, watching movies from sender films, andrew kornylak, and the bigup... the list goes on. and that's not even mentioning all of the more traditional climbing magazines, which always contain at least a few solid pieces. when was this golden era where people were better at saying what "really mattered"? because it was not any time in the 20 years i've been climbing. (i think it's important remember, what "really matters" isn't the same thing as "whatever i care about," though people tend to confuse the two.)

in your post, you say there is "no widely read outlet or sizable audience for the kinds of things that I think need saying", but you give no concrete examples in the whole diatribe of what kinds of things must be said. the closest thing to a specific is your vague critique that climbing is too commercial. not only do i disagree, but i wonder how the commercial climbing industry affects your experience of climbing. it's a shame to think that all you see at the crag is logos -- i see nature, friends, challenges of body and mind. logos are peripheral at best. (although i will concede that the boulder bubble tends to magnify this type of thing.)

i look forward to seeing your future posts, which will ostensibly address these dire topics that must be explored (like sponsorship?!). But in the meantime, it all feels too much like the stereotypical curmudgeon's line: "everything was better in the old days! the world is going down the tubes!" meanwhile, the curmudgeon dismisses all the great things right in front of him.

Peter Beal said...

Hi Justin,
A quick reply, as that is all I have time for. You wrote:
"another controversial post -- but what's at its heart?"
What's at its heart is what you describe as a "base frustration" that is a failure to get to some of the basic and genuine issues at the heart of the sport.
The list of "diverse" voices in my view comes up a bit short in terms of diversity as very few of them ever really tackle anything that would upset the status quo.

I am no fan of the good old days, as even a brief perusal of my writings will show but there was a period, short-lived to be sure, when serious matters were presented and debated by mainstream journals. In particular I am thinking of Mountain Magazine in the 1970s. Early issues of Climbing and other journals printed material that I rarely see in any form of climbing media today.

For a current example of an excellent blog that actually tackles meaningful material, I would start with the British site, Footless Crow, for which no equivalent exists in the US. Alpinist, which I write semi-regularly for, also explores more contentious topics.

I never claimed that when I look at a crag or boulder all I see is logos. Usually I am climbing alone, away from the scene.However when I look at a climbing company's marketing materials, it seems that the cliff and its environment is ultimately secondary to the brand in a lot of cases.

The sarcastic use of the word "dire" doesn't erase the truth about the damage that some attitudes towards the sport have towards the environment and people's lives. For me sponsorship per se is not a "dire" matter, but the emergence of a generation of climbers urged to believe that it's a meaningful goal does have consequences.

I do not consider myself a curmudgeon for questioning the assumptions and images produced for consumption by the market. Judging from the many positive and constructive responses to this and other "controversial" posts, including discussions with magazine and website editors, I have to conclude that I am not the only one who thinks this way.

Anonymous said...

The sport is evolving and with social media, almost anyone can have a voice. Print media as the voice is slowly being replaced. As for the logo and the sport being about sponsored athletes, this is not working. Athletes are not making a living, except maybe a few, so the marketing is not paying dividends. The sport is growing yet the companies involved have not figured out how to monetize the growth. It will get figured out though. But, trying to state what is an important issue might not be important any more or might change as it has, over time. There is a lack of leadership in climbing from organizations, athletes, and companies. Until leadership is established, fragmented views will continue..

Steepteam said...

Nice post, interesting blog.

I agree some monotony is trending in climbing right now. I'm tired of reading about the same old crew climbing in the same old places. Who wasn't in Spain this past month ticking numbers? If this is the media that's selling, then its just a buzzing fridge in the background of my ears.

Go to a USAC Youth Nationals comp and ask yourself, "where are all these super strong kids whose parents are dropping $2-5k a year on coaching, comps, and travel going to go?" Almost every single one of them says they want to be a sponsored climber and the generic web/social marketing you complain about is the current formula to get sponsored. Never mind when you add up the dollars in climbing, the actual climbers doing the climbing get paid the least. Meanwhile we'll keep getting more of the same stuff we've been seeing for the past 5 years.

If there are any coaches out there, teach your kids not just to climb, but to innovate, create, and be themselves. Climbing as a community will be all better for it.

Anonymous said...

The youth are entering the sport on plastic and look up to those that compete currently. They are more interested in competition then they are going outside and climbing v-hard, or 5.14. The kids are more main stream then ever before, not isolationist that began climbing 20 years ago. They go outside for fun, not to chase ratings, which is really competition but without the exposure, since you don't report your fails, only your sends. The youth look up to and respect Puccio and Woods, they don't know Rands or Gram were. So, yes they want to be sponsored, like the stars, no they don't want to live in a van, natural sport progression.

jwi said...

