Frank Stoner / September 3rd, 2013 / Blogs
SPS2: The Modern, Postmodern, and Metamodern Character of Rollerblading

Greetings! And welcome to the Second Season of Second Place!

It’s been a rather lengthy offseason, but I’m happy to report that SP is now back on the menu and aims to appease your rollo-intellectual appetite and to provide something of a different perspective on rollerblading—an academic perspective.

If this kind of thing isn’t your cup of tea, I politely request that you simply move along and find something else to read that really interests you. If you really do enjoy this kind of thing, though, I encourage you to engage in the conversation by commenting below or by contacting me directly via Facebook or email.

Now, here’s some quick background on me before we get started: I’m a rollerblader (and have been for about twenty years). And I’m also a writer, a teacher and an academic. My training is in both rhetoric and linguistics, though many articles and topics I’ll take up during this Second Season will be slightly outside of those areas. For now, though, I’ll just stick to my home territory.

If you want to read last season’s Second Place posts to learn more about the kinds of topics I address on this blog, click here.

Okay, enough with the housekeeping. So, let’s begin, shall we?

A few days ago, I observed a Facebook conversation thread that included some pretty heavy hitters in rollerblading discussing style and the “rules” of rollerblading. Here’s approximately what happened:

Lonnie Gallegos posted some remarks critical of rollerbladers doing ‘big spins’ without any sort of grab. Several others, including Beau Cottington, Jay Geurink, Jayson Reduta, (and others) jumped into the fold, arguing several different points of view. Despite what appeared to be a heated debate, there was some pretty solid emergent consensus that—in spite of everything else—style is still king.

For my part, though, grabbing isn’t inherently a style issue. I think in this case it’s much more of an ontological question — that is, a question about what reality consists of rather than a question about what style consists of.

See, to me, the most interesting part of this scenario is the presence of a kind of paradox. If rollerblading has no clear and discrete set of rules, how can we say what “counts” and what does not? How can there be consensus on what’s good if there exist no standards or benchmarks to measure against? In short, our “rules” of style and completion appear to emerge from nowhere. Or, perhaps more correctly, good style exists despite the fact there is no governing set of rules.

This, in itself, is a fairly well known problem in other domains. For instance, proponents of the so-called “Intelligent Design” theory of the universe decry the atheistic and scientistic ‘Big Bang’ theory on the basis that the whole universe emerges instantaneously and spontaneously from nothing.

But that’s not quite how it is.

The “nothing” that’s in question isn’t quite the pure absence of “anything” that the Intelligent Design people think it is. Rather the opposite, in fact. The “nothing” can be thought of better as a site that is strictly prohibited from possessing certain qualities. In the case of the singularity that lead to the Big Bang, that “nothingness” is merely prohibited from possessing constituents like matter, energy, space, time, etc. — but calling it a pure “absence of anything” would be quite wrong. Something was there; it’s just that, whatever it was, it wasn’t constructed out of our familiar units (again, like matter, energy, volume, etc.). So, really, it’s only a kind of “nothingness,” and those who are led astray by the term honestly have some good reasons to be confused. Realistically though, the problem is simply that little or no effort is made by the Intelligent Design proponents to understand what the scientist was trying to put into words. They also tend to want to imbue that “unknown” or “absence” with a supernatural character—which is really putting the cart before the horse—or, if you like, sending a wizard to do a plumber’s job.

Now, as we attempt to contend with rollerblading’s ontological paradox, I take a… let’s call it an anti-Intelligent-Design point of view, refusing to conflate the unknown with the supernatural, and refusing to allow people to perpetuate their opinions by force.

Rollerblading does have standards that are not entirely subjective, but it’s true that we have no “rulebook” as it were. So what are we to make the fact that a large number of us believe that grabs co-constitute certain tricks, while others of us (still quite a large number) believe that grabs are incidental to a trick?

What does this say about our (respective) views of reality? What does it tell us about our views of intentionality? For my part, I see this scenario as mirroring in microcosm the tripartite intellectual movements that span the 20th century—or what we might think of as the trans-twentieth century. I’m talking about “the Modernisms” here, but I certainly don’t expect everyone to be already familiar with them in their sundry details.

So here’s a quick crash course on Modernism, Post-modernism, and Metamodernism.

1. Modernism: Modernism is an artistic, intellectual, and cultural movement that arose in the late 19th century concurrently with several important theories about reality, most of which maintain that the relationship between man and his environment are much less straightforward than previously believed. Realism—the movement in art that attempts to perfectly and flawlessly recreate reality—is entirely rejected. The modernists contend that human mediation plays a role in everything observed and produced by human beings, and so no clear one-to-one representations are possible. The modernist alternative is to believe that symbolism (including language—which is purely symbolic) offers a better purchase on the successful communication of thoughts, feelings, and reality. In short, a photograph of a person who is sad does not communicate feelings of sadness (or, say, depression) as well as something like this:

What we see, typically, is that Modernism is characterized by something called “utopic syntaxis”—which is the idea that an ideal order exists and can be understood through investigating the symbols that create the “whole.” In the Picasso displayed here, we see that manifested as an implicit sadness that is real, knowable, and easily communicated by using the appropriate “grand narrative.” In the painting, we can easily locate “sadness” as the grand narrative that the artist was portraying, and we can be fairly certain of that because of Picasso’s use of a) a slouching posture, b) a melancholy expression, and c) use of monochromatic blues—all of which, in our culture at least, symbolize and communicate sadness.

2. Postmodernism: In Postmodernism, things become quite a bit more complicated. This perplexing and difficult mode of thought emerges in the mid 20th century, and many attribute its nascence to the atrocities of World War II, citing the Nazi holocaust in particular.

Essentially, Postmodernism rejects all of those things held dear by the Modernists. In particular, the Postmoderns deny both that meaning and the communication of meaning is possible. The kind of symbols and symbolism championed by the Modernists, the Postmoderns argue, are entirely flawed and can never be universal. If no symbol is universal, they reason, all meaning is communicated through culturally constructed means, and therefore no symbol can ever accurately describe (or co-create) reality.

A corollary of this is that meaning is, quite simply, impossible—which is quite a bold and perplexing thought.

What’s left then, is the idea that every human product (art, science, literature, architecture, rhetoric, etc.) is always a monstrosity begotten by the juxtaposition of (at least) two unlike things—or, what academics call “dystopic parataxis.”

