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.