The codification of skillz

While trying out Netflix on the new Apple TV widget, I recently watched Dogtown and Z-Boys. It’s a well made documentary about the rise of the modern skateboarding movement in Southern California. By the early 1970s, skateboarding had already come and gone as a thoroughly domesticated Leave-It-To-Beaveresque fad. The Z-Boys were surfers from a disreputable LA beach (Dogtown) who took up skateboarding when the waves were bad. We learn how they transformed skateboarding by completely disregarding the rules. They don’t give a shit, and without trying, they become counterculture heroes for a generation of young skateboarders. This rising generation quickly codifies the sport into new rules and orthodoxies. Turbo Rad Angry EXTREME orthodoxies!!!

It’s an old story, but well told. Icons are smashed, and heretics become saints. Still, I’d have to guess that part of the glowing treatment of the Z-Boys must be due to the fact that the filmmaker, Stacy Peralta, was one of them.

This movie was on my mind when I saw the latest jaw-dropping bicycle video by virtuoso rider Danny MacAskill. He’s an outsider setting a new standard for what can be done. No pop culture analysis can take away from the fact that what he does is just incredible. Imagine being able to do this:

Now compare that with this video. Again, the riding is incredible. It’s amazing how quickly this kind of cycling has been domesticated and codified into, in this case, the Junioren Europa-Meisterschaft Hallenradsport (more here). The polite crowd in the quiet gymnasium. The competitors in matching tights bearing National Emblems. I was so happy they weren’t playing raging fist-pumping rock music that I wanted to hug them by the end.

I think these iconoclast-orthodoxy cycles are getting shorter and shorter.

One thought on “The codification of skillz”

  1. Heck, I can remember this happening with web design. Back when Geocities, Tripod, and Angelfire roamed the earth you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a webpage where all the text was blue on a black background, centered, and flanked by twin rotating pentagram gifs. (

    Not that codifying is necessarily a negative thing, but it does always leave a bad taste in my mouth when it comes to the DIY types of endeavors. Like when punk rock became a distinct genre rather than a kind of musical rebellion that anyone could participate in, regardless of talent.

    Funny enough, one of my friends is doing a paper about the emergence of print culture, which itself included a lot of new orthodoxies, including the idea of gatekeepers for information and language.

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