To help make this clear, take a look a piece of postmodern architecture:

Here, you can see what appears to be a giant, even incoherent, amalgamation of architectural styles “masquerading” as a single, unified building. The building itself appears to be a contradiction, but it is only a contradiction if one assumes that buildings must be stylistically coherent (i.e. the way a modernist thinker would).

Basically, the postmoderns take everything to be a monstrosity, because everything is (always) the result of combining incoherent and fundamentally unstable parts (hence “dystopic parataxis”).

3. Metamodernism: To get a good sense of what Metamodernism is, we should first look at its prefix “meta.” The Greek root “meta” can be taken to simultaneously mean three things: with, between, and beyond. So, one would rightly expect that Metamodernism is that which is “with” the other two kinds of Modernism, “between” both of them, and simultaneously “beyond” them both all at once.

In effect, “Metamodernism” understands the impulses of Modernism, understands the impossibilities of them posed by Postmodernism, and then resolves not to despair over the contradictions. Metamodernism keeps a straight face while locating itself between two things that are simultaneously possible and impossible. You could also say that the Metamodern is that which exists in between two self-nullifying ideas.

It’s a bit like this:

Metamodernism gives us a way to negotiate with (and between) contradictions and produce something that “goes beyond” or transcends both of the parts from which it was created. This is why academics will say that the Metamodern is that which emerges through “atopic metaxis”—or, a “nonplace place between two impossible spaces.”

Let’s put this all in the context of rollerblading so that it will be a bit clearer.

Now, in an effort to maintain some impartiality, let’s avoid taking up Lonnie’s example of grabbed spins and substitute instead a grinding trick—the backslide, say.

Here is the “Modernist” view of backslides: Since all tricks have an ideal form, we can determine rationally what the ideal form must be by delineating the appropriate parts that would construct it. In the case of a backslide, we know that the foot must be locked onto the rail (or whatever) in both the boot groove AND the frame groove. The other crucial constituent of a backslide, is a grabbed foot—but let’s be clear, there are very strict culturally enforced guidelines about the nature of the grab.

For instance, the grab must take place on the soul plate of the skate—never on the toe or heel of the foot, and never above the soul plate (for instance, holding one’s ankle or shin). Further, the grab should last the entire length of the grind. In other words, you have to achieve your grab before your backslide foot locks on, and you must continue that grab through the whole duration of the slide, letting go only after the grinding portion of the maneuver is completed. (Other factors play a role too, but they are treated as universal across all tricks: normative “rules” like no jumping on 1-2, don’t touch the rail with the hands, land with both feet at the same time, etc.)

We can call this the “Modernist” view because its perspective is drawn out from “utopic syntaxis”—again, the idea that an ideal form can be constructed from the proper combination of idealized fundamental symbols (locking on appropriately, grabbing the foot appropriately, etc.). You might be inclined to see this perspective as “traditionalist”—though I contend that “Modernist” offers a much better account of it.

Now here’s the Postmodern view of the backslide: The “symbolism” of a grab to denote style and control is absolutely artificial. A grabbed foot cannot signify style and control because style and control are not the kinds of things “begotten” by holding a foot. Style and control are juxtaposed against one another (note that the two are not synonyms) to produce a “coherent monstrosity” in the form of an un-grabbed backslide. A particular kind of foot-grab can never be a requirement for creating (and contributing to the creation) of any trick because the “rules” that make such a mandate are both artificial and simultaneously nonexistent. Thus, the Postmodern view holds that a backslide is a backslide whether or not the rollerblader grabs his or her foot appropriately.

And, here’s the real kicker: an un-grabbed backslide—from the Postmodernist perspective—is simply called (you guessed it) a “backslide.”

What we’re left with in a Metamodern perspective is the need to navigate between the previous two kinds of Modernisms. The Metamodern feels compelled to acknowledge simultaneously the strengths AND the contractions of both previous worldviews. And in the absence of any firm ontological grounding, it spontaneously generates an entirely new creation. But beware: it’s extremely important not to oversimplify at this point, because the obvious mistake one could make would be to assume that the Metamodern backslide is the same as the Postmodern backslide, but that would be incorrect. While the Metamodern backslide looks just like a Postmodern backslide, the two are quite different.

The most apparent difference between the two is in the name: what the Postmodern simply deems a backslide, the Metamodern actually changes. For the Metamodernist rollerblader, the new name for the “new trick” is actually this: an Un-grabbed Backslide.

The reason the name change and the acknowledgement of a “no-grab” is important is because of the way the point of view was created. The Modernist backslide assumes that there are rules governing what counts and what doesn’t count. The Postmodernist backslide throws out the idea that rules are even possible. And the Metamodernist backslide names an absence as a means to navigate between what it considers two incompatible impossibilities. This is why we say that the Metamodern backslide emerges through atopic metaxis (literally a “no-place in-between”) because it solves the problem to its own satisfaction while navigating between two previous worldviews (and ontologies) that self-contradict.

So that’s that.

If you think a grab is required for a particular trick to be correctly instantiated, you’re a Modernist.

If you think the rules about grabbing are a load of crap, you’re a Postmodernist.

If you specify your intention to not-do something, you’re a Metamodernist.

Lastly, I’ll say the following. To some people, this whole analysis may appear to be “making a mountain out of a molehill.” But I think it’s extraordinarily important to take on complexities with an appropriate response. In my view, the problem is that little tolerance exists on this matter (and indeed, others like it) mostly due to a lack of understanding and a lack of available vocabulary to account for our differences. Going through three separate worldviews and, ultimately, three separate ontologies, we are not “hiring a wizard to do a plumber’s job.” What we’re doing is choosing to have the courage to combat those would who mandate our cultural norms by force, and we’re simultaneously denying the possibility and necessity of supernatural forces in our rollerblading lives. Just because a grab/no-grab debate seems unsolvable doesn’t mean that it is unsolvable.

There are well-established ways to navigate between contradictions and impossibilities that are manifested in tangible, material ways. We simply have to make the choice not to despair when we face the unknown.

As always, thanks for reading.


*Author’s note: I am humbly grateful to rollerbladers Jarrod McBay and Ben Price, as well as my colleagues Daniel Singer and Brian Nicolette for their extraordinary assistance in the development of the ideas that led to this post.

