June 5, 2010

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:03 pm by Iain

I’ve been a rock climber the past 2 maybe 3 years, and I don’t think I’ve ever really written about it. It’s not to say that I don’t want to write about climbing, but that for some reason it’s just…hard.

It’s hard not to fall victim to all the cultural stereotypes that seem to have to use to speak about a lifestyle sport like rock climbing. You know, the mindless rock bum, frolicking upon the impoverished margins of society. The brand name nature bro, whose existence depends solely upon our lady Mother Nature™. Or the globe-spanning climbing celebrity, conquering harsh foreign landscape at his leisure. They’re all great stereotypes, don’t get me wrong. It’s just, none of those stereotypes are particularly apt. Also, I hate them.

Or more specifically, I hate this guy.

So whenever I try to write my fear of being labeled as that guy always stops me. I get so paralyzed with the fear of being a guy that buys into the ideology of sport, that I deny to myself that I even take part in it. Maybe that’s another part of my whiteness – for whatever reason I want to refuse to believe that I’m a part of a larger community based upon morally problematic stereotypes.

And admittedly, these stereotypes succeed in completely obscuring a vast amount of contextualization that would cause otherwise dedicated climbers to question their own “lifestyle.” Instead of having to analyze why a person would ever want to risk their life to climb a mountain, let alone a twenty-foot boulder problem, climbers can just echo George Mallory and reply all laconic and shit, “because it’s there.” But see, the problem is that from my culturally oriented perspective, sometimes it’s hard for me not to see the reason.

So when I talk to another climber about climbing, only to have them spout some banal nonsense about the purity of the “nature experience” and how “it just speaks to your soul,” it’s fucking aggravating. I mean it’s so obvious how fake it is, like Jennifer Price, “Looking for Nature at the Mall,” fake.  As in, these people are trying to delude themselves into thinking that they are not participating in a sport subsumed in capitalism, while simultaneously purchasing their $300 ropes and the newest $100 climbing shoes. It’s abundantly clear that what they are doing is just purchasing another experience, but they never want to admit it, or maybe they can’t admit it. It’s ridiculous.

And then you have films like this,

I love this trailer just for the sheer arrogance that a director would need to ever script the lines: “Immerse yourself in the glamor (cut to Ferrari and stereotypically impressed woman) Enjoy the satisfaction (cut to another women (presumably satisfied), then more Ferrari) And indulge in the luxury of climbing at its highest level.” The Sybarites would be proud, Chuck Fryberger.

The brilliant thing about this trailer is that  Fryberger actually fails miserably in conveying the spirit of climbing / the purity of the nature experience. Honestly, the film is pretty unremarkable, in both climbing and film. But what Core does best is to simulate every contextual reason for someone to be culturally motivated to become a climber.

Need to expel all those psychosexual masculine urges through ritualized violence enacted upon rock and mountain? Well you’re in luck, cause Core is pretty much a hardcore brofest doing exactly that. Need some of that placeless despondency of postmodern living? Well welcome to Core, where every landscape is experienced not as a part of a whole or part of a country, but a pseudo-colonialist fantasy where only other rock climbers play. Sick of the unrelenting monotony of consumer culture? So is Core! Never mind that Core‘s existence is entirely predicated upon you buying another piece of unnecessary kitsch, Core hates consumer culture!

In a word, Chuck Fryberger is a genius.

Yet after all of this, I’m left right here, still kind of pretending like I can just talk my way around having to explain why I climb. I climb for a lot of the reasons I explained above. Partly for the mortification of the flesh that any sport requires, partly for the thrill of climbing, and partly because I’m good at it. But if I were to ever explain, honestly, why I climb, I’d have to self-consciously explain to you this one memory from my first trip to Monticello.

It was on the ride back after a day of dirty Iowa climbing and we were all tired and content. Like all of our climbing trips, our trip leader Sam was torturing the rest of the van with his terrible taste in country music, but we were all just too satisfied to care. I think I had climbed my first 5.9 that day – it was awesome. Yet the most vivid thing that I can remember of that day wasn’t the climbing, but of me sitting in that van and looking down at my chalk-covered hands and fantasizing. Fantasizing about the shape and the feel of the rock; its sharpness and its solidity under my grip. No matter where I was going or what I was doing, those rocks weren’t going anywhere. There is a certain comfort in that.


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