To get a good look at the kind of violence that functions as power within rollerblading, we have to go back to the theorist I wrote about last time.
That, of course, is Pierre Bourdieu.
So, as you’ll recall, Bourdieu came up with a theory that deals with symbolic power. And as we saw, symbolic power isn’t some kind of fake or wishy washy power. It’s the ability to control people’s means of interpreting the world. It’s the capacity to define what’s cool and have everybody agree with you and do things how you want them done—from stand-up postures when grinding, to what kind of music to listen to, to what outfit to put on when you go to hang out with the boys.
So that was one aspect of Bourdieu’s theory. The other aspect has to do with violence—specifically what Bourdieu called symbolic violence.
The shorthand version of symbolic violence, if you want to think of it this way, is a lot like what you might think of as “verbal violence.”
But there’s more to it than that. Symbolic violence has to do with all the things someone in power has to do (and have happen) so that he stays in power.
It also has to do with hierarchy.
See, most structures of power are hierarchical. That means there are “stages” of power, usually with fewer people “at the top” and many more people “down below”—like a pyramid.
You could also think of it like a playoff bracket we saw during the WRS video contest.
While I’ve got you looking at that WRS graphic, let me remind you that the top seeded guys (Aragon, Haffey, Broskow, Bailey, etc.) were matched against the lowest ranking guys in the contest. That means that comparatively lower ranked guys like Tyler Hester, Dave Lang, Stefen Horngacher, or Daniel Prell practically have to outskate the Haffeys and Aragons right out of the gate. Talk about keeping power in power!
But that’s just a microcosm. Almost every (hierarchical) system of power is designed and built specifically to keep everything where it is. Out in the rest of the world, that’s what’s called the status quo—which, in Latin, means, “the existing state of affairs.”
So, back to symbolic violence.
We know that power is a hierarchy in which influence is disproportionate. In other words, the people “at the top” of the pyramid have the most power and influence and the people “at the bottom” have much less.
So symbolic violence is any action that supplies an injurious meaning and reinforces to a person his position within the hierarchy. Assuming you’re a mid-level guy (or gal) in skating, symbolic violence against you would be anything that reminds you just how far you are from the top.
And that takes on many forms in rollerblading, and it works the same for everyone from the lowliest grommet to the wealthiest company owner.
So where symbolic power had to do with influence, symbolic violence has to do with respect. To put it in a single phrase, symbolic violence is “putting you in your place,” or, if you like, “reminding you (in a bad way) what your place is.”
Racism and sexism function in exactly the same way. And both function in concert with pastoral power and symbolic power.
Let me give you an example.
For many of us, our highest aspirations in rollerblading are to be “sponsored.” Few of us really care much about getting beyond that level, because there is a certain amount of respect that’s built in to “being sponsored”—even as a comparatively lowly flow rider. It just means that you get a new pair of skates for free whenever your sugar momma skate company comes out with a new model. Depending on who you ride for, that’s between about one and six free pairs of skates a year—probably some t-shirts too, and maybe a hoodie here and there.
One of the things that is built-in to that “sponsored” status is a (somewhat) false sense that you “could make it to the top” if you really committed yourself.
So, suppose you’ve got yourself a skate sponsor and maybe you get a few other things likes frames or wheels or backpacks from some shop or some other distribution-company kind of connection. You’re awesome. You can do a lot of tricks that the “big guys” can do, and you’ve probably got a pretty decent sense of style and decent amount of status. People you’ve never met know your name. That’s pretty cool, and it’s really quite an achievement.
Now, suppose you fly out to some city because you’ve got some homies there or maybe some kind of long distance booty call that you can stay with for a few nights in Such-and-Such City. Being a rollerblader, you know which cities all the big time pro guys live in, and one or two of them just happens to live in this town.
So you make some calls, do some Facebooking, and get somebody you know to give you the phone number of this big name dude in whose town you’re currently finding yourself.
You call him up, and HUZZAH! he answers the phone.
“Hey man, it’s Billy Rollerblader from Smalltown, State. I got your number from Fanboy McDoogle over at Blader Shop. I’m in town for the weekend and I was callin’ to see if you wanna go skate sometime today or tomorrow.”
At the height of your pride as a sponsored rollerblader, you’re crushed by Big Name Pro when he says he can’t because he’s got something going on with his girlfriend’s parents or his dog is sick or he’s got other shit happening this weekend. If the guy is really a jerk, he might just flat out tell you “no,” or, “sorry, man, never heard of you.” At best, he’ll politely give you some excuse so you both can save a little face.
A session with a Big Name guy would be something really memorable for a dude in your position, and it might even be a chance for you to “move up” a little.
Unfortunately though, you’ve been put in your place. You’ve learned the hard lesson that power is exclusive and those who have it don’t always want to share it.
So that’s what symbolic violence is in rollerblading. It can be as demeaning as a slap in the face, or a humbling as a good look in the mirror.
It’s important to keep in mind though, that not everyone (big name pro or otherwise) is like that. Some guys are really nice and know that you aren’t a threat to their power. On the other hand some guys are real jerks and wouldn’t give you “access” to save the world.
Something to keep in mind, though, no matter who you are, is that there are almost certainly guys “below you.” And, to some extent, you have the same amount of symbolic power over them as the Big Name Pros have over you.
And you have just as much potential to exert symbolic violence on those below you as anybody higher up does. It’s really only a matter of your character.
And all it has to do with is whether you think power and violence are the same thing.
If you think violence is the same as power, you’re probably an asshole. If you’re smart enough to know that they’re different, you’re probably a pretty decent dude.
If you spend some time thinking about it, I think you’ll find that symbolic violence is rampant in rollerblading, and there are very few of us who understand just how pernicious a thing it really is.
Thanks for reading,