Discussion / SPS2: The Modern, Postmodern, and Metamodern Character of Rollerblading

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  • Who cares - September 3rd, 2013

    This was a waste of time and thought.

  • Frank Stoner - September 3rd, 2013

    “Who cares”: I’m sorry you feel that way. Send me an email, dude.

  • Alex Rugburn - September 3rd, 2013

    I respectfully disagree with both your understanding of rollerblading style and your comparisons to the arts.

    I would also like to add, Picasso was a Cubist anyway.
    And your simplistic long winded overarching dialog on the stereotypes of rollerbladers frankly was a waste of time and thought.

  • Frank Stoner - September 3rd, 2013

    Hi Alex,

    It’s a bit hard to see how you’re respectfully disagreeing when you say that you found the article a “waste of time and thought.” But even that notwithstanding, I’ll say the following:

    1. While I myself am not art critic or historian, I can tell you that if you read more about Picasso, you’ll see that his work developed through several stages, or what the art historians call “periods.” He was trained in realism, then spent a period of years exploring modernism before he, along with several other people, developed the avant guard forms of cubism. The painting in my post was from his “modernist period” and is generally regarded as being so.

    2. I’m sorry if you felt that the piece was too simplistic. Some Second Place articles I’ve written in the past relied too much on disciplinary jargon and a lot of people felt they weren’t very accessible. If you’d like to read the primary sources that I used to help write this post, send me an email. I’ll be happy to share them with you. (They are far from being simplistic, I assure you).

    3. I didn’t write a dialogue. As a piece of writing, it’s not the kind of thing that a dialogue would be, and anyway it was just me, so it would really be more of a monologue if it were read out loud.

    4. You do raise a really good point near the end of your post though. It is something of an exercise in stereotyping people (and their beliefs and opinions) this way. I had actually thought of hedging a little bit and taking a softer approach like, “If you think a grab is required for a certain trick [YOU MAY BE AMENABLE TO SOMETHING LIKE MODERNISM]” but I chose not to because I really didn’t think it would upset too many people. Clearly I was mistaken though. I’m really not trying to get you to believe something you don’t like. Honestly. Stereotyping is rather narrow minded, so I’m sorry you thought that’s what I was trying to do.

    Lastly, I would like to thank you for reading and commenting on my article. I hope you have a good week.

  • jarrod mcbay - September 3rd, 2013

    Well done frank I understand it more now then when we spoke. So people are just to closed minded or are to young to grasp the concept. Well done!!!!

  • Frank Stoner - September 3rd, 2013

    Thanks bud! Your help on this one was really valuable. I’ll buy the beer next time, brotha!

  • Jesse Meyers - September 3rd, 2013

    First, cool article, Frank!

    Second, to the idiots complaining about this being a waste of time, FRANK GAVE YOU A HEADS UP AT THE BEGINNING SO PISS OFF.

    Third, one point I think I don’t necessarily agree with but could probably use some clarification before deciding is when you talk about style and control:

    “A grabbed foot cannot signify style and control because style and control are not the kinds of things “begotten” by holding a foot.”

    Could the postmodern view say style cannot be signified by a foot grab but that control can? Style seems to be an emergent property of control, with control being the base property that could potentially be measured and quantified in some way.

    Think about any idea that we have of what style is and it’s really just a reflection of the way someone controls their body. I really don’t think I fit into any of the camps. What other choices do I have, hahaha.

  • Frank Stoner - September 3rd, 2013

    Hey Jesse,

    Thanks for that, man! I’m glad you liked the article!

    As for your question, I think it’s a really good one. I thought about that line for a while when I was revising and felt that I hadn’t done a good job explaining what I meant. It felt lazy, and then (I confess) I did the even lazier thing and just left it to sit there like a big dumb brick.

    Anyway, I’m glad you caught it and brought it to the fore.

    What I was saying about holding a foot “not being the kind of thing begotten by style” is that if you imagine style in virtually any other domain, it doesn’t resemble a foot-grab in the slightest. Imagine being a high-schooler and having the ladies think you’re a stylish dude because you hold your feet while you walk! In that sense you can see how something like a foot-grab could never be a universal symbol of style—and that’s what I think a postmodern critique of it would be.

    The other thing is that locating grabs within style leads us straight back to the paradox, which, in this case would be that grabbing the foot assures style, which I don’t necessarily think it does. There’s a Texas forum that’s gotten some discussion about this today, paying particular attention to a Houston dude named William Isaac (GC, SSM, etc,). He pretty much never grabs his one-footed grinds, yet there’s pretty much a consensus that he’s one of the steeziest dudes around. Second to that, I think we can all agree that we’ve seen (for instance) grabbed backslides that looked pretty sloppy. A further point to add to that is some discussions people have been having for a while about what the proper angle one should pull his or her foot to when doing a grab. Some people think the legs should stay parallel, while others think you should bend the knee waaaay out. (That’s probably a topic for another day though!)

    As far as your other point—that grabbing the foot could well be considered as a demonstration of control… well I think you’ve got a really solid point there. (I would reiterate what the article said though, and suggest that only certain (culturally normed or culturally enforced) foot-grabs are acceptable—you “can’t” hold your cuff, for instance, and call it a grab acceptable to people with our cultural beliefs). So it could be a demonstration of control provided that it meets our cultural norms, expectations, and “requirements.” However, grabbing the foot/feet/legs in one way or another does extend across many domains and activities including gymnastics, diving, ballet, skateboarding, skiing, wakeboarding, etc. Now, none of that makes it universal, but cross-domain symbolism is good evidence for the “identity” of a real symbolic phenomenon.

    In fact, I would be really interested to see whether certain sports (like gymnastics in particular) mark foot-holds as a required element—which would mean that they’ve already solved the problem to the satisfaction of their community, which would be saying that foot-grabs are a constitutive aspects of a trick, rather than a mere stylistic flourish duct-taped to the side of the “real trick” (or maneuver).

    Do you have access to anybody who could field a question like that?

    Let me know if you do, or better yet, let us ALL know what you find out.

    And, as always, thanks for the thoughtful comments, Jesse!

  • Alex Rugburn - September 3rd, 2013

    My whole point is, your definitions are simplistic and convoluted, and Picasso being the founder of a prominent abstract movement was a poor choice of representation of the style.