Very good post. You end the post with a question about story ideas that we think are ignored but potentially important to the community as a whole.

For me an obvious, and totally ignored, problem with climbing almost everywhere in the world is: Why are there almost no climbers from ethnic minorities? I have not been climbing in US that much (about 6 months in total), but in that time I met in total 1 african-american, 2 native-american, and 3 South-American climbers in total. I met more spanish and portuguese climbers than climbers with heritage from south of the border.

The situation is pretty much the same in Sweden. E.g.: We have a large Iranian minority (more than 50000 Iranian-born immigrants), but in almost 2 decades of climbing I have met 1 swedish climbers of Iranian decent, but 2 foreign students from Iran that climbed.

From my time in Germany I would say the situation is the same. I have never met anyone from the *huge* turkish minority that climbs.

In Japan it was pretty much the same. In two years I met no-one of foreign descent that started climbing while living there.

I haven't read all the comments, so sorry if this has already been suggested.

Anonymous said...


you have a sponsor ad for crash pads, and wrote a(nother) book on "how to boulder" and when i met you in the gym years ago seemed to be mad cuz i was the no name in the way of your session...

is that not the type of things you are writing about?

Peter Beal said...

Hi Anon,
The comment about the crashpad sponsor and book has been made by others but I will point this out again. I think if you look at Organic and the Mountaineers Books you will find they exemplify a low-key approach respectful of the values of the sport. Mountaineers Books is a non-profit company with a clearly defined public service ethos. Organic is a very small outfit making a very high quality product with very small profit margins. I think anyone can see the difference. If you read the book, I think you will find a number of passages that underscore the larger points of respect for the environment and the intrinsic value of climbing

If I offended you somehow in the gym, I apologize. I am not sure that is relevant to the point in the original post.

Peter Beal said...

Thanks for th excellent suggestion. THis is exactly the kind of issue that is barely, if ever, discussed in the mainstream discourse of bigger blogs, websites, and magazines.

Nemo said...

Why concern ourselves with global politics? I think your argument is largely invalid. US athletes not attending something they were expected to attend expresses their views on the given matter. As far as climbing, very few will notice or care about someone not making a trip to a country in order to make a statement. I'm sure if there was an international comp in North Korea, climbers would take that opportunity to show their beliefs.

TLDR; Not climbing isn't an effective way of making political statements.

Nemo said...

I have plenty to say, but I'll try to keep it focused so you can't, consciously or otherwise, avoid my arguments.

For what reason were you so vague about topics that you want to see covered more? You put a lot of thought into it, but never gave specific examples.

I don't see how "rocking the boat" is a less attractive or feasible option in climbing media. There will always be the headline-quality stuff that is monotonous, but there are plenty of good articles that aren't generic and/or commercialized. How will we know when the boat is rocked?

I think there will always be a large percentage who enjoy the sport for what it is and I don't think media and commercialization will change that.

Is there really self-censorship in climbing media? What could be so taboo or uncomfortable?

JBone said...

100% agree

All I seem to hear these days is how some up and coming kid wants to be "sponsored". The few who work tirelessly to "earn a living" at the sport eventually sell-out to the machine which in turn pumps out this hyper-climbing-culture propped up for the sake of paying a few people's bills.

I'm sick of sharing the rock with ego-maniacal poster boys who will sell-out their own grandmother just to be in a magazine.

There are more than a few climbers out there who don't give a rats ass about who's gonna pay for their next climbing trip. Those same climbers are out there trimming tree's or hanging stage lights so they can buy their own ticket to the rock.

Whats missing is the contrast between the real and the surreal and when the voices of climbing never leave the surreal its harder and harder to relate to them.


Anonymous said...

I'm with you. But where do you draw the line? In today's climbing culture, being "pro" means being able to climb all over the world at the highest level without the majority of it coming out of your pocket, right? These purveyors of goods, these companies that sell, sell, sell, are what do allow this to happen. One perpetuates the other.

As far as the mags not covering pertinent issues and not tackling worthy debates, which ones specifically are you referring to? I can think of several issues worth debating in the last year or so, that I read about solely in magazines. Cerro Torre, fixed draws at the RRG, and so forth.

I'm not completely disagreeing with you. The more that companies saturate the culture of climbing, the more NFL,NBA and MLBish climbing will become. However, I believe that because climbing is so inherently different from conventional sports, it attracts a different crowd. There aren't many "fans" of climbing that just watch the sport and don't participate like you see in other sports. The vast majority of merchandising is driven by people that actively participate in the sport. My point is that without drooling, couch-bound, beer-swilling, cheese-puff eating masses buying these products, it sort of forces these companies to a) stay abreast of quality, and b) stay competitive.

