Saturday, July 25, 2009

Just Don't

I tried. I really did. But I just couldn't make it past the first few minutes of Nike SB's latest video, Debacle, even if it was free.

The skating is not the problem. Paul Rodriguez and the rest do a competent job with the skateboard action. The problems start when the skating stops. The set ups for the gags are obvious, and they are poorly executed. The opening gimmick with the car is badly telegraphed, and the second angle destroys any remaining illusion of spontaneity. I've never made it past the confrontation scene. You can see the setup coming from up the block, and the execution is so forced and hammy that it is unwatchable.

Perhaps more perplexing than the general crappiness of the non-skating content, is why it's there at all. It wasn't that long ago Nike was pushing this message:

So what is it? Skaters are just like every other athlete? Or they're a bunch of confrontational, destructive punks? Or, maybe Nike really doesn't know.

The problem is that as much as skating is a sport, it's a subculture, and Nike doesn't get that. When they look at skaters, they see a market, and a potential market share. What they don't see is a community--a community they're not part of, and can't just buy their way into.

Skating has been around for long enough that it's gone though several cycles of boom and bust. After the credits rolled on Dogtown and Z-Boys, skating sort of died off. Then, it reinvented itself before dying off again. After another reinvention, here we are, and skating is more popular than ever before.

In addition to Steve Rocco, guys like Element's Johnny Schillereff were building skating at a grassroots level, and built their brands around visionaries like Stevie Williams, Ray Barbee and Bam Margera. Element's new video, Make It Count doesn't suffer the same problem that plagues Nike SB's Debacle.

While Debacle awkwardly fumbles for some sort of narrative to make it seem relevant, Element's Make It Count simply has to tell the company's story. Element's founder was thrown out of his house at 17 because of his skating. Schillereff was virtually homeless until he finished high school before going on to found the company in 1992. When that's your story, you don't have to make silly shit up. Nike finds itself in the unenviable situation of fighting for a position in a market it's competitors created. That's a hard sale to make.

Oddly, Nike has been in this position before. Way back in the late 1990's when Lance Armstrong started winning Tours and topping the bestseller lists, Nike decided to get into cycling in a big way. Like skateboarding, cycling's popularity has been cyclical. Like the skateboard, the bike is more often viewed as a toy than a sporting good. Still, like skaters, cyclists maintained a fairly consistent core community, and over time something of an outsider culture has formed around the sport. When Nike entered the market it had (by comparison) a huge marketing budget, and the biggest star of the sport for a spokesman. Sure, there were many well-established brands with a history of involvement in the cycling community, respect for the tradition and a knowledge of the sport you can't just suddenly acquire, but marketing can make up for all that, right? Maybe, but after less than a decade, Nike quietly dropped out of the cycling business in 2007. Let's hope history repeats itself.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Are you better off now? Part 2

It was 30 years ago, today. Jimmy Carter's Crisis of Confidence speech. More commonly known at The Malaise Speech (though the word malaise was never used), Dick Polman rightly cites it as the beginning of the end for Carter. Sadly, that says as much about America as it did about Carter. Read that speech today, and see how little has changed, how it still has the ring of truth. Thirty years later, it still is relevant. Somehow, I think we're still not ready to listen.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Are you better off now?

After twenty years, more relevant than ever.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Thursday, July 02, 2009

"Innocent critters squashed on the highway of life."

The road trip is a time-honored motif in cinema. Perhaps it's because it's just a bit too easy....a bit too literal. When the story is about lives in transition, put the characters in motion. Have them in between here and there. When you think about it it's probably a bit of lazy storytelling. A bit too on the nose. Still, it's hard to deny that it works. Some of my favorite movies are road movies, from Fandango to Oh Brother, Where Art Thou to Crossroads--good, great or trite, I enjoy the theme.

So, when I hear that Plaid Nation is heading out on a road trip with another tour, I can't help but wonder why. After all, if you're all about social media, and trying to show what a great tool it is, why not use social media? Using a van, hundreds of gallons of gas and hours of actual face time seems to run counter to the message. I don't get it. But, then again, in the context of the movies, maybe I do. The road trip is never about the trip, but the transformation. Social media is in a nascent form. facebook and twitter are what's hot now, but I suspect in five years we will speak of them only in the past tense. People who grasp the potential of social media understand we've just hit the road, and there's a long trip ahead. Right now, it's all transition. Why not get out there, meet the people who are along for the ride, and see what you can discover together?

Even lacking some great, transformative moment....hey, it gets you the fuck out of Danbury, and that's always a good thing. Right? Okay, looking at the schedule, maybe not. I've had a beer or three in most of those cities, and wouldn't choose to revisit many of them. One date really sticks out: Branson Missouri. Branson is like Vegas, but less classy. Dear God, why? Even the guys who planned the trip don't know. "Who's in Branson that we could profile??" The only reason to ever do anything in Branson begins and ends with Roy Clark. If you're of a certain age, or are Nelson Muntz, Andy Williams puts on an enjoyable show. Other than those two, the best you can hope for in Branson is, "That wasn't as horrible as I expected." If Plaid really wants to do some good while they're in town, the should pay a visit to Shoji Tabuchi. If they can suffer through all the kitsch and dreck, they'll be treated to some truly enjoyable moments of fine musicianship. It's almost worth it. While there, maybe they can do something about Tabuchi's web site, which seems frozen in some bad design from 1997. Oh, and be sure to check out the restrooms at the Shoji Tabuchi Theater. Don't forget to vote.