    Secondly, style is defined personally. Aragon or Feinberg? Personally, I prefer the raw creativity and boldness of expression of Aaron to the polished mechanics and “look how good I am” tricks of Brian. My opinion. Aaron makes me want to skate harder stuff. Aragon just doesn’t do it for me, but, it is amazing, just not my cuppa tea.

    Thirdly, have you ever heard of post-postmodernism?

    Personally, those art movements, it’s an insult to compare them to rollerblading. I didn’t find this intellectually stimulating, but insightful in other ways. Thanks for taking the time to respond. I liked your idea, but the execution left me very wanting.

  • Randy Edwards - September 3rd, 2013

    First and foremost, **HIGH FIVE** I really wish we lived closer to each other. The perspective you have on rollerblading has always captured me. I don’t typically speak at great lengths, but I love to listen. Keep it up my friend.

  • Alan Hughes - September 3rd, 2013

    @Alex Rugburn I don’t think Frank is trying to say you can’t define or enjoy blading styles by any other means than this. It is just one way of framing things.

  • Jesse Meyers - September 4th, 2013

    Yeah, the location of the grab brings up an interesting question to my point but one that I think has the capability of being addressed if we have access to the right information. Do you think control is something that can be measured, independent of a style judgement?

    I think I know some people to ask about gymnastics but I don’t know if foot hold will be the right baseline but I think the idea of demonstrating control can be done in different ways in different sports. Let me see what I can find out.

    I’m thinking after your response that according to the definitions you are using, I don’t really fit in any of these categories, haha.

  • Alex Rugburn - September 4th, 2013

    I understand that, however, the examples cited are a very poor representation. For what it was, it was too long. Follow me now, if done correctly, it would have been twice as long. I have no problem reading a lot of words, but I certainly do if it is poorly executed in my opinion.

    Also in my opinion, your understanding of post modern architecture as an amalgamation is a disgustingly degenerate definition of the movement.

    What I’m saying, is this is extremely insulting to a prominent art movement. It simply is not a comparable subject of scale or polish. Come back to this when bladings gone through more then “cargo pants, sweat pants, tight pants, ripped pants, fresh pants”. Lol, seriously. I don’t even know art. I’m insulted that this was presented as intellectual, when it is the furthest thing from in execution.

    Great idea though. But extremely poorly executed. You know, some real artist in real fields of art spend real time researching “years not months”, if you did, let me just advise you that next time you should spend twice as long researching.

    That’s not so much an insult, as an I’m disappointed by what I found and I’m looking forward to you doing better next time. But hey, loved the idea, I’ll start following your writing, just….. That in particular was painful for me to read.

  • Frank Stoner - September 4th, 2013

    To avoid clogging up the comment scroll bar on the right hand side, I’ll answer these last few comments in one big response.

    So here goes:

    1. Alex: I don’t really understand what you mean when you say that my “definitions are simplistic and convoluted.” It’s that you either don’t like what I’ve written, or your disagree with what I’ve written. I can’t really figure out what you mean though, because “simplistic” seems akin to an opposite of “convoluted.” No one said you have to like this stuff or agree with anyone about anything.

    As for Picassso’s “Woman with crossed arms” piece, I’ll defend my choice to use it because it was produced in what we might think of as the “Golden Age” of Modernism. It was also purchased by Gertrude Stein (a GIANT in Modernist Literature) from Picasso himself because Stein regarded the piece as being exemplary of Modernist sensibilities. Further, at its last sale, the “Woman with crossed arms” sold for $55 Million dollars at Christie’s auction house being touted as pinnacle achievement in Modernist painting. I therefore contend that the painted is an excellent exemplar of Modernism in general. If you still disagree with my choice, well, I guess there isn’t anything further I can do about it.

    As for the “Who’s better?” question you raised, I’ll say the following: Second Place offers an academic view that uses the findings and contributions of many different (and sometimes thousands-of-years-old) traditions to transcend what I’ll call “mere personal preference.” I think using the propositional question “who makes me want to go out and shred?” as a guide is problematic here, because that sort of question will only ever lead to a “personal preference” response. Applying different modes of academic inquiry here on SP is precisely what allows me to move the conversation beyond personal preference—which is actually one of Second Place’s stated goals. You aren’t being forced to like it. And if you think I’m doing harm to the rollerblading community, you should start up a blog explaining your views to people so that they can have an alternative.

    Next: Yes, I have heard of post-postmodernism. I chose to deal instead with Metamodernism because I thought it solved my ontological question in a better way and I also thought it would be more accessible to my audience. Again, if you disagree, there is little I can do to assuage you.

    Lastly, I’m sorry that you felt insulted by my work. I hope you believe me when I say that I didn’t spend several dozen hours thinking about this topic, discussing it with rollerbladers and colleagues, and then drafting the text just so that I could insult you. That would indeed be quite an elaborate scheme! Simply put, I write Second Place because I find that it adds a fun, engaging, and thoughtful dimension to the rollerblading world, which I care a great deal about. If you aren’t willing to engage thoughtfully and constructively with my work, I will politely ask you not to engage at all.

    Again, I thank you for time, your willingness to read my work, and to comment it.


    Frank Stoner

    Randy: Thanks for the high five, brotha! Next time you’re in town, let’s be sure to get a coffee and have a chat! The Austin dudes are talking about a beach trip in October, maybe you can make it out to that and we can chat at length then over a couple of beers, yeah?

    Alan: Great to see you here, man! You gotta show me how to view ONE Mag posts on a Kindle. My wife has one and I’d really love to know how to use it!

    Jesse: My colleague at the University of Colorado hit me up this morning to respond to this post and to your comments in particular. He suggested that should I think about what portion of my argument is ontological and what portion is axiological.

    Not being a philosopher, I’m pretty rusty on axiology and I’m not sure whether you’re familiar with it either. As far as I understand it, it’s a field that studies things as a confluence of Ethics (the study of what is “right” and “good”) with Aesthetics (the study of what is “beautiful” and “harmonious”). I hadn’t considered those things directly, but in giving it a little bit of thought this morning, axiology might potentially offer a very different arrangement for the topics at hand here, and it might also help solve some of the mixup we’re seeing between style and control—they might be one thing, or they might be two things, but I tend to think that a discipline like axiology is gonna want to keep them together. I’ll have to look into that, though, and see where I land on the matter.

    My colleague suggested that an axiological approach would prevent the division of style from control—which is rather the opposite of what you and I have been angling towards. I tend to think that style and control might be separable, but I’ll have to let the whole “axiological business” sink in first.