Is the culture saturated with ads and marketing campaigns and logos and slogans? Sure. But compared to most other sports, to a much lesser degree.

It has been my experience that most climbers are unaffected by marketing campaigns. Sure, you'll always have your kids from affluent families that can afford the latest and greatest and will buy for reasons other than quality, but I feel as though that isn't the rule.

My crowd, and I believe this is common, does not have the means to be influenced by the media; financially speaking. We have so little money with which to buy gear when we need it, because we are mostly middle to lower middle class, we go for quality and functionality. In other words, to people without much, if any disposable income, you can market a turd all day long, to us, it's still a turd.

I think the majority of climbers out there, at least in the U.S., fall into this same category. We're a smart bunch. We all know that marketing ads and climbing becoming more profitable for the top tier is inevitable. We are also savvy enough to not be led astray by these ploys.

As far as the magazines go, I think it's a catch 22. Yes, they try to align themselves with "the climber" more than "the company". But hey, climbing photography, travel, climbing itself, and publishing a quality magazine costs a hell of a lot. A large portion of what pays for the output of these publications comes from ads. There's just no way around it. They can never completely align themselves with the counter culture anti-consumerist sentiment. At the same time though, I think they do a damn good job of walking the line between complete sellouts that are just pimping logos, and reporting on the issues that affect all the aspects of both professional and recreational climbing. Just an opinion. Either way, great read. Thanks for writing it.

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

To Jonas and Peter. Oddly, the question of why so few ethnic minority climbers in first world countries has been debated numerous times down the years on UKC, to the point where it feels like it has become a once a year ritual there. Nevertheless many of the contributions are quite sensible, and as ever you get some crowd sourcing of knowledge - i.e. links to studies or reporting done on how black or Asians Brits experience the British countryside generally. There is some sociology that has been done by academics there for example.

But more importantly for this discussion is the question of how agenda setting are the climbing magazines these days? Does the ethnic minority question need to be written about in mags? Is it enough that climbers are discussing it on forums? I write a column every few months for Climb, normally with some point to make (dry tooling is silly but not evil; route names are social history; how the internet has democratised winter climbing; etc.) but when I started climbing 20 years having a column like this would have been a bigger deal for the 'climbing community': the mags were central to ideas spreading. Now by the time a magazine goes to print, discussion has moved on (i.e. the compressor route controversy). I guess the one place where the mags do have an advantage is in commissioning journalists to go out and research a piece - but there are very few mags (Outside being the most obvious) that can afford that.

benjaminleaton said...

I hear you man. Everyone is producing the "fast-food" of climbing writing. We need more fine-dining. the only thing is that it takes a good while to produce it and all of us noobs want it now now now.

Anonymous said...

isnt there a movie called players were dave graham talks about climbing not just for your sponsors and fame and so on , but yet makes a movie called players and is fully sponsored! havent seen it just the trailer but was kind of a turn off like much climbing media lately, cant keep track of how many times conrad has been to everest or how many v13's graham does in a month, maybe they should drop their sponsors and not burn so much jet fuel and just climb closer to home and not worry about eveyone knowing what theyve done! I lived and climbed in alaska for years and did many new routes and left most unnamed , just felt like going surfing no need to rate or name every wave out there!

Anonymous said...

As being an outsider from what is currently going on in the climbing industry, all I can say is; "I love rock-climbing except for having to hang with rock-climbers..."

Merc said...

I climb for the mental challenge and the physical soundness. Amid all the ego sprayed on my gear by climbers who act as if they are sponsored, I just shrug it off and know I go up for personal growth.

I'm impressed with the greats who I run into at the local gyms. The ones who climb with me, encouraging, commending, and I don't even realize who they are. They seem to climb with heart, not dollar bills.

I don't know the lingo, I don't watch the videos, the magazine issues are the same each month, and I'm tired of standard gear reviews.

I'd like to read stories about locals who have achieved their own greatness via climbing. I work with young people and I'm always impressed with the 16-year old who got hooked on mountain crack; thus improving his "grades, relationships, and focus", as many kids have recounted.

Why is this sport not in schools? Why is it for the elite (that same 16-year old can't afford gear or a gym membership)? Why are we so damn cocky just because we can climb up a mountain on a rope?

I dig your article and the humbleness with which it seemed portrayed. It's refreshing to read something real.

Anonymous said...

This is a prime example of American mediocrity, whereby all things are brought down to a lower level so the teeming hordes of 110 IQ's from the over populated east can buy the endeavour.