I read two great blog posts this week concerning the “broification” and “gentrification” of outdoor sports. Reading these helped me write about some things I’d been tossing around since last January. First I came across this post on Bedrock and Paradox, a backpacking focused blog I read quite often. Within this post, he introduces us to and discusses “A Quick Word on the “Bro-ification” of Outdoor Adventure Recreation” on Universal Klister, another outdoor blog I’ll surely be reading more of (side note… why are good blogs so damned hard to find?). I recommend reading the post on Universal Klister first and then checking out the one on Bedrock and Paradox.
I was also immediately reminded of this post on backpackinglight.com that I saw over a year ago and is worth checking out as well.
On Universal Klister, he makes note that he hears the word Gentrification being thrown around to describe what is happening within the outdoors industry. Basically he’s talking about how backpacking, mountain biking, fishing, etc were once the domain of the common man and dirtbag, are now being commodified by capitalists in a way that actually keeps new people from getting out and enjoying the outdoors. I don’t think gentrification is an accurate descriptor here, as that is a process of geographical displacement inherently based in racism and classism. The author on Universal Klister goes on to use the term “Bro-ification” which I think is more dialed in. To be clear I dont get the sense that he thinks gentrification is an accurate descriptor either.
I’m not going rehash the definition Bro-ification too much as this would just repeat what’s in the other posts which do a better job. If I’m to boil it down, this is the effect of decreasing new converts to outdoor sports due to the completely inauthentic representations in the advertising industry of what these sports really entail. Kinda like saying that if all we see in outdoor industry advertising are people climbing fucking El Capitan for the 10th time this week, people may be less likely to start rock climbing at the beginner level. In essence, the further the gap between the activity in the advertising and a realistic beginners level, the less likely a beginner is to even start, much less improve their abilities. I actually disagree here, I’m not saying he’s wrong on this part, I’m just not convinced its that important. I think its just a form of advertising that mirrors any other sport.
I’m also echoing Bedrock and Paradox here a bit. I tend to agree with this statement from Bedrock and Paradox:
“I’m far from convinced that the language of advertising in the outdoor industry is the most important factor. Public land access and the structural/societal reasons why outdoor recreation remains a white and affluent world are far more significant, long and short term.” -Bedrock and Paradox, from “Concerning broification”, link above
For me this brought up the thought of less people getting out and enjoying our public lands. This is terrifying on some level, because if people don’t get out there to enjoy our public lands, there will be less support to keep them public and free of corporate and private interests. I have a greater point about this that I’ll get to in a moment.
As the post on Universal Klister continues, the author points out that as our population continues to diversify, people have been getting the message from the advertising industry that outdoor activities are for the white, elite, and rich. I agree with this wholeheartedly. I think this really does have a strong barrier effect.
However, I have little faith that the outdoor advertising biz will do anything more than add in some POC to their photos like they do for anything else. This is because, I suspect, many of the people in power in that industry are white, wealthy, and largely aloof and disconnected from the rest of America. This is also reflected in the greater media industry that is unabashedly in support of the status quo and completely out of touch with the struggles of average Americans. They are capitalists, and thirst only for more money and will never be satisfied. They only seek to diversify their own corporate power structures and who they extract money from. If you think I’m talking about only Republicans here, I’m not. Neoliberal, Centrist Democrats are not much better.
The advertising industry is an industry based entirely on deception. It is about manipulating people into buying things that they dont need or want. It is the propaganda arm of capitalism, a morally bereft system. Unfortunately we are all a part of this system and this is important to remember if we are to change it.
As time progresses, we need more and more support for our public lands to stay public. This can be done by introducing all young people to the outdoors and making it continually accessible and affordable for all people regardless of race, class, or gender (and many other ways I’m sure”. However outreach is key to really getting that established, and I don’t know the best way to do that. Without growing support for the outdoors, we will have a vacuum of support. If the outdoor industry continues to appear to be the domain of only white men, we are in trouble. If we do not include everyone, we literally risk losing public lands.
Why is this support for public lands so important? I’ll tell you why. There is a thriving movement alive in America today that wants to seize public lands and turn them over to corporations under the guise of giving land “to the people”. These militants have now twice tried to forcibly seize public land, armed to the teeth. Even more alarmingly, there is evidence that they are bankrolled by corporate interests and have the support of local and state elected officials, and even some law enforcement. While the anti-government Malheur militants now occupy only the Multnomah County Jail, their support is only growing and emboldened by the successful candidacy of Donald Trump.
The militants have shown that they are quite willing to die for their cause and are not fucking around. They are armed to the teeth. Thus, our support for public lands staying public for all needs to be vocal and strong. Like it or not that includes other people that use public lands like ranchers and hunters who I see endlessly maligned by the smug urban types. We have to come together. To that end, the image of the outdoor white bro, and the “bro-ification” of the outdoors needs to change. We cannot rely on outdoor companies or advertising agencies to do this. Their only goals are to make money. Their gear will sell as long as they can manipulate people into buying it, whether they need it or not. Just look at some of the new “stylish” outdoors companies out there.
We have to find effective ways to outreach and pull people OUT to see the outdoors regardless of race, gender or class in every town and city in America. That takes free public outdoor programs for all kids, reduced fees at national parks and government-run campgrounds, and a concerted effort to connect our public lands to the entire public.
Admittedly, I have no idea how to advocate for that or how to best support programs and people who are already doing this. I don’t know how best to work on bringing all outdoor enthusiasts together to lobby for the preservation of public lands. We do need to figure this out. That’s gonna be difficult if the messengers are elitists or appear to be, themselves.
This outreach and engagement piece is crucial because without growing public support, militants, corporations, and millionaires/billionaires will feel further emboldened to steal our own public lands from us. Their hunger will stop at nothing and will never be satiated. We’ll have to work together, all of us to stop them.