    It would be great if you could speak to someone about how gymnastics construes those things we spoke about before. For instance, if you look at the first maneuver done in this video Milosovici grabs her shins right around 3 seconds in. I wonder whether the gymnastics people consider that “grab” as incidental or as a required element.

    Similarly, in figure skating I’m interested in the maneuvers performed beginning around 1:47 (right after Hughes’ fall) that involve several different “grabs” or “holds.” Here’s the link: My mom is actually friends with a gal who is a national level figure skating judge and I’ll try to contact her and see if she can give me information about whether those grabs are “required elements” or merely “incidental” to the performance of the maneuver.

    Finding answers to those questions seems like an advantage to the ontology VS axiology questions that we’re up against. I’ll post on both matters here as soon as I learn anything worth sharing.

    As always, thanks so much for your thoughtful engagement with my posts, Jesse. I expect there are some people observing this dialogue who really appreciate your point of view—myself among them. So yeah, cheers, bud!

  • Alex Rugburn - September 4th, 2013

    A blue period painting from the most prominent Cubist during a period that was inspired by a the suicide of a colleague, seems to be an exercise in symbolism, and in poor taste to represent the Modernist art movement, while being an excellent example, it’s a choice made in quite poor taste.

    If you wish to not clog up the comment bar, you could always email me and I’ll explain how a duality can exist. Or you could be concise.

    By the way, this isn’t a new or fresh concept(60’s), and I’m upset you made such ridiculous statements in poor taste and research while spending ten minutes attempting to typecast a new art movement (rollerblading) with the old in some hybrid bastardization, to me it is the mark of a hack. The idea was good. You just did a hack job of it. Thank you for responding to your criticism. I’m done here.

  • billy - September 5th, 2013

    The 1620˚ fiasco supports the theory of style as “a power relationship expressed through repressive social processes.” Rollerblading’s rulebook is painfully detailed alright, but it’s constantly in flux.

  • Frank Stoner - September 5th, 2013

    UPDATE: I wrote an email yesterday to a gal I know who is a judge for (USA) national-level figure skating competitions asking her how they, in their community, handle things like foot and skate holds (or what we in our own community would see as “grabs”). She replied back this morning and gave me an answer that may cause some stir.

    In figure skating, holding the foot (or leg, or ice skate) during certain moves is viewed as being a straightforward matter of difficulty. In their view, it’s one thing to skate on one foot with your other foot over your head, but it’s another (perceived as more difficult) thing to perform that maneuver while holding or “grabbing” the raised foot/leg/ice skate.

    This raises an interesting problem. I think a lot of us will be content to locate grabs within the “difficulty” domain, satisfied that, for instance, a grabbed backslide is more difficult than an un-grabbed backslide. However, there’s a corollary to this with some intriguing implications.

    Some of us locate our cultural parentage in skateboarding, and with good reason. We are culturally more alike, temporally more proximal, and, in terms of environment, reliant upon many of the same apparatuses (rails, ramps, ledges, protective equipment, etc.). However, “grabs” in skateboarding are perceived as somewhat of a necessity, and further, they often consider it “more difficult” NOT to grab the board. I’ve often heard, for example, skateboarders swooning over Bob Burnquist’s “No-grab 360s.”

    So, if we are to perceive the grab as adding difficulty in rollerblading, we suddenly locate ourselves much closer to ice skating than some rollerbladers might be comfortable with—even though intuitively (again, perhaps only to some) this would make a great deal of sense.

    As a complication to this topic, I will say that, in skate competitions at least, rollerbladers customarily divide judgment and assessment within the following categories: style, difficulty, creativity, etc. The ASA used to also include (I think) speed and amplitude as categories, and at certain TSS events, we’ve introduced “variety” as a category (with very definite constraints). But, as we all might perhaps agree, competition in rollerblading is not the “end-all, be-all” of our culture. Just because the competitions make a certain division does not mean that the culture at large will accept it. I, for instance, have a hard time believing that everyone is suddenly going to locate grabs within a “difficulty” category and strike it from confines of style. Just because we’ve found a tidy answer doesn’t mean that everyone is going to accept it.

    In exactly the same way, I have very little expectation that rollerbladers are going to suddenly and universally start calling what I described in the SP post above as a “meta-backslide” or something of the sort. People tend to want to heap an awful lot into the style category because it is often vague enough to include virtually anything. But, as we know well from rollerblading history, having a tidy or elegant solution does not necessarily mean that people will suddenly abide to it. As evidence of that, I point to the ongoing debates centered around inspin VS truespin; topside VS farside, half-cab VS “fakie-to-…”, etc. Elegance produces very little, in my opinion, in the way of universal ideological cohesion.

    Finally, I’ll say this: despite the fact that rollerblading seems small sometimes, it’s clear to me that there’s absolutely no shortage of ideological difference in our community, and that, if nothing else appears to be a universal mainstay. Personally, I prefer it that way.

    If you’ve been following this whole thread, I’d like to thank you again for reading it and sticking with it.

    Cheers, yall.

  • Frank Stoner - September 5th, 2013

    Wow–dude. Billy! You gotta elaborate on that! Tell me/us what you’re thinking.

  • Chris - September 5th, 2013

    Now I’m trying to figure out how to do a deconstructivist backslide…

  • Geoff - September 5th, 2013

    Good read Frank, thanks for putting in the time and producing something that strays from the blading media norm. I’m not so much into the debate between what really makes a backslide, other than that it’s a backslide ;), but I did enjoy learning a bit more about ‘the Modernisms’…and on a blade blog. Awesome!

  • Trey Sowers - September 5th, 2013

    It’s funny to think about the pre Brain Fear Gone era of rollerblading. In that time there was no question or argument if you grabbed your foot on a one footed grind. If you didn’t it didn’t count.

  • Ed Inglis - September 6th, 2013

    Massive respect for this Mr Stoner. Hats off dude.

