Along with all the “-isms” that we’ve inherited from The Mainstreaming, we also have a shit-ton of new “rules” to follow, as well… as dictated by The Controlling Cliques, The Elitist Element, and The Mainstream Media (which includes every Tom, Dick, and ignorant, uneducated, and unenlightened Harry these days)… which only serve to pander to everybody’s desire to make a quick buck, and to massage everybody’s over-inflated egos and latent insecurities. “This is a skateboard. This is not a skateboard. This is a skateboarder. This guy is not a skateboarder. Skateboarding can only be done this way. You can’t skate that way. You have to skate this kind of board. You suck if you have that kind of board. You have to buy it at this shop. You can’t buy it at that shop. You have to do these tricks. You can’t do those tricks. You have to wear these shoes, shirts, and pants to be cool. If you wear those shoes, shirts, and pants, then you’re lame. You have to listen to this kind of music. You suck if you listen to that kind of music. You can only skate these spots. You can’t skate that skatepark. You can’t have that style. You can’t push mongo. You have to think like a clone. You cannot, under any circumstance, think for yourself…” And on and on and on it goes. So much for “unfettered freedom and colorful diversity”, huh…?
The problem with skateboarding is that it is, on a very foundational and fundamental level, a uniquely self-defining, self-determining pastime that ends up being an excellent… too excellent, perhaps… conduit for self-exploration, self-empowerment, and self-discovery.
Now, note how many times “self” appears in that sentence. Not, your parents. Not, your buddies. Not, your enemies. Not, your peers. Not, your aunts and uncles. Not, your teachers, principals, and guidance counselors. Not, your boss. Not, your girlfriend (or boyfriend). Not, the skateboard industry. Not, the skate shop down the street. Not, your skateboard hero. You. Yourself. Your self. You make these rules regarding when, where, and how you are going to engage with, and enjoy skateboarding. Not, somebody else. This used to be skateboarding’s common-culture core. Apparently, not so anymore.
As far as the “traditional media” of skate magazines and skate websites go… some are far too busy pandering to the unimaginative public with an endless cavalcade of NBDs and stair counts, to say anything of much meaning or merit. As such, we have the unprecedented situation where all mainstream skate media… and even, most “independent” media… and obviously, the vast majority of “social media”… are all utterly useless in terms of either education, or enlightenment. Skateboarding has inherited and embraced the greater society’s version of “mass media”, a paradigm that even greater society now considers largely untrustworthy, and in any rate, absolutely worthless. We’ve happily joined the Moron March to Mass Media Mediocrity. Yay for us.
My generation may have been the generation that actively pursued… and, largely prevailed in… “the mainstreaming of skateboarding”. But today, my generation is also the one that regrets this “progression” the most. We’re realizing that we’ve lost far more than we have gained in the exchange. I was just talking to Mark Noland (of Rancheros fame) about this, just this week… and of course, he totally agreed that this is a very real problem. But Mark and I are in no way alone in this assessment. Almost any skater of my generation… I dare say, virtually every skater of my generation… would, and surely will, say the same exact thing. As a generation of activist skateboarders, we got exactly what we wanted, and we achieved exactly what we set out to accomplish: we “mainstreamed” the shit out of skateboarding. But as a generation of hopeless idealists, we’re also now realizing that we have epicly screwed this pooch up. This thing that started out as ours, and ours alone, has now become “theirs”. Which makes it, by definition, not ours anymore.
But, y’know… we’re a smart, crafty, and inventive generation of skateboarders. We’re still the naive, idealistic, punk rule breakers and troublemakers that we’ve always been. Thankfully, we do still venture out into “the mainstream” from time to time, and leave our marks on “The World At Large”. Even I spend most of my time these days managing non-skate-related businesses… but true to form, much more in the spirit and the ethos of a well-run skateboard team, than traditional venture capitalist enterprises. Businesses that are “structured” around individual creativity, initiative, and self-determination… just like skateboarding used to be. Businesses that break the rules, and change the game for the better. Other skaters of my generation have also started non-skate-related businesses, and have even taken on the challenge of public service (and largely won, because that’s what skaters do). Skaters of my generation, as well as successive generations, do still leave lasting marks on the art world, as we always have (and always will). Skaters will continue to challenge the “outside” world to be more ethical, more progressive, more idealistic, and more accepting of colorful diversity than the world would otherwise be, if we weren’t here to carry the torch, and kick the ball forward. That is the lasting legacy of my generation of skateboarders. Hopefully, we’ll get it right this time around.
It’s really too bad that we unwittingly sacrificed the ethos and ethics of skateboarding itself, in order to make a positive difference in and, contribution to… the greater world at large. But even within the world of skateboarding, my generation is still keeping the embers of forward-thinking positivity, universal acceptance, colorful diversity, and enthusiastic encouragement afloat. Especially in the form and function of all these”old-guy skate clubs” that we’ve seen popping up all over the place… a few of which I’m a tee-wearing member and enthusiastic supporter of, myself. Groups of overly-idealistic skaters that are more than happy to let you run whatever you brung, be whatever you want to be, and enthusiastically encourage the diversity of thought and action that results from absolute and unfettered freedom. It may not exist everywhere within skateboarding just yet. But at least it still exists somewhere within skateboarding.
We’ve also spawned a shadow skate industry… completely of our own design and execution, as always. That one’s pretty exciting. While the corporate-owned skate brands (formerly, skater-owned skate brands) are firing American craftsmen, mothballing American woodshops, and sending our jobs, production, mores, and values overseas in the name of short-term profitability and long-term commonality and stagnation (the hallmarks of anything “mainstream”)… a few idealists of my generation have taken matters into their own hands, and independently started their own woodshops to make the quality, authentic-performance-and-individual-creativity-inspired skateboards that Our Industry used to make, in quantity, decades ago.
Authentic aged hardwoods, bulletproof glues, and real-deal, hand pulled silkscreened graphics (printed directly onto wood, not onto the cost-cutting mass-market efficiency of “heat transfers”) still exist out there for a discriminating, niche market of idealist skaters that demand nothing but the best, skate it with individual style, and refuse to accept the compromised catcrap that “The Industry” forces down the throats of otherwise unenlightened kids (that, unfortunately, have never known, or experienced, anything better). I’m sure that uncompromised-quality trucks, wheels, and bearings with true ABEC ratings (instead of outright lies and marketing hogwash) are sure to follow. Maybe someday, skaters will even resolve to support skater-owned shoe companies again. One can still daydream, I suppose…
So while the rest of the skateboarding world wallows in the oceans of mundane mediocrity, restrictive “rules”, and a whole host of hateful “-isms” that hold them back from true freedom and fulfilled happiness… skateboarding, as we originally intended it to be, is still quite alive and well, in our parallel world out on the peripheries of “popular culture”.
You’re welcome to join us, of course. Just as you’ve always been.
But please leave your restrictive rules, popular pandering, harsh hate, and mass-mainstream cultural catcrap at home.
They’re not welcome here.
Bud Stratford is a freelance writer and long-winded jackass that types exceptionally wordy essays about stuff that nobody really cares about anymore. If you’re one of his three or four fans, feel free to look him up on Facebook sometime.