Thursday, June 13, 2013

I Miss Urban Climber

There, I said it. I miss Urban Climber. It's been about a year since that much-maligned magazine was put to sleep and I hate to say it, but I wish it was back, or at least something like it. I subscribe to all the other major US publications and while they all have their good points, they all have something in common: they feel too d**n serious, or at least earnest. The stories, the graphics, even the ads are all too often about the earnest (and expensive) seriousness of it all. Contrasty, undersaturated photos of gritty climbers in "exotic" sponsor-friendly locations are staples along with reminiscences of epic near-misses in epic conditions on epic new Piolet D'or-worthy routes. Or there will be wholesome, well-meaning, family-friendly pieces about the camaraderie of it all, the nature and the love and whatnot. Which is true, but also kind of boring after a while. At this point, we seem to have lost the notion, what with the uplift and the inspiration, the festivals and the bright green shirts in the flashlit photos, that climbing is actually a pretty ridiculous sport (and that the 80-year old man who climbed Everest took a helicopter from Camp 2 to get back down-DAB). Seriously people, working toward our goals, playing hard and making a difference in the community is all well and good but does no one think it all sounds a bit earnest, a bit, well, corporate? Have we really forgotten just how useless and silly (and downright dangerous) rock climbing actually is? A close escape that was really, almost getting into the Olympics.

Urban Climber, as some noted in its heyday, was an oxymoron, a magazine that tried to inhabit a hip, urban (well really suburban) milieu while at the same time remaining firmly tied to the contemporary climbing scene, especially that of bouldering and sport climbing. Few who read UC gave a @#% about some 5.13 big wall at the South Pole or whether another 5 minutes had been shaved off the record for the Eiger. Anything to do with Everest was basically (and still is, maybe even more so) just a joke. Ice belonged in a cooler reserved for post-climb beverages. R-ratings belonged to movies, not routes. Women showed up regularly in its pages, in contrast, for example, to the somewhat-revived Ascent, where for the last two issues at least, a demographic consisting almost exclusively of white men over 50 has dominated.

Its biggest failing I suppose, given its demise, was not being reverent enough to the gods of the market, though I admit I am not even sure who/what they are now, given the ubiquity of free media. Advertisers have always driven the bus to some extent, but in the Internet age, there is no margin for error, no story that isn't ultimately about creating value for the companies that help underwrite the publication. Perhaps the notion that climbers can be depicted as ridiculous, frivolous, ironic, sarcastic, and truly self-deprecating and not just humblebragging is one whose day has mostly passed. Who can say for sure?

There are other outlets for this attitude but UC seemed a bit more tuned into this sensibility than most and only after its demise have I really begun to notice its absence. Warren Harding's motto summed this attitude up best as "Semper Farcisimus." UC didn't always get it right and sure there was fluff and yes, it took a year to get paid, but Joe, Justin, and Andrew, thanks for at least trying.


Unknown said...

Humblebragging is a word that should have existed long ago. Thank you for conjuring it from the aether.

ktmt said...

I miss the original version under founding editor Matt Burbach. I was a charter subscriber. It was something unique, something different. Unfortunately, after he left, it gradually converged toward the normalized middle ground, and I fell off onto the roadside like, I suspect, many others.

Anonymous said...

@Duncan: Humblebragging has existed since long ago, in the internet world.

Dylan said...

Ktmt hit it on the head. It was good and gritty for those first few years. Remember the story about hopping trains to go boulder?

Andy Outis said...

Thanks Peter. I worked as the Art Director of UC for about a year (while simultaneously designing Climbing). It was a great lab, where we could experiment with ideas and forms that weren't quite serious enough for Climbing. We had a ton of fun putting it together. UC was hardly perfect, but it did reflect a certain strain of irreverence and youthful energy that has always run through the climbing world, but didn't play well with the seriousness and orthodoxy of the mountaineering tradition.

Andy said...

I have had a Climbing magazine subscription for nearly a year now. I never find the time to open it anymore due to many of the things you said above.

I think one of my favorite things about Urban Climber was that you never knew what might show-up on its pages.