    I’m gonna throw in my two cents because I think I’d like to assert a sub classification and I love all this bollocks. “Counts” along with rules for or against and indeed ideas about how something should be classified can be seen as part of the nihilism of value. The impossible exchange. People who try to impose ideas on things are people who think they own the position from which to make them and from outside this frame work we can probably agree that there is some level of conceit to that point of view. Unfortunately for us there is no implicit meaning or truth to any of this and yet we are creatures that naturally seek it and hence impose rules and definitions in exactly this manner. My position is that, this is very funny because of it’s innately inane position and as such, I think the only healthy response it to laugh at the whole thing. There is no inherent value to the “rules” and there is no reason to say that they shouldn’t be followed. There is no truth to this so I pick an choose the rules I adhere to per session, per trick, per moment and that is something I suspect most of us do. The rules bend and wave in the wind of our own will and as such, don’t exist in the rigid manner the name “rule” suggests. Personally I think Eric Burke is one of the most stylish skaters ever but I can see why others wouldn’t. That being said, perhaps I am in the meta position but if we met I might in fact classify myself as an absurdest skater. The only appropriate position is levity.

    Put simply. I like to think about rolling like I think about dance. There are rules if you want them but really there is no inherent point to dancing or indeed “way” to do it. It is really fucking fun though.

    Once again dude. Thanks for this.

  • Frank Stoner - September 6th, 2013

    Again, to keep the comment scroller from getting too clogged up with my own responses, I’ll just respond to these last few in one go.

    1. Chris: as soon as you figure it out, post a picture!

    2. Geoff: Thanks, man! I’m really glad you liked it and found it engaging. The ideas here weren’t strictly meant to be limited to backslides (in fact, I was purposely avoiding talking about spins—even though that was the basis for the article—or every other kind of situation in which these ideas would apply). I thought treating just the backslide was a good way to keep the piece manageable. Also, I didn’t want to come across like I was trying to square off against some of my best friends. Their perspectives—especially as experts—are perfectly valid. Personally, I think I would align with the Modernist tendencies I described above, but I also tend to keep it pretty quite. I would really hate it if people thought I was trying to bully them into sharing my point of view. It’s none of my business how people choose to define their own worlds, views, and rollerblading tricks. In my opinion, tolerance and kindness really go a long way.

    Thanks again, bud!

    3. Trey: I would be really interested to talk to a historian on these matters. I’d be really interested to see if he or she would construe what’s happened so far in rollerblading as many separate epochs—the way a lot of rollerbladers do—or whether the historian would simply say that all the tumult and change rollerblading has undergone is merely a very complicated Chapter 1. If you know a historian—or even a history major—I’d be really interested to get in touch!

    4. Ed: Thanks so much man! I find it to be the most encouraging aspect of writing SP when I see that people are thoughtfully engaging with the ideas. I’ve tried really hard to never “enforce” my ideas as being construed as “better” or “superior” just because they’re academic. As a rollerblader AND an academic, this is really just how I approach the world. Back when I was in grad school I spent a huge amount of time “translating” my training readings and thoughts into rollerblading scenarios.

    When I first started Second Place, a lot of people approached me saying things like, “Dude! Finally! A linguist! Tell us what’s really right: truespin or inspin or hardspin.” It makes me shudder. If I were to try to enforce my opinions on everybody, it would only be an effort to enforce my power—which is something that I’m not at all interested in doing, and wouldn’t work anyway. Rollerblading is exquisitely chaotic that way. To me, Second Place is simply about ideas and the thoughtful engagement with them in a “rollerbladering” setting.

    A few comments above, Billy posted a link to one of the “Nature of Power in Rollerblading” articles I wrote last season, and I think it’s no coincidence that you and I both point to Erik Burke. Style, it seems, also includes the kind of grace that tries not to bully and bandwagon people into an enforced, mandatory worldview.

    The link Billy posted above will take you straight there if you wanna check it out. (Also, props to Billy for his perspective on that topic as well!)

    Thanks again for your support and for your engagement with these ideas, Ed!

  • yall niggas - September 6th, 2013

    yall niggas take blading way to seriously. soul skaterz brah

  • Frank Stoner - September 6th, 2013

    Greetings my fellow. Some of us think this sort of thing is fun and mentally engaging. If it’s not your cup of tea, no one is asking you to drink it. Thanks anyway though.

  • Geoff - September 6th, 2013


    I realize you were just using one grind as an example, just threw my comment in there to share my view, and cheers to Ed for doing such a fine job of explaining my position, although I’m sure it wasn’t intentional.

  • Frank Stoner - September 6th, 2013

    Hey Geoff,

    I was worried that response may have come across as snarky, and I’m sorry if it did, man. Really. I answered that way because I thought your comment might have stood for a larger body of people who may have construed the piece as only pertaining to backslides.

    As for your point of view that a backslide is a backslide as long as it’s not something else (like a makio, say), I register that 100% as a point well taken. Ours is a very socially constructed world indeed!

    And, in all fairness to Lonnie’s original (and actual) statements on FB, I’m not completely sure just exactly how well all (or any) of this would translate to grabbing spins.

    Thanks for weighing in though, man. I genuinely appreciate it. All of your views and perspectives are always welcome here, bud.

  • Blue - September 6th, 2013

    Totally opened up the can of worms here with subjective views on the whole int. design debate AND art haha. Total flame bait.

  • Frank Stoner - September 7th, 2013

    Hey Blue,

    The issues at hand here are really ontological in their nature. I chose to set the conversation in terms of production rather than theory to help make them appear more tangible.

    It seems that a number of people have taken this post to be some sort of ostensible comparison to art, which is really only a small portion (albeit, perhaps, the most accessible portion) of the larger ideas that make up Modernism, Postmodernism, and Metamodernism.

    I get it that a lot of rollerbladers are going to reject this kind of thinking, but I’m hopeful in a much broader sense that Second Place might help to combat the compulsions toward certainty that have become a mainstay of our culture.

    We’re becoming more and more of a big tent activity these days, and it would be nice if more people could start acknowledging that in the coming years.

    I’m glad that you read and commented on the piece and I hope you found it to be engaging.

    Thanks again for weighing in, Blue. Your honesty is a very welcomed contribution.

  • billy - September 7th, 2013

    My 2c:

    Rollerblading is unstructured, unlike figure skating — which has a very clear rulebook and meticulously well-defined guidelines. There are even required tricks that skaters must perform in a competition. Judging is still a subjective activity, but numerous steps are taken to make it a scientific activity: multiple judges, required elements, video replays, standard deductions on execution, filed choreography plans.
    Style is Rollerblading’s rulebook because there are _no_ formal judging criteria, so the concept has grown to encompass trick selection, execution, costume, “spot selection” — even body type. Absent official instruction or goals, rollerbladers mimic well-known participants to become or remain relevant. In figure skating, one could focus on executing difficult, well-defined moves within a rigid format. So rollerblading style is taught through marketing and enforced by the community and is not written down. That marketing is decreasingly institutional and increasingly distributed as the business disappears, and as a result, those that reject normative style are encountering a greater opportunity to influence it (enter “Mushroom Blading” acceptance).

