Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Rodney Mullen Demonstrates how Skateboarders Construct Reality

“Every time you’ve chased something down, its funny, no matter how good you are... it feels like you are polishing a turd, the only way to extend this is to change something infrastructural. And so, that’s what I proceeded to do, through a long story, one of desperation.”

Rodney Mullen, a professional athlete since 1980, has been placed on the pedestal of skateboarding history as the most influential innovator of modern street skateboarding for the past two decades. TEDtalks, a conference that collects intellectuals from around the world to rub shoulders with patrons dishing out nearly $6,000 to be in the presence of greatness, finally gave the self-described former outsider his chance to shine, expressing the nostalgia skateboarding creates passionately. His speech turned into one of the more charismatic ones I have seen on the TEDtalks youtube channel. Almost unable to contain his own laughter and excitement as he described the video clips of himself he was showing: "Ah man, that’s like the funnest thing to do.” Probably not what a professor says after lecturing to (Read - *off powerpoint presentation*) five-hundred freshman in Accounting I. Mullen’s appearance begins with a short video roll of his accomplishments to introduce the crowd we can speculate consisted of philosophers, quantum theorists, renowned artists and other professionals at the top of their respective fields, to an activity I’m positive they have never studied other than bringing their children to their first emergency room visit.

Mullen’s presentation continued after an introductory history lesson, where he illustrated how he pioneered street skateboarding by inventing variations of previous tricks at an alarming rate of expertise. He showed how the evolution of tricks is the content of skateboarding. Ending this portion with wit that garnished a few laughs now that the audience had warmed up to his personable character: “Okay, now that you know everything, let’s move on.”

In next segment, Mullen explains how context shapes skateboarding content, and is can transcend the scriptures into how reality is formulated universally.“This is what you do,” Mullen begins an analogy: “You cruise around the same streets a hundred times, but suddenly because you have something in a fixed domain of this target of what will match this trick, how can I expand, how can the context, how can the environment, change the very nature of what I do.” In layman’s terms, Mullen proves skateboarding constructs an alternate reality of architecture that non-skateboarders can only surmise.

The perception of the world around us is constructed for skateboarders by what they perceive as possibilities of producing content by riding a set of wheels and transcending the previous depth of knowledge by the community. Mullen explains further:

“The beauty of skateboarding is that no one guy is the best...what makes them great is the degree to which they use their skateboarding to individuate themselves...Skaters tend to be outsiders that seek a sense of belonging, but belonging on their own terms. Real respect is given by how much we take from making what we see by making it our own, then we contribute back to the community that edifies the community itself...The greater the contribution, the more we express our individuality.”

The construction and perception of skateboarding reality changes so fast, a simulation of another skateboarder becomes impossible. Each skateboarder is constructing reality of their passion based upon their context, or urban environment where they can produce content, or a skateboarding ‘trick.’ As Mullen had stated, this product, or content is then returned to the community as a whole. “There is no one guy” that is the best because skateboarding as a subcultural phenomenon is the strive the create a recognizable “silhouette,” or style, based on “three, or four, or five” particular movements to produce content. Skateboarders “connect disparate information and they bring it together in a way that [others don’t] expect...It is the heart of engineering, the heart of a creative community, an innovative community, and the open source community, basically a ethos of it, take what other people do, make it better and give it back, so we all rise further.”

Mullen clarifies on how skateboarders unknowingly embrace theories related to post-modernity such as adaptation and approbation: ”the summation of that gives us something we could never achieve as an individual, there’s some sort of beautiful symmetry, the degree to which we connect to the community, is in proportion to our individuality, by which we are expressing by what we do.” 

Skateboarders are individual entities creating content based on their context within a community with the ultimate goal of contributing to the community as a whole. Skateboarders are partially living examples of cultural postmodernism who reject the “sovereign autonomous individual with an emphasis on archaic collective, anonymous experience” (Prof. Derosa, Simulation and Simulacra powerpoint). But at the same time we do not see the dissolution of distinctions, the merging of subject and object, self and other. It is uniquely follows theories of empiricism and rationalism at the same time. To succeed in producing content, a skateboarder has to remove “intuition” for a moment and rely on powers of empiricism (relying on senses) until the moment when a flash of cognition explodes into reality and rationalism is employed.

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