So this week, as you may have heard, Tommy C and Kevin J summited the hardest multipitch route in all of Yosemite and maybe the world. Naturally, lots of news establishments have picked this up. Now, for climbers (like me), many of us are scratching our heads (or groins) and saying, “what the hell, why didn’t they cover La Dura Dura or Change, surely those are impressive feats just as this!”
Even, probably one of the most known bouldering gyms in the universe, BKB, decided to blog about this very fact and in such made some valid points:
- Non-climbers have no understanding of grades or difficulty in climbing, really
- Climbing news for the masses must be really interesting and beautiful
- Non-climbers have no understanding of the risk and associate this to thrill seeking (BASE jumping, Honnolding)
- Climbers criticize these achievements as being bland (Dawn Wall has no adventure) or unrepresentative (No one actually, regularly free solos Half Dome)
What did they get right in my view? 1. yes 2. yes 3. yes 4. yes. WOW! 4/4 Brooklyn Boulders! Congratulations, your trophies are in the mail.
Wait, Isn’t there a point to writing this article?
Yes, now ready your minds for i am about to blow them into hyperspace.
So BKB has some good ideas here. Basically, to non-climbers, climbing is a very slow and boring sport. In fact, most people would know this from the amount of dinner parties where you talk about your futuristic proj and everyone in the room is wondering why you smell so bad. (Bro, it’s for the skin, I can’t wash it or else it will go soft.)
So now, we got on one side 1. climbing is boring and then 2. climbing is beautiful. But what gives? Isn’t all climbing beautiful? Full of hot babes and hunks with muscles wrestling rock in remote areas? Even a climbing gym has a certain je ne sais quoi about it…
So what gives? Why isn’t your 5.12a project giving uncle Bert a semi and why is he talking your ear off about Yosemite? Bert, you dolt, why don’t you want to know the beta? What do you mean you don’t know what beta is? It’s a video tape!
Finally, i guess there are the ideas of people not understanding and then of people misunderstanding the risk. However, i think this is a pretty weak argument since obviously most people don’t take time to know the intricacies of even the most regular things (computers and cars come to mind). Even football and hockey are extremely popular but most people don’t know every single detail about these sports. However, I can’t knock BKB for this as they obviously have a point: most people don’t really know what’s up other than the climbing is maybe, to some degree, dangerous.
Alright, let’s get into it. Why is this stuff so darn popular?
1. The media rules all
Okay, firstly, let’s not kid ourselves. The media basically runs the world. They are the news and they are there to stay. What keeps the Republican party relevant? Fox. If you put a spin on anything you can get people riled up. Honestly I was quite surprised when there wasn’t a call to arms against the Dawn Wall by Fox News. I hoped to hear O’Reilly say something idiotic about it and that never happened. Oh well.
So basically, what ever is on the news will be in the news. It doesn’t matter. It’s like that old saying about people talking about the weather. People are mostly just machines made to absorb and secrete ideas. We are all basically flash memory storage devices. Deal with it.
So don’t think your parents or uncle Bert is ahead of the game. He just reads the paper every once in a while and can put two and two together. Shut up Bert, I don’t even Big Wall. What’s a Big Wall?! BERT!
2. The hype machine is a feedback loop
Okay so once someone in the mass media picks up a story, it either dies right away or gets some community buy in and continues to roll around in a circle. Why? This is the mission objective of any paper: to cover things that have hype. If there was zero interest from the people (positive or negative, remember), Dawn Wall story would die on day one. There would be a little column and that would be it.
But, as soon as someone comments in the comment section, the editors start thinking, “hey, people want to know more! Type more words monkeys!” So, the truck rolls into Yosemite Valley and then there is some more hype. Then people see that it’s on every channel that night and there is more hype. Then the papers start plagiarizing each other and there is more hype. The circle continues and grows with each successful rotation! Long live free speech.
3. The Human Factor
Once the story is picked up, there is a need to draw a mass emotion. For Dawn Wall, i’d like to say that there is these emotions being felt:
- Those guys are crazy!
- Those guys are amazing (strong/talented)!
- Those guys struggle too!
- Humans are great! We can really fuck the shit out of nature!
- Nature is amazing! Humans have their place!
So, basically here we see the emotions felt by our beautiful masses. This isn’t so much about the act of climbing as much as it is about the act of being a part of humanity and nature. That’s why these articles focus on the humans and the struggle and the danger, but rarely about the difficulty of the climbing.
But, why on earth this story? Why not some other sport? Let’s read on.
4. Dawn Wall has 100% (or near) climbing community buy in
This is rare. Climbing right now is really divided between a bunch of hard bodies. Here are certain camps and what exactly is happening:
- Sport climbing
- Alpine and Ice
- Big Wall and Trad
- Expedition Mountaineering
So we got bouldering which is the bastard child of sport climbing and cragging, which no one except trad and sport climbers understand, but even then they basically hate it. Alpine and ice are on good terms with big wall and trad, but hate expedition mountaineering. Mountaineering is doing it’s own thing and is basically high and mighty but knows alpine is the real king of the mountains. Bouldering also knows it’s the king, but of movement. Sport climbing is basically high and might about being bouldering but more committing and then trad basically thinks sport climbing is for people who have inherent fear. Isn’t climbing wonderful?
What you should have gotten out of this is that no one within all these sub-genres will respect 100% another sub-genre except for one: big wall climbing.
Big wall is essentially respected by bouldering as being hard, sport as being hard and scary, trad as being cool as hell, mountaineering as being the progression of hard mountaineering (as many big walls were essentially mountaineering destination before) and by alpine as being less risky but just as good.
In fact, the people climbing Dawn Wall, TC and KJ, are the poster boys for the sport! TC has done Alpine and adventuring in the entire world, KJ is a boulderer and highball climber, they are both strong and competent and are not too young but not too old. Perfect!
No other genre of climbing could unite us. There is just no way.
So, what does that do? Well when something like the Dawn Wall happens, the entire community is watching. Everyone cares in the community. This triggers what I like to call the ‘Underground to Mainstream Transitional Period,’ where things move from being not in the limelight to being in full media coverage mode.
“Why do people care so much about this?” -Editor who has no flipping idea what is going on
So then the Nirvana thing happens. The best grunge band becomes quite a bit more popular and then they blow up. Or the Gangnam Style thing happens, someone plays this song for a gaming tournament, gamers buy in 100% (they love K-Pop?) and then the world is like “shit, this is pretty good.”
So there you have it, that’s what’s for dinner
Basically that’s how this stuff gets big. Stop thinking you’re all that climbing. It isn’t about the climbing. No one will remember Dawn Wall in a year. Don’t make a t-shirt. Keep climbing. And remember: above all else, the cool guy at the party will be the guy who does big wall climbing. So, you want to be cool? Shit in a tube and buy a portaledge.
Is all of this correct?
Do you hate the mainstream media?
Do you think big wall is fun?
Never done it, don’t think sleeping on a hospital cot and shitting in a bag would be fun. Power to you. Also The Nose is probably the most annoying big wall since there is probably 1,000,000 people on it at all times. A beautiful day ends in my bed/tent. However, never say never!
How do you get the rope up there?
Generally with a bow and arrow or magnets.