    Disparate examples:
    -Edwards wears full PD pads with baggy shorts and chucks big, pronounced airs
    -Broskow sports stretch pants and performs quick, highly controlled movements

    In both cases, so do most participants with currency. Neither is isolated: they are points on the same arc, culturing convention alongside many other players.

    An enforcement/perception example: today the social reward is high for doing a controlled, grabbed fakie 540, so you see lots. Conversely, reward is small for a huge, ungrabbed front flip — even if the flip is actually way more athletically challenging and stunt worthy.

  • Frank Stoner - September 7th, 2013

    Five Star post right there, Billy.

    Five. Stars.

  • bob d - September 8th, 2013

    How fucking sweet are backslides, wish i was good at them.
    Practicality and style/beauty are considered by some as things that intersect, what i think is missing from this article is the apparent (though usually illusory) usefulness of grabs. Grabbing a backslide makes it appear that the blader is pulling the foot up away from the rail, and the most convincing way to strike this ‘pose’ is by grabbing the specific part of the foot you mentioned. Ungrabbed backslides put the viewer on edge thinking ‘ooh is his foot gonna fall down on the rail, this is looking precarious’. With airs, the mute grab is another example of a seemingly useful grab, say you’re jumping a fence, it’s bloody cool if you make it look like your upper body is lifting your lower body over with a mute grab. When i was a wee schoolboy, one of my classmates said he saw a rollerblader on TV doing a backflip and did it by pulling his feet over his head with one of his hands (describing a mute backflip), he obviously thought this was cool as fuck from an athletic point of view.
    Just my two pennies worth.
    I’m loving the articles Frank, keep up the good work.

  • Frank Stoner - September 9th, 2013

    Hi Bob D,

    At times, I have to try really hard NOT to assume that everyone who is reading these posts is American. It’s part of the cultural baggage that comes with being raised primarily in the arrogance, self-confidence and self-centered-ness of American culture—perhaps even more so as a white dude—since being (I would assume accidentally) born into a position of cultural privilege routinely has me assuming that what I believe is somehow “normal” or even commonly shared.

    I only say that because a few of your word choices lead me to question those assumptions.

    I bring this up only because of the way I immediately thought of responding to your post, NOT because I’m trying to imply some sort of cultural rift between you and I.

    In any event, I should first say the following:

    You raise a very excellent point about the utility of grabbing at certain times. It was not included in this article and it easily could have been or should have been.

    As a would-be rollerblading “theorist,” I tend to write these Second Place posts by going about my normal routine of reading, writing, thinking, skating and talking to people and, when something seems to “crop up” that I think is particularly interesting or relevant to rollerbladers, I get some ideas together, try to think of how I can quickly and efficiently explain my thinking, and then put a post to the democratic processes that act as gate-keepers in our culture.

    In a way, it’s something of a guess-and-check sort of strategy. As much as I loathe the notion of “truth by consensus” that is common, for instance, in a lot of world religions, I put these posts up for democratic scrutiny because that seems to be the best way to invite discussion and avoid what I think a lot of people will interpret as pretentiousness—especially given the content. It also helps me eschew the idea that I’m somehow trying to “tell people how it REALLY IS.”

    Further, submitting my ideas for democratic review strikes me as rather more like peer review, since I do not intend to suggest that my interpretations of rollerblading language and culture are superior the views held by others with “native speaker intuition” of blade-speak and blade-thought. Your views on backslides are just as relevant as mine. There’s really not a great deal more to it than that.

    So, having said all that, I’ll tell you what went on prior to writing this article.

    For the last little while now, I’ve been having weekly meetings with a colleague of mine in which we assign a “homework” reading for ourselves and get together to discuss it as we would have done in graduate school. It helps me keep abreast of what’s being published of late in the academic journals, and because my colleague and I come from rather different backgrounds, it leads me to encounter things I wouldn’t normally read or study.

    In this case, my colleague suggested “for homework” an article about Metamodernism and whether it can successfully act as a stand-in for “post-postmodernism.” As my friend and I were talking, I saw an opportunity to suggest a “solution” for the grab/no grab debate in rollerblading. I immediately pigeon-holed myself into an ontology-oriented line of thinking, and that led me to never even consider the program of theories that surround and compose “Pragmatism.”

    Your views strike me as being particularly “Pragmatist” in their nature, and, if you’re interesting in reading about what that is, I’d suggest that you first get a sense of it with the wikipeida entry:

    and then look into some of the works on the subject by American philosophers William James and John Dewey—truly two of our greatest American thinkers.

    In short, I saw the grab/no grab problem as an ontological one, and you’ve brought up a very relevant pragmatics issue. To make a long story short, I’m not immediately sure how pragmatism would fit in with the theoretical bases that I used to write this article, and it’s a good enough observation that I should really follow up on it at some time in the future.

    To me, your observation really raises the following question: Is grabbing a backslide (for instance) a demonstration of control, or is it a feature of control?

    If you watch this video and pay close attention to William Isaac’s ungrabbed front torque beginning at about 8:40, I think you’ll see what I mean:

    Do we grab because it helps us acquire control, or do we grab because it shows control?

    What do you think about that?

    Finally, thanks so much for your comments, Bob! And thanks for being part of this process! I’ve taken your thoughts to heart and will certainly have to do something about them when I come back to this topic in the future. Bringing in pragmatism will certainly complicate things in a useful way!

    Thanks again.

  • HotDog - September 13th, 2013

    Insightful article Frank!

    A point I’ve always found fascinating and somewhat perplexing is the idea that the aesthetic of rollerblading has inexplicable appeal, one which we all share. We can all agree we think rollerblading looks good. Within that we become more specific about what we like and it becomes a niche within a niche. A testament to this is rollerblading’s organic growth, as you gave the example of the backslide. The development of this trick, it being documented, people seeing and then replicating. So what I want to know is where does that aesthetic appeal come from? What has proliferated our rollerblading ideals? I believe it comes from the “industry”. What we see in the rollerblading media becomes the norm. As I see It, it’s a “chicken and the egg” situation. Is the industry responding to the will of the consumers or is the industry dictating to the consumers? I’m aware it’s not simply one or the other, but this does play a part in our perception of what is correct and what is not. As you mentioned, there are no rules as such, but there is an unspoken adherence to an aesthetical ideal. So I guess what I want to know, I suppose the question you’re ultimately posing is, what informs our ideals?

