Words by Neeson Photos by Burnett
There is a skater I know, a dear sweet boy who dabbles in the black art of vert skating. Since that style of skateboarding is both older and more accessible to Joe Public, he has to do his fair share of working with the blessed world of PR. PR, if you are lucky enough never to have come in contact with it, is the world of Public Relations, an industry which didn't exist 40 years ago but today seems to employ around half of the female workforce under the age of menopause. PR is a dreadful, ghastly occupation attracting the worst people imaginable and providing them with unsatisfying and ultimately meaningless jobs. What, you ask, do PR people do? Absolutely nothing. It is an industry which neither creates nor destroys, but merely forwards breathless emails to one another and offers to arrange interviews with people you already know. It is a monster which feeds off itself and attempts to convince people (often, the youth of today) that something which clearly is not cool ACTUALLY is cool, because some cool guy has been paid to allow said thing to bask in his reflected coolness in return for filthy great pots of cash. Meanwhile the ghastly PR industry try to convince the target audience (which is to say, you and I) to forget what we first assumed ( that sucky things suck because they suck), and get with the ACTUALLY part. They even have a name for this, and I am weeping as I type it- its described as a Call To Action. Aaaargh. Which is where our vert chap comes in. Every two months or thereabouts, the phone here rings, and some bint on the other end "Hiiiiiiii"s my name incorrectly before introducing herself (usually a Kate or Milandra- never a Brenda, or Janice) from Spunkywangers PR or something equally improbable. I start counting until his name crops up. Never more than 20 seconds before she tells me that she's been told we are ACTUALLY morons and can we tell her lies for her, if the suggestion of a shag is allowed to dangle in the air? I don't blame Pete- ooops, did I just out him? No! So long as his surname is secret- yeah, so its not like I blame Mr King at all, he has to get by in a harsher world than most skaters and has his eyes wide open to the reality of the deal. It does, however, go to the heart of what skateboarders think and feel about the world around them, and how we come to those decisions. In other words, the ACTUALLY part.
There is a great American intellectual called Noam Chomsky, very possibly the greatest living mind on the planet today. He wrote a book called Manufacturing Consent, about how media shapes or opinion of the things it reports in subtle and sometimes underhand ways. What do I mean? Well, take these two examples: "…it was then that the assault was alleged to have occurred." "Then he raped her." Both effectively conveying the same information, but one makes the rapist the active perpetrator, the other makes him sound like a spectator carried along on the events of some inevitable accident waiting to happen. And so to the question of what we are down with in skateboarding. What makes some brands, styles or people legitimate and others lame as all hell? And, as a side note, why do companies insist on advertising boards which are 20% more this, 15% less that, when 1) Clearly nobody believes them And 2) They won't allow their boards to be tested in direct comparison to one another lest the ACTUAL truth be known.
Or to put it another way: How do you know what you think you know? This is the question put to students of New York City University by their lecturer in Communications at the start of every term. The guy is homeless, lives in an abandoned subway station and holds down a job lecturing some of the cities finest minds. Fascinating fellow. Anyway, he uses the question to get the students to look at their judgement systems: How Do You Know What You Think You Know?
If that sounds like one of those wanky parlour games your least favourite uncle would trot out at Christmas in order to seem like some fucking Oracle of divine knowledge, there is actually a very simple and binding answer to it. You know what you think you know by observation. By observing the world around you and making judgements based on that. Everybody does, its how we learn. So then, how do we know that what we observe is the truth? When, for example, Jereme Rogers quits endorsing a lifestyle brand like Billabong and declares that it was just for the cheque, does that affect how we view either party? Or when Transworld tells you "You Need To Have The Ice Cream Video" when it is patently dogshit to anybody with an eye in their head? What shapes the iinformation you receive and how does that change between the source and the destination? There is a theoretical diagram of communications called the Shannon Weaver model. It is what the computer to computer system which became the internet is based on. What it does in essence is takes the source ( you making the phone call), the transmitter (phone), receiver (mate's phone) and destination (mate). Stay awake, because here's the thing: it also takes into account noise (such as a crackly line, or somebody talking in your ear at either end) which might interfere with the received message being quite what the source said- "Send reinforcements, we're going to advance" becomes "Send Three and fourpence, we're going to a dance".
Dude, college boy better talk about skating soon or I'm going to end this dump right here. Swap 'phone' for skate media, destination for you, and noise all the PR, message board chatter and everybody else who has an interest in shaping what goes into your beautiful mind and remember that not everything is as it wishes to appear at first glance. Ed Templeton's Toy Machine have seen tides come and go in skateboarding, and they are still here and still barging for the sake of it. Cards on the table, nothing up sleeves. Personally, I think thats a cool thing. Feel free to make up your own mind about it.