by Kelly Cordes
Dave Graham wasn’t holding back at the Outlook. For those who don’t know, Graham is one of the best rock climbers to come along in the last decade. We were guests on a live on-stage radio show, by ClimbTalk, at the Outlook Hotel and Bar in Boulder last Monday. The various guests talked usual climber-talk, and the conversation was mostly tame. Until Graham, animated and intense, took hold of the mic. He launched passionate opinions on climbing ethics, the American government, overly restrictive rules in national parks, and the lack of cohesion in the climbing community. As the energy of the audience rose, I overheard a whisper: “I wonder what his sponsors think of this?”
Which got me thinking… is there merit to the notion that climbers are increasingly becoming soulless commodities to their sponsors’ marketing machines, speaking in corporate-friendly trivialities, and that the climbing media has done the same? At the front, it sounds absurd. Then again, this is America 2012.
Issues such as these recently sent the climbing blogosphere abuzz, after climber and art history professor Peter Beal wrote a provocative blog entitled “Sell, Sell, Sell: Is There an Alternative?” Beal writes of the marketing influence on climbers and the climbing media, leading to a dearth of coverage of serious topics and controversial issues, and asserts, “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.”
[Hey, look at me, I just won! Photo: Kelly Cordes]
Heard a great one last weekend on NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! It was a funny segment with Jim Bouton, an old-school baseball player of the 60s-70s, and he said:
“I don’t like guys hitting homeruns and then raising their arms up like they just discovered a cure for cancer. Hey, look at me, I just hit a homerun. In our day, you hit a homerun, you put your head down and you ran around the bases. You went into the dugout and you shut up. You know why? Because it’s just a homerun.”
I love it. He’s right – everyone doesn’t have to celebrate themselves (or their sponsors) every hit, or every climb. And not everyone does. Though even in Bouton’s day, the humble man running around the bases did so in stadiums packed with tens of thousands of fans, and with live broadcasts on television and radio. Doesn’t mean he wasn’t a humble man who loved baseball.
It’s good to keep things in check. The sellouts, the self-celebratory, and the real-deal lifers still exist, as they always have, and whether things have shifted too far and the sky is finally falling, I don’t know. But to those of us who love climbing, I think it’s a worthy discussion.