  • Frank Stoner - September 30th, 2013

    Hey Hot Dog,

    Apologies for the very late response.

    In my view, much of what informs our sensibilities for aesthetics and ideals is bound to come from a domain much larger than simply rollerblading. Making generalizations about the scale at which that domain would influence your thoughts and opinions about rollerblading may be a bit much as far as predictable accuracy, however, I would say that the mechanism guiding such things would likely have to do with our individual patters (conscious and unconscious) of categorization.

    For instance, if you view rollerblading as belonging to a category you associate with “productive arts” (i.e., painting, writing, music, etc.) then you will likely bring the same aesthetic standards to bear on all members of that group. If you view rollerblading as a sport or competition, then you are likely to bring a slightly (or significantly) different set of standards to bear on blading aesthetics. Off the top of my head, I don’t know how many categories like that I can name, but I suspect there are more than just a couple. The view I discussed in the article above has more to do with ontology and epistemology (as the superordinate category) and that made a good deal of sense to me. That would mean that the mechanism(s) motivating our aesthetics are ideological.

    For my money though, the category that someone uses to “contain” rollerblading will likely be a very good predictor of what aesthetic ideals get brought to bear on the activity.

    Sorry again for the late response, Hot Dog. And thanks for weighing in!

  • bob d - October 3rd, 2013

    Frank, thanks for the reply, I’ll be brief in responding or else I could end up stuck to the keyboard all day and still come up with very little.
    Yes, you’re absolutely spot-on in identifying me as a pragmatist (in the practical sense) blader. I’ve been pragmatic to the point that I believe it’s been detrimental, but I won’t go into too much detail, all I’ll say is: I tried to develop a system to ‘master’ aggressive skating and ultimately… it was bullshit!
    To answer your question do we grab because it helps us acquire control, or do we grab because it shows control? I don’t believe, in most cases, that grabbing helps to acquire control i.e. I don’t believe that a grabbed backslide is more controlled than one not grabbed, most of us could probably backslide longer ungrabbed right? I think the grab actually suggests, deceptively, that the blader has acquired control through grabbing his/her foot, that’s what I meant by illusory usefulness – it’s a trick. So I think a grabbed backslide appears as more controlled, and even though I know (believe) that it’s actually not, this appearance translates into ‘good style’. Having said all that, I’ve seen some beautiful ungrabbed backslides and torques but in order for us to perceive them as stylish it helps if there is some other nuance to suggest control, in the case of the example by William Isaac that you linked to, it was quite an exaggerated gesture but it can be a very subtle tweak, as in this classic Latimer at 1:40 –
    This is just my interpretation and, like you, I’m wary of sounding like I know what I’m on about. I really appreciate that you are bringing interesting concepts into the blading discussion and inspiring us to think in different ways about this hobby/obsession.
    Thanks for the suggestions, I was already aware of William James from reading The Varieties of Religious Experience, I’ll definitely look into more of his work.

  • Frank Stoner - October 3rd, 2013

    First off, Cheers bud!

    Second, You have GOT to be a Brit. Yeah? I lived in Wales for a little while a few years ago and I just can’t keep myself from imagining you as a Brit sitting there in a house with no eaves. Plus, I really like the expression “what I’m on about.” I find it to be one of the more charming idioms of the British dialect(s). I guess my fascination with the phrase comes from a mixture of Monty Python, encounters at my (then) local pub, and all the hilarious encounters my wife and I had with people at Tesco. Anyhoo. Wherever you are, I just hope the weather there is better than it is here in Texas!

    Third, William James is awesome. I’m glad to hear that you’re already familiar with him, but I urge you not to discount John Dewey–he was a bad ass too!

    Lastly, and onto the backslides topic, something just occurred to me that I’m not sure I’ve ever thought about or reached any resolution about. I doubt it will comes as news to anyone though, because I’m sure many other people have already thought this through. Nonetheless, it seems to me that a historical perspective here could be pretty useful.

    If we look at the heyday of the “grabbed backslide,” (I’m thinking mid to late 90s here) most of the other tricks were being performed in a fairly (or extremely) crouched position. Most people did “sit-down” souls, royales, fishbrains… –even the “frontside” got a “sit-down” iteration in the form of the UFO. It seems to me that the grab for a backslide (back then) had a pragmatic function of assuring a somewhat crouched posture, because you really have to hunch yourself over quite a bit to grab your foot.

    Later, say in the Aughts or so, many people had given up on the super “squashed” stances of the 90s and took to a much more upright or erect posture. In that sense, it’s really no wonder that the grabs went away because they weren’t a useful contributor to the popular (upright) style.

    So, it would seem that grabs might merely be a reflection of the stance height (or posture in terms of sit down/stand up) “mandated”–so to speak–by the social or cultural norms at a given point in time.

    I think there’s something convincing about that, but it isn’t a perfect reflection of what people do or what motivates certain styles. In that case, I’m kind of inclined to stick with the ontological construal of the modern, postmodern, and meta-modern described in the article above.

    Whatever the case, it’s clear to me that we can get answers no matter which approach we take. If we pursue and ontological (or even epistemic) track, we’re bound to come up with something like the “modernisms” construal. if we take a pragmatic approach, we’re liable to come up with something having to do with posture or even the semi-objective estimates of how far we think we can grind in a given stance.

    The “rhetoric” of rollerblading, then, would need to look at which systematic approach we decide to pursue and ask why we think those answers are better than a different set of answers. In my view, these things will never be “settled” in a any real sense, but it’s still fun to go through the process!

    I’d be very interested to hear about the system you attempted to use to master rollerblading. I tried one of those many years ago, and hearing that others attempted the same sort of thing might be fodder for a whole new SP post about the topic! Get in touch with me if you’d like to talk more about it!

    Thanks again for reading and commenting, Bob! And if you really are somewhere in GB, I hope you’re staying dry and out of the wind!

  • billy - December 3rd, 2013

    Frank, to prod a corpse-now convinced style *is* substance in rollerblading

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