I’ve never looked the part. Most people never do. We’re TBH (trained by hollywood) that people who do certain things should look a certain way. After all, that’s how they look in the movies. But it’s a big lie.
My high school soccer coach was adamant about people not using their appearance to stand out. He told us that everyone on the team was to wear the same uniform, with no alterations, so that we all looked the same. He went on to say that if you want to make a name for yourself, to stand out, you’ll do it with your actions, not your appearance.
That lesson has stuck with me over the years. As people try to draw more attention to themselves than ever before by being outrageous or in your face, there are still a few who let their actions do the talking. This goes against the popular culture that says to in order to be yourself, you need to embrace a certain look, and the look is what matters. As usual in matters of popular culture, I’m forced to throw down the BS card. But then again, I’m not trying to persuade you to buy something.
The reason it’s so popular is because it’s a commodity and can be bought. It doesn’t take any work. To become the real thing takes time, effort and commitment, none of which can be bought or sold.
Back in my hockey days, there were often players who had all the latest gear and looked the part perfectly. But when they got on the ice, they didn’t measure up. These days, with bushcraft and primitive skills, any gathering of interested people can quickly turn into a discussion on who has the best gear. Or if you go to a rendezvous and someone is wearing all buckskin, people begin to oooh and aaahh over them. Once again, though, it has little bearing on their skills or abilities.
In 1988 a good friend of mine played on the US olympic hockey team. When he returned home, we were playing pick-up hockey and I noticed that his gear looked different. All of the logos had been removed or blotted out. When I asked him about it, he said that the olympic rules stated that they could only show so many advertising logos, and the rest had to be removed or covered over. Since that day, I’ve been removing logos and unwanted advertising from my clothing and equipment. I don’t want to be a walking billboard, no matter how cool advertisers make it seem to be part of the group.
So as our culture goes ever deeper into celebrity worship and valuing superficial aspects of a person’s appearance, and with people try to look the part harder than ever, I’ll continue to hold true to the values that were instilled in me as a young man. It’s not how you look, it’s what you do.
As the director at Jack Mountain, I want everyone considering our programs to know that we’re not selling the look. We’re offering an opportunity to become the real thing.
As a father, this is an attitude I’m working to instill in my son, and in a few years, my daughter. It’s difficult to go against popular culture, but parenting has never been easy. Wish me luck.
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Thanks for the reality check :) Your words are much appreciated.
Nice post Tim. I’ll state up front that I am a marketer, and the most basic tennet of Marketing is the 4 Ps – Product, Price, Promotion, Place. In terms of sport or activities, or in fact just living life, these can be transferred over to a personal level. The first P, Product, is what you are taking about here. Being the real deal. Working at being good at what you do. But Product also includes how you package yourself, how you present yourself to your peers or television viewers etc. Price is more of a commodity point, but if you were to try to make a living from a sport or activity, then you would place a value on what it is you do. That value may be measured in a government grant, or a scholarship, or an endorsement etc. In terms of promotion, this is how you promote yourself to increase your personal value (see Price). And lastly Place is all about distribution, ie are you as a product in the right place for your value to be recognised.
In terms of the Olympics, or any other major sporting event (ie Soccer World Cup), the limitation of advertising is not there for the purity of the activity, but rather to give commercial control to the governing entities so they can maximise their return on their overall product.
In general however, the commercialisation of sport and outdoor activities does inevitably lead to developments in those areas through increased capitalisation. As a kayaker, I reap the benefits of decades of commercially driven research and design innovation with my superb boat and equipment. I still need to learn the skills of course, but limited access to equipment would have been a barrier to entry in the first place.
Whilst I understand your sentiments about personal growth without having to adhere to popular culture, I think it important to acknowledge that it does has an important place in our pursuits.
Cheers – FP
Thanks for the comments. Great points, Sean. I’m not anti-marketing by any means, but I’m all for authenticity and I don’t think looking the part is authentic. There’s a difference between seeking out the best equipment for a specific endeavor and feeling you have to have the right clothing or a certain look in order to participate. In the outdoor subculture looking the part has become a barrier to entry. There’s nothing wrong with technical clothing, but when people feel like they can’t engage in an activity without it the point has been missed.
I’ve made my living from teaching bushcraft and guiding since 1999, so I do put a price on my time outdoors. But I’ve seen gear become a distraction for people, taking away from the experience, not adding to it. Ultimately I think that gear should help enhance the experience, not get in the way.
I value your comments, thanks for writing.