Sunday, February 04, 2007

Milking a Dead Shark

When I hear the word "culture," I reach for my gun ("Wenn ich Kultur höre, entsichere ich meinen Browning.")--Hans Johst

Saturday I went to the dept. of skateboarding . Despite it's austere exterior, the inside contains the TF of which dreams are made.

I almost walked right past Kyle Reynolds! Kyle is the brains behind the Dept. and Cal's Pharmacy. Besides being one of the sharpest persons I have known, Kyle is also one of the most giving. All he does is think of other people. While we were talking, he noticed a woman outside holding two children and ran to get the door for her.

I ended up speaking with Kyle about Per Welinder's plea to not buy blank boards. Kyle said some amazing things about the state of the skateboarding business. Among other things, Kyle explained how these companies really are having problems. The ways they used to run their companies is not working any more.

The problem, however, with per welinder crying to skateboarders is that he and those like him have done as much as possible to squeeze both the shops and pros. So welinder's 'world without pros' is just crocodile tears. Kyle also pointed out that if anyone were to buy decks to support their favorite pros, how many are actually going to buy a board from one of per welinder's sorry companies (e.g. Birdhouse)? So they can buy, what? a Matt Ball board? Even worse, if we were honestly going to make the skateboarding industry support the best skateboarders, more than half of the skateboarding companies around would not even exist. Who, for example, is even on World Industries? or Consolodated? Or Popwar now? Can you name one person? The days of 'supporting' pros through deck sales is over if it ever existed in the first place.

Shark's not Dead.

Probably the most famous scene from the movie Annie Hall is when Alvy Singer (Woody Allen)and Annie Hall (Mia Farrow) break up. Alvy Singer's break-up speech summarizes the state of skateboarding.

A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.

The ugly business tactics are just a symptom. There is something much more important, much deeper that has happened to skateboarding. The deal is this. As a creative activity, skateboarding has run its course. It is a dead shark.

Skateboarding has ossified into general pop-culture mythology--like punk, or 'old school' rap music. Take for example, a video like Shackle Me Not. At teh time, Shackle me Not was exciting at the time because it blew everything else out of the water. It made previous videos look like child's play. Now it's something that kids need to watch to 'pay their dues'. Take also skateboarding tricks--which is where the rubber really hits the road: they used to be invented. Now, tricks have a 'referential' value. At best, you get some new combos. The map has been laid. Skateboarding used to be an abandoned yard where kids could play and make their own fun. Now it is a high-tech gymnastic training facility complete with workout regimen.

That said, it's not anyone's fault. Any movement risks dying. Perhaps every movement dies in the end. Jazz used to be a living movement; now it's dead as a doornail, and the value of goofball jazz musicians like Wynton Marsalis is not as artists, but as archivists.

In the visual arts, one sign of stagnation is in becoming a type of 'folk art'. In religion, it is dogmatism. In love, it is marriage (um, haha, joke). Another sure sign of the death of a movement is when people have to defend it. As the David Berman sings in the brilliant song Tennessee (click on the link to hear it.):

Punk rock died when the first kid said:
Punk's not dead. Punk's not dead.

One other sure sign that a movement or belief has died is when it is called a "culture". As in: "I do not really believe in it; it is just part of my culture." In his essay, "Passion In The Era of Decaffeinated Belief," Slavoj Zizek suggests that 'culture' is "perhaps... the name for all those things we practice without really believing in them, without 'taking them seriously.'" This is what skateboarding has become in a funny way.

We used use certain slang to mark ourselves as skaters--"rad" "sick" "gnarly". Now we can hardly say these words without a spasmic dose of irony. Skateboarding has become this image, really (more than practice), to be practiced without "believing in it". To be clear: by "believing in it," I mean believing that skateboarding is somehow different than anything else. That was a lie, of course. Skateboarding is not different than anything else. There was a time, however, when that was not obvious. The whole thing was a fantasy. But it was a nice fantasy. Now the dream is dead, or dying.

To refer back to my conversation with Kyle, the question of 'a world without pros' is stupid. Maybe there will be pros, maybe there won't. But with a dead, dying or critically ill dream, those pros will not be John Coltranes. They will be Wynton Marsaleses.

(Not that any of this is going to stop me from skateboarding.)

The dept. in all its dreaminess.

Skateboarding's not dead. Skateboarding's not dead.


elastic back said...

wow, that is a pretty powerful observation that i feel compelled to agree with...though i struggle not to. upon reflection, i guess it is not skateboarding that is different than anything else, but the act of skateboarding that is the differentiator. but i guess any type of "creative" act can fall to those same laws. this circuler logic can mean the end of innovation in established mediums, and frankly i do not wish to try out new mediums. imagine me on a snakeboard (HA!). i am going to refrain from calling myself a skateboarder and, when inquired, simply state that i ride a skateboard.

Leonard said...

no way dude. snakeboarding is the future!