So far in this little series on the nature of power in rollerblading, I’ve addressed Pastoral Power and Symbolic Power. Both of those are particularly social kinds of power and they have to do with the ways our minds and intelligence can betray us at certain times and in certain ways.
I wanted to write this third and final post about power in rollerblading on the topic of economic power, but I abandoned that idea because it doesn’t really fit in with the aims of this project (see the first post of Second Place from April 27th).
Instead, I’m going to use this last post about power to talk about violence.
So let me start by saying this: people very routinely confuse violence with power because, many times, the two are indistinguishable. Here is a clip of the character Cersei from the HBO series Game of Thrones making that exact mistake:
(Not really a SPOILER, in case you’re a fan of Game of Thrones and haven’t seen the second season yet—if you ARE a fan, let me just say that nobody dies.)
That scene culminates with Cersei employing what is known in rhetoric as a tautology—which you could think of as a redundant emphatic definition. She calmly and confidently asserts near the end of the scene that “POWER is power.” What she really means there is “VIOLENCE is power.”
She’s not completely wrong (although I would say as a side note that tautologies are for the weak minded).
A lot of power is violent. And sometimes violence is very certainly a path to power. Sometimes it can even yield you something like absolute power. But none of us is Joseph Stalin or Saddam Hussein or some other despot. So I can be pretty confident in asserting that violence doesn’t work that way in rollerblading.
Beating up a Big Name Pro or some company owner won’t get you sponsored; it won’t get you a trip to Europe; it won’t get you a pro skate with your name on it.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
If you have time, and you want to see one of the most incredible stories about extraordinary violence-as-power, watch this video. It will take 9 minutes of your life. It will also show you something about who Christopher Hitchens was, if you haven’t ever heard of him.
I really suggest that you watch this video.
If you can’t be asked, here’s the slightly extended TL;DW version: When Saddam Hussein came to power in Iraq in 1979 he held a meeting of all the members of the Baath (political) party. In that meeting he read the names of something like 200 Baath Party members he felt were untrustworthy. The men whose names were read aloud were taken outside the meeting hall and executed on the spot (either by sword or by handgun). AFTER THAT, he handed out pistols to the Baath Party members still left in the room and escorted them outside to a courtyard telling them to shoot in the head any man known to be treasonous.
It’s some fucked up shit.
I’m not just bringing this up merely because it shows extreme violence-as-power; I’m bringing it up to say something about our world, and particularly our male-dominated sport and worldview.
Well all know that rollerblading is a male-centric, male-dominated sport. We all know that’s how it is. And we’ve known that for quite a long time.
We’re guys. A lot of us are guys aged from about 16 to 22 years, and there’s a lot of testosterone around. The older guys still have it to. It’s what gets us to hurl our asses off of roofs and jump huge gaps and do crazy stunts. It’s what lets us skate through the pain and it makes us proud of our blood and scars.
We also spend a lot of time doing what my parents used to call “rough housing.” We slug each other in the arms, tackle each other, throw stuff at each other, harass each other, taunt each other, and try to embarrass each other. It’s what we do all the time.
Some of us even get into real fistfights. We go to the bar looking for trouble, or we’re not afraid to get scrappy when the shit goes down at the local skatepark.
Some of us, anyway.
The point is, while we have some violence here and there in rollerblading — the occasional fistfight, the random scrap at the skatepark, we’re really aren’t very violent.
We might sometimes wish we were, or even think violence is cool sometimes, but in the real world, we’re pretty friggin tame. Certainly nothing on the scale like Saddam Hussein in the video above.
So let’s not fool ourselves.
There is some physical violence in rollerblading, sure. But there is very little of it in rollerblading as it relates to power and status.
Interestingly, it’s the people in power “at the top” of rollerblading that have made it that way—though everybody has a role to play in it.
Frank, I have to give it to you for this third installment of Power in Rollerblading, and for the whole series, but for this subject in particular and how you have related it to the sociocultural power structure within our community. I have friends who I consider to be good people, and yet I find them acting in this fashion quite often because of the special access they may have in terms of knowing particular rollers and events they frequent. From this I often feel alienated because I am not invited to go to a skate sesh or an out of state event, whether by their choice or even just “protecting” the interests of the coveted skaters themselves. It’s unfortunate that I feel this way in large part because it does serve to “put me in my place” but also because I know that this is occurring to thousands of other aspiring Rollerbladers who just want to skate, see amazing skating and have a Good Time. There are many reasons why our sport has been in such a recession, not the least of which is this pervasive elitist attitude that is continues to keep the sport we love in the dark because of selfish and egotistical actions by the gatekeepers of access. If those of us who have some influence and connections would only reach out to the younger and less privileged skaters and make a lasting impression by showing them how amazing our sport is, then perhaps the sport could begin to grow in numbers and eventually the industry could begin to make a real comeback and we as Rollerbladers could regain these forms of power and harness them in a positive way to promote Rollerblading rather than ourselves. Thank You Frank, for you words of wisdom and encouragement. ~ The Humboldt Roller
Power relations do exist in blading, albeit in an impoverished, underaged vacuum.
