This post marks the beginning of a series I’m writing that deals with the nature of power in rollerblading. Each one will deal with a different aspect of power in rollerblading. Right now, I’m thinking there will be three. Less than that and it won’t be much of a series. More than that and it’ll completely take over the blog. So three sounds like a nice place to start.
So here we go.
As you know, there are many more than three kinds of power. That’s obvious, right? You’ve got your material power, fear-based power, violence, persuasion, coercion, etc. There are lots of kinds. Exactly how many kinds there are depends on your model, your worldview, or your favorite philosopher. Maybe it depends on your favorite rhetorician, but probably not, because almost nobody knows what rhetoric actually is anymore.
Anyway. This first post will deal with something called ‘Pastoral Power.’
Pastoral Power is really the most insidious kind of power. Rather than being a brute strength or a forceful kind of power, pastoral power is gruesome and permeates your mind and soaks into your identity. Quite simply, it’s a kind of socially acceptable brainwashing. And it’s extraordinarily pervasive across a range of scales from individual to local to societal.
The term was coined by a French philosopher named Michel Foucault. It takes its meaning from the Christian concept of the ‘pastoral,’ but that connection is not necessarily intended kindly by Foucault.
In ordinary parlance, which is to say ‘how regular people’ use it, the word pastoral means ‘of, from, or relating to the countryside.’ The Christian scholars, philosophers and theologians adapted that basic notion and transformed it (within their own discourse) to mean something more like ‘out in the minds and souls’ of the people out in the wide world.
Foucault’s term modifies that Christian notion of pastoral and, together with the word ‘power’ specifically refers to the kind of power in which an idea (or even a value) is implanted into people at large, who then self-govern themselves without any further effort by the person who put the idea there in the first place.
A really good example is the idea that boys don’t cry.
We all know that’s not true, but it’s a kind of value that permeates the minds of many men. I, for instance, have cried over break-ups, at funerals, as a result of hysterical laughing fits, etc. I’ve also taken great care to go off somewhere private to do my crying—though I suppose not in the case of hysterical laughing fits.
The thing is, an idea has been implanted into my mind that makes me feel guilty or shameful or like less of a man for crying—even only occasionally, and even privately.
The shitty thing is, the idea that boys don’t cry or boys shouldn’t cry is so extensive and pervasive across the whole of society that there really isn’t anyone specific I can point to who put the idea in my head. Masculinity being diametrically opposed to public displays of certain emotions has been taboo in the West for many centuries.
But when it comes to pastoral power in rollerblading, we’ve really only got about 20 (or maybe 30) years of history to sift through. But it’s important to note that much of what we do and believe as rollerbladers comes from the wider world.
So here’s what pastoral power looks like in rollerblading.
You know what a 50-50 grind is in skateboarding? I bet you do. I do. How about a frontside blunt slide? Same thing for me. What about you?
That’s pastoral power.
It’s the ability to put something in somebody’s mind (particularly if they don’t necessarily want it to be there) and have them maintain in their own minds the stature of that idea.
Skateboarding is good example because it exudes a great deal of pastoral power in the minds of rollerbladers.
Fantastic thought-provoking read. Looking forward to the other parts.
Thanks, Joe! Glad you liked it.
Great entry! Can’t wait to read the rest.
Great article. I like your analysis on ‘pastoral’ power in rollerblading. I can’t wait to read part two. You got me thinking about the theme of rollerblading as a radical (without roots) culture. Rolling was not fitness inline skating, figure skating or rollerskating. Rolling culturally distanced itself from what could have been huge influences and roots and moved in a direction that was more original, yet more like skateboarding than things that people had previously done on rollerskates or ice skates. Because we haven’t managed to be completely new and original. Influences creep in, I guess that ties into power somehow.
Holy cow, Chris Neima! Long time man!
Yeah it’s interesting that you bring up influences. I went to Detroit for about a week a few weeks ago for my friend’s wedding. (My wife and I got to go to the Motown Museum—which you should definitely check out if you’re ever in Detroit). While we were there, we went to a very old book store that, in addition to having lots of awesome books, had huge stacks of old magazines. They had every Rolling Stone between 1965 and the present for sale for $1 a piece.
I also found a copy of Roller Skating Magazine (cir. 1982) that I might do a post about. It got me thinking a number of things, not the least of which was rollerblading’s influences. I agree that rollerblading could point in several different directions for its ancestry, but I would also say that a lot of the Europeans imagine us as hailing directly from roller skating. Especially the guys like Toto Ghali, Rene Hulgren, and Kato Mateo, who were all roller skating on vert long before inline skates went to market. They were doing airs and grinds and spins, along with some other interesting things, that in some ways mirrored skateboarding, but in some other ways were completely original.
It would be cool do a piece about rollerblading’s influences. It will take a huge amount of research though! Maybe a better idea would be to do a piece exploring the less-well-known influences. I definitely see what I can do.
Thanks so much for reading, Chris! And thanks also for the compliment and the thoughtful comments!
that was a really cool read. I heard you on the mushroom blading podcast and immediately needed to find the articles you were mentioning. Thats what I love about rollerblading..I probably would never have heard about pastoral power and bc of rollerblading I know what it is, and I understand it.
Awesome! Thanks Brendan! I think a lot of people never consider the prospect of reading philosophy or sociology books, but there’s really great to be found in them, and I hope that a few people will encounter some things here on SP and look into them further. It’s a big world out there! Thanks so much for reading (and listening), man!
I wish there was a pill we could take that would eradicate all the pastoral bullshit cached in our minds. But the second best thing is simply being aware that is happening. Thank you Frank for articulating this so well!