Entertainment Weekly music critic Browne (Dream Brother, 2001) takes an informative look at the uneasy interface of alternative sports and corporate America.
Sports like skateboarding, snowboarding, BMX, and freestyle motorcross have defined an ethos that continues to be a refreshing change from traditional team games. They prize individualism and idiosyncrasy, lunacy and skill, rebelliousness and the pushing of limits. Tapping into the four sports named above, Browne grasps a sense of this irascible, unconventional subculture and how it contends with issues of integrity and identity, especially now that it is being commercialized from both within and without. It’s not lost on the business world that young Americans have “$250 billion in their collective backpacks to spend each year on cereal, fast food, snacks, and toiletries,” and since many of them identify with alternative sports, commercial tie-ins seem natural—to the suits, anyway. But making a buck was antithetical to the pioneering vision of these sports; street cred was what mattered, not the size of your checkbook. While it’s hard not to appreciate the fact that a good number of these athletes can now make a living at what they love to do, notes Browne, it comes at the cost: the hard life of traveling to contests, the jealous backstabbing of fellow riders, the striving for sponsorship . . . that is: getting a job. Still, as Browne does a bit of hard traveling along with the athletes, they are getting their kicks (and smashed bones) while trying to keep their newfound public notoriety in perspective. As one member of Tony Hawk’s entourage says, “We were just a bunch of retards on a skatepark tour.” Very talented retards, though, even when doing stunts that put their sanity in question.
No longer outlaws, perhaps, but the author shows enough of these riders remaining wary of selling out to keep their misfit status intact.