Being an important blader is about like being a top badminton pro; only that badminton is far more lucrative. Famous pro rollerblader? The illusion is clear: nobody respects that authoritai at your pizza delivery “side job”.
Hey The Humboldt Roller,
Thanks so much for your support. I’m glad to find that these articles are being (mostly) well received. I’ve thought for a long time that one of the strengths of rollerbladers, by and large, is that they are kind, caring, introspective, and otherwise good people to know and hang out with. Personally, I think we’ve gotten that way as a result of being a marginalized sport. Minority cultures tend to stick closer together.
It’s also what keeps our community small, and to me, enriching. About ten years ago I spent a good deal of time traveling around Europe and found couches, floors, and even sometimes beds to crash in solely by virtue of “being a rollerblader.” Several times I couldn’t even speak the same language as guys who put me up for days or even a week at a time—but we spoke the common language of rollerblading, and that was enough for a rollerblader to welcome me into his home. That, to me, is one of the best parts of rollerblading—the tricks are pretty fun too though.
I’m also glad you brought up some of the guys you know. There was a part of this article that had to be cut (for length reasons) that dealt pretty extensively with how unaware people typically are of “committing” symbolic acts of violence. It’s actually a huge part of Bourdieu’s theory. The idea is twofold.
First, people are largely unaware of their own behavior. That means that if you make it “to the top,” you might not even have a good sense of just how you did it. The consequence of that is that if somebody asked you how you achieved your status, you couldn’t really answer them (in sufficient detail) EVEN IF YOU WANTED TO.
The second thing is that people are largely unaware of the symbolically violent acts they commit, usually because of how subtle symbolic violence is. Something as simple as mentioning the new skates you got from your sponsor could be enough to remind somebody (not sponsored) specifically that you have some power or status that they don’t.
These things often get embedded into language and they manifest in very subtle ways. For instance, if I’m close friends with a top-level guy, you might hear me refer to him by his first name, despite the fact that everyone else recognizes (and talks about) the high-end guy by his last name (Haffey, Farmer, Stockwell, Broskow, Bailey, etc.).
That represents an interesting shift in the power dynamics of rollerblading, especially when you consider the extent to which that’s changed. For instance, in my day, most (or rather, many MORE) pros were known by their first names (or one-word nicknames), but sometimes first AND last: Arlo, Angie, Brooke, Wedge, Webby, Roadhouse, B Love (or just B, which is short for Brandon), Rawlinson, Dustin, etc. and then you moved into the rest of the gang who got referred to by their whole names: Dave Kollasch, Dave Paine, Shawn Robertson, etc.
One-word names and first names show a familiarity, both in rollerblading and culture at large. It seems to me that whole name use was the shift towards symbolic power. Which is to say, rollerblading language started immolating culture at large, where you see powerful or “high status” people get whole names, for instance, Tom Cruise, Wayne Gretsky, Bill Gates, Henry Rollins, etc.
An interesting note on that last point, is that a lot of punk rockers used first names (only) or nicknames that suggested a kind of informality and implied a kind of “accessibility”: Fat Mike, Greg G., Joey (Ramone), Johnny (Thunders), Ian (Curtis), etc. And you see that same trend continued through punk bands as late as Greenday (Billy or Billie Joe) and The Offspring (Dexter).
The sucky thing is that brings us back to symbolic power again, because punk became allied with skateboarding, and so that influence was largely lost on rollerbladers (that, and the fact that Offspring wouldn’t play shows at the Warped Tour if rollerbladers were on the ramps in the background).
Anyway, symbolic power and symbolic violence is everywhere. And it’s subtle. My point of view is simply that if rollerbladers want to see (and cause) more change in rollerblading, they should really be paying more attention to the larger systems at work.
Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Humboldt. I really appreciate it, man!
That’s a good observation. Personally, I would say that power for the people “at the top” is only as real as the people “down below” confirm (or license) it to be. I was really pleased when I saw the “Imaginationland” theme ONE put to these articles, but it makes the point in a much simpler way: things are as real as we let them be, from Santa Claus to voting rights.
Thanks so much for reading, and thanks also for commenting, Billy!