Who needs reform?

Is this the Kitchen Confidential of skateboarding?

Expect a full review of “Reforming a Counterculture” at some point. My initial thoughts somewhat echo skatedaily’s “skateboarding is NOT a mainstream sport …it’s a life choice.” (Fully admitting how cliche that is.)

However, this book appears to be marketed to people outside of the skateboarding industry with the purpose of bringing them in. Since my connection to the skate industry is peripheral, all I can say is that skateboarding is a complicated thing.

From the trailer, it looks like Mr. Davidson is making the argument that skateboarding needs to shed its counterculture image to make itself more attractive to mainstream media. If that really is the central thesis of his book, he’s simply making a capitalist argument for growing the skate “market,” which makes some sense from a purely business perspective. Unfortunately it sounds like he wants to do so at the expense of what makes skateboarding truly great, and also what actually makes it so attractive to the mainstream media now… (for good or bad)

When I was a kid, what attracted me to skating was a sense of belonging to something that felt both genuine and creative when compared to team sports and the social cliques of my small town. Beyond the physical joy of skateboarding, what has kept me interested as an adult are the friendships I developed over a lifetime of skateboarding. In fact, my best friends are the skaters I grew up.

Even now, when I meet new people I tend to bond more quickly with those who are, or were skateboarders. There is a level of mutual understanding that comes from years of scouring landscapes for spots, building skateparks, watching hours of skate videos, getting harassed by citizens and cops, and every other skate cliche that is completely true. Some of those shared experiences are illegal activities, others are simply frowned upon. So part of what makes my bonds with fellow skaters so strong is not only our love of skateboarding, but also our shared experiences of tension with mainstream culture.

To put it another way, the strength of skate culture is that it has existed mostly outside of the mainstream. Even when skateboarding has moonlit as a mainstream spectacle, skateboard culture has stayed firmly rooted in rebelliousness with skaters (even industry people) publicly denouncing the mainstream elements. Even, mainstream marketers understand that. It’s the reason why they send cool hunters after street skaters, hoping to capitalize on what is perceived as “alternative.” Skateboarding’s counterculture image is what makes it attractive to both the mainstream media and the skaters on the street. Creativity within skate culture might even pull energy from that tension.

…So maybe it’s not the best element to lop off.

On a side note…

A couple of years ago when I was working for a hip international media company, I found myself producing content about skateboarding.

My philosophy for that content was firmly rooted in telling what I believed to be the true story of skateboarding. A story that was dirty, DIY, and underground, but also community centered and creative. I tried my best to pick subjects that illustrated those themes.

Because of that, I sometimes found myself arguing with higher ups who were more interested in broadcasting a cartoonish image of skateboarding that involved lots of televised competitions and SoCal caricatures. At best I found that image hilarious… and I never slanted that way when I was in control of the final product.

I wonder what Mr. Davidson would have to say about that. I’m looking forward to reading “Reforming a Counterculture” to find out.

2 Responses to “Who needs reform?”

  1. FunNotFame says:

    Interesting. I'd never heard of this book. I can agree with his overall point that "skateboarder" and "dirtbag" are not necssarily synonymous, and that skateboarding would benefit to some degree if this myth were demolished. That's true.

    However, the author's very first claim – that nobody's stood up and addressed what's wrong with skateboarding – is patently false: as far as I know, the first book dedicated to addressing what's wrong with skateboarding was a book we published in 2003 titled "Manifesto: Read About Skateboarding."

    Also, Davidson laments that nobody in skateboarding has the gall to speak of the audacity of being a good man; that, too, is also false. Think of Steve Caballero as just one of many obvious examples of skateboarders who express higher ideas than the day-to-day grind (no pun intended).

    So, while Davidson may have a valid premise from which he's launched his book, I think he's also overlooked a few things and given short thrift to other skaters with similar thoughts who came before him. Either way, thanks for covering this. I had no idea this book even existed.

    You said, "To put it another way, the strength of skate culture is that it has existed mostly outside of the mainstream."

    That's it, right there.

    You said, "A couple of years ago when I was working for a hip international media company, I found myself producing content about skateboarding. My philosophy for that content was firmly rooted in telling what I believed to be the true story of skateboarding. A story that was dirty, DIY, and underground, but also community centered and creative. I tried my best to pick subjects that illustrated those themes. Because of that, I sometimes found myself arguing with higher ups who were more interested in broadcasting a cartoonish image of skateboarding that involved lots of televised competitions and SoCal caricatures. At best I found that image hilarious… and I never slanted that way when I was in control of the final product."

    I completely relate to that, and had the same experience as a screenwriter with a skate-based television series produced by NBC in 2001. I had to fight hard just to get basic vernacular right.

  2. Jeremey says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful response. I need to read "Manifesto" that books sounds interesting. I feel for anybody who had to deal with mainstream media folk regarding skateboarding. My heart goes out to you. And as far as positive influences in skateboarding, I'm working on the Tim Brauch doc, basically just helping out with some finishing touches… Tim was one of the most positive figures to step on a board.

    It's funny because you mentioned Steve Caballero, and I've been cutting up Caballero all day. He repeatedly refers to how good a person Tim was, and holds him as a model for other skateboarders… pretty much echoing exactly what you said.

    If you want to talk more, you can hit me up at jeremey (at) jadedmultimedia.com. What company did you work for?

Use the Form Below to Leave a Reply

Your Name: (Required)

Email Address: (Required)

Website:

Your Comments: