Why Fiddle While Rome Burns?
Check out www.skidmarkskatemag.com for the interview that inspired this post. “Why make skateboarding so political? Why not just skate and have fun?” I was recently asked these questions on Instagram.
The questions deserve a real answer as opposed to the flippant insults so typical of social media. Analogies are great for understanding, so let’s try a simpler question to drive the point home: why would I risk my own life trying to move my daughter out of the way of a speeding car?
To protect what I love. It’s really that easy.
“to become relevant to the real challenges and esoteric rewards inherent in skateboarding, the movement must become sensitive to the realities by NOT REDUCING SKATEBOARDING TO A CONVENIENTLY PACKAGED COMMODITY.”
C.R. Stecyk nailed it above. We’ve already had a brief discussion of Nike’s shady business and marketing practices—for example lying to core shops, murdering kangaroos and stealing intellectual property from the punk band Minor Threat. I occasionally rant against companies like Nike, Converse, Monster, Red Bull, et al. because I am distrustful of their so-called “commitment” to skateboarding. I honestly believe their proliferation is most likely a bad thing for skateboarding. Therefore, I try to protect what I love by speaking out against them.
I don’t want skateboarding to become baseball, basketball and tennis. I don’t want core shops to disappear. I don’t want skater owned and operated companies selling our culture to mall chains because they were tempted by volume discounts. I’m sick of rappers, actors and socialites infiltrating our scene to cash in on street cred and reach an otherwise impenetrable target demographic. I want skateboarding to remain a bastion of independent, creative thinkers controlling their own commercial destinies. In short, skateboarding is supposed to be an escape from society, not conformity to its rules.
“companies dangle bigger carrots in front of donkeys and next thing you know it’s all about getting sponsored, counting stairs, one-upping the next guy and avoiding abd’s. practically gone are the days of neil blender’s refreshing aloofness to an industry that took itself too seriously!”
Of course there are plenty of non-political reasons to boycott large sporting good companies and their involvement in skateboarding. For one, all the commercial hoopla obscures the essence of skateboarding: fun! Today’s skate culture is almost entirely ambition-driven and goal oriented. Companies dangle bigger carrots in front of donkeys and next thing you know it’s all about getting sponsored, one-upping the next guy and avoiding ABD’s. Practically gone are the days of Neil Blender’s refreshing aloofness to an industry that took itself too seriously! For two, corporations promote conformity and reduce skateboarding to a conveniently packaged commodity. They turn something we love into a bottom line to be bowed down to. There’s an ulterior motive to everything they do, and that motive is usually to get their product in your hand or their logo embedded in your brain. Skateboarding is simply a means to the end of boring, everyday consumerism.
Believe me, I’m with you. There’s nothing I like to hear less than somebody beating the same drum over and over again. That’s the danger of passion: it’s all too easy to become a living caricature of yourself. As far as Serio is concerned, being “anti-corporate” or “core” isn’t our brand differentiation or marketing angle. We carry the best product we can find from independent, skater owned and operated brands. We think it’s important to support our local scene through events, education, skatepark advocacy and especially growing a team. That has been and always will be our primary focus, although we’re more than happy to serve as a whistleblower if it will help skateboarding at large.
In the early nineties, Airwalk shoes, whose sales had dropped from twenty to eight million dollars in less than two years, panicked and went mainstream, broadening their distribution to include chain athletic stores like Sportmart and Footlocker. Their margins rebounded quickly but history has proven that mainstream interest in skateboarding is cyclical and if anything, that’s the take-home point: mainstream interest in skateboarding is cyclical. They love us for exactly as long as they can make money off us.
As they say, every vote counts, every dollar counts. There are companies and so-called “core shops” out there who claim they’re down for skateboarding but are actually thieves and wolves sucking all the juice from it. Is the industry already rotten beyond repair? Perhaps. Is it all going to fade away into existential meaninglessness anyways? Certainly, but I don’t see those things as an excuse for apathy or turning a blind eye to the wolves at the gate.
So, yeah, I’m all for “let’s just skate and have fun,” but not at the expense of skateboarding itself. Do you want to see Zumiez “dominate the market” as is their stated intent? Every dollar spent in mall chains chokes a core skate shop. Every dollar spent on brands that sell to mall chains chokes a core skate shop. The fiddle didn’t exist when Nero Rome burned, but the phrase is apt nonetheless. We shan’t occupy ourselves with unimportant matters and neglect priorities during a crisis, and skateboarding is in a state of crisis right now.
I realize that some people don’t care, but every dollar we spend matters, especially when it comes to skateboarding.