Monday, November 06, 2006

Freestyle Walking

It seems a rather broad band portion of my generation, tucked gently under Generation X, remembers "Freestyle Walking" as a concept. Not as a concept that they engaged in, but rather, one they remember existing.

The only connection I had to the concept was from the show "MTV News Unfiltered" where teens were given the chance to film their own news on little cameras provided by MTV. I only remember the name because of Wikipedia, and I remember the concept of the show only because of "Freestyle walking" (well, remember in the sense of occasionally reminiscing on the show, I think even if there was no freestyle walking episode I might remember the concept).

Seriously, why do so many people remember that program? Of course, its determinant on a number of factors, the biggest being that the person answering watched MTV.

I think there is something deeper going on in this single concept being remember. I think it perhaps speaks to the division of our culture at that time. Skaters as a concept were becoming codified into a very specific group at the time. They shared a jocks hate of nerds, however, they themselves shared the nerds characteristic of social deviancy. There formed a thicker tension in the social groups wherein the hierarchy become more abstracted.

Freestyle walking was so ludicrous, so seemingly sarcastic, and yet seemed so appropriate. If one seriously risked bodily injury and spent similar time and effort into freestyle walking as skateboarding, what really separated the two out? There was clearly something instinctually wrong with the concept, and I can think of only two clear answers.

First, the board itself. The board came to represent the entire social strata that it spawned. This explains much of the tension between skaters, roller bladders, and BMXers. Mind you I am speaking of cultures I am entirely distant to, but this is a blog for friends and I am not going to read up on the latest literature to confirm my facts.

Second, the history of skateboarding made this modification seem truly weird. It pointed out just how abstract our cultural criteria really had become. Going back to the first major change, high schoolers at the time had to suddenly look at a social classification held natural and question whether the only real difference between freestyle walking and skateboarding was a piece of wood.

Clearly there was more of a difference, but that difference all falls into the history of skateboarding culture. The individualism that it had created from other forms of social strata. Skateboarders were feared like hippies by conservatives, and similarly fell out of line from traditional social hierarchy. At the same time, they took on an aggressive posture which assumed illegality, even though what they were doing was less strictly illegal than most deviant groups.

How many of you remember freestyle walking? I am starting to realize how culturally obsessed I am. I buy into every stereotype and I am constantly hunting for deeper meanings in abstracted societies. I do know that I have had conversations with people about freestyle walking more times than one should expect, given that no one actually knows people who really did the "sport," but rather relied on that one irony soaked user created video.

...Is it a bad sign or a good sign that I have way more to write about this but decided I need to draw a line...


Smiranda said...

Nick and I saw a British documentary on it and I remembered thinking it was interesting. Of course I'd never heard of it before that. Either way skate boarding or freestyle walking it's all good exercise.

Anonymous said...

I know not of what you speak. The only thing I know is John Cleese and his silly walk.

Annie said...

Damn it! I was fucking freestyle walking way before the MTV "documentary" on this shit. And I believe I used that term before I had heard it from anyone else. You see, i started running along guard rails and jumping on/off stair railings out of a deep-seated desire to be a skater grrl. but I kept my distace from the board because i was a dancing fool. the fact that I would surely end up with huge bloody gashes and possible sprained/broken /dislocated body parts didn't mesh well with dreams of kickin ass in the Nutcracker. Anyway, now they call it parkour, or I suppose you could consider it a sub-genre of parkour, and it's gotten a hell of a lot more interesting, being separated from the idea that one is mimicking the moves of the boarder. French dudes got crazy sweet moves.