The act of naming things has played a central role in rollerblading as long as there’s been rollerblading. Naming is a keystone of the human experience and it extends from naming our bodies to naming things in every aspect of human activity. We give specialized names to things ranging from the arts and sciences to our invented sports and habits of everyday living.
We give a name to nearly everything we come in contact with.
It helps us feel like the world is a familiar place that we can navigate safely and easily. It also helps us distinguish between activities and groups because, with the establishment of each new enterprise, people create new sets of terms to accommodate the specialized tasks, objects, and actions unique to that new undertaking.
Often these names are so deeply engrained that we fail to see just how pervasive they really are, and how different they are from their counterparts in other domains.
Basketball, for instance, has its lay-ups, dunks, jump shots, lanes, and three-point “lands.” Engineering has its French curves, deflection loads, and super-elevation. Physics, nursing, art, poetry, auto racing, accounting, sailing, and virtually every other human activity comes replete with its own discourse and unique language.
They are the marks of a fully realized activity. And rollerblading, like everything else, also has its own set.
Personally, I think we’ve done a pretty good job of naming the things relevant to our rolling world. Granted, some things have names I could live without, but in the main, I’d say we’ve come up with some pretty cool stuff.
I have to admit, though, that I’m a little perplexed when I see what a struggle it has been for us to put a unified name or label on this activity we all care so much about. To me, it’s a sign of an unstable identity.
As you know, some of us identify with the name “rollerblading.” Others of us prefer names like “blading,” “inline stunt skating,” “aggressive skating” or even just plain old “skating.”
But there’s very little in the way of universal agreement. The only thing we know is we’re usually one or another of those five or six options.
It reminds me of the situation surrounding a Misfits song called “We Are 138.” It’s a great song that has that classic punk anthem kind of feel. In case you aren’t familiar with The Misfits from the zillions of skate videos that have used their songs, this is the song and what they sound like:
In the song, the horror punk front man Glen Danzig—who styles his voice after Elvis Presley and, in my opinion, might be half dumb—declares over and over that “We are 138.” It’s not entirely clear who the “we” is there, and understanding what “138” means is anybody’s guess.
Danzig won’t say anything other than “It’s a song about violence” and he has publicly chastised fellow band members when they’ve said anything about what they think it means.
To me, it’s a fairly strange thing to get up on stage and declare who you are (or, for that matter, who WE are—either as a group or as something like “all of humanity”) and then give no further hints or explanation as to what your meaning is.
If you trawl the Internet for a little while, you can find all sorts of horseshit written by all sorts of idiots claiming to have “the inside scoop.”
The fact of the matter, though, is that no one really knows.
So there they are, the Misfits, the fans, and the basement-dwelling Cheeto fingers, all singing along, proudly declaring “WE ARE 138!” and not having a fucking clue.
To be fair, it’s just a song. It’s not actually a mission statement or contract that anybody is specifically meant to abide by.
But the other side of the coin is that the song might be purposely ambiguous.
It isn’t meant to have a definitive meaning.
In that case, the “138” can mean just about anything you want it to mean.