Concerning broification

Broification: a trend in outdoor adventure sports/activities, which results in an increase in the perceived average level of mastery within a given pursuit, thus dissuading novices from pursuing any nascent interest.

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If you don’t already read Hansi Johnson’s Universal Klister I’d suggest you start, as it’s one of the most authentic outdoor blogs around.  Mr. Johnson does a bunch of stuff outside, from skiing to biking to fishing to hunting, and is deeply involved in trail and recreation advocacy and local politics (in Duluth, MN and the upper midwest).  He has a longitudinal, multifaceted perspective on the industry, and a habit of telling things as they are, which makes him an ideal candidate for inventing and disseminating the term broification, which I attempted to define above.

Johnson views and pursues broification from the perspective of an access advocate, and I would assume, as a dad.  He sees the artificial inflation of things like skiing and biking as a wedge which will separate current practitioners from future ones, and make city and town governments less likely to see outdoor pursuits as future assets.  When the predominant vision of mountain biking involves 1% terrain* and a riding style which exacerbates erosion it understandably ceases to be an example, both for many new riders and for towns who might be looking to build trails as part of a development strategy.  That >2000 dollar mountain bikes have become commonplace, and that quality <1000 dollar bikes less common, only underlines this problem.

That problem being, a significant part of the appeal here, from fishing across to overlanding, skiing, and backpacking, is being a member of an exclusive group.  Not exclusive because others are excluded intentionally or because of socioeconomic factors, but because membership is gained via skill.  That skill is had from time invested in learning the activity, and with that skill comes an enlightened perspective on the world.  You’ll hear it everywhere in the outdoor realm; ____ (cyclists, hikers, etc) are better people.  More trustworthy.  Easy to get along with.  Kinder.  The  depth of friendship with a new acquaintance is often pushed years forward if said acquaintance is made on a backpacking trip or 100 mile ride or powder day.

Johnson’s original post got a big boost last week when it was picked up by Adventure Journal.  There’s a not inconsiderable amount of irony here, as A-J would make about any top-ten list of broifying publications.  Johnson’s post led with a photo of snow-caked blue jeans, A-J a group of mountaineers way the hell up on a snowy peak.  Two decades ago living the dream entailed an old pickup and 50 dollars from the lumber yard.  Today it’s a Sprinter and “custom” mods, starting at 50,000 dollars.  The perception that things of this nature are essential, important, or even the end goal of outdoor activities is probably good for selling stuff to the initiated, but I agree with Johnson that a secondary effect is putting off a certain percentage of newbies.  Why this is a problem is another subject entirely, but I do think it is a problem.

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I’m far from convinced that the language of advertising in the outdoor industry is the most important factor.  Public land access and the structural/societal reasons why outdoor recreation remains a white and affluent world are far more significant, long and short term.  That said, broification is real.  It is real because it is a problem, and it is a problem because people lie.  They lie in advertising, and they lie on social media.  They, meaning me, lie right here though I try to not do it too often.  Outdoor sports are awesome precisely because of their accessibility.  Anyone reading this, baring significant disability or medical issue, could with a few years of hard work climb iconic, cool stuff.  Probably not 5.14, but definitely hard 5.11.  Anyone with the inclination to learn and the motivation to get out and progress could within 4-5 years do a trip like this one, as pictured above.  Anyone with a decent bike and a year or two of hard riding can go out and ride the Whole Enchilada, walking only a handful of places.

Publications and companies who artificially inflate reality may ultimately be shooting themselves in the foot, both by reducing their potential market, and by radness fatigue.  Authenticity is in the social media age a precious commodity, and broification is if anything inauthentic.

*Both in terms of skill to ride and more significantly the distribution of said terrain across the planet.

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8 thoughts on “Concerning broification

  1. Bro-ification; new term for me!

    It might be a deterrent to attract newcomers, if I read correctly, although my experiences are different:

    I grew up in a place isolated from mountain sports (Copenhagen), yet I devoured the extreme journals of the time: Mountain Magazine, Ascent, Vertical. Messner, Edlinger, Haston, those were my heroes. While my pursuits were mundane I had no interest in mundane influences.

    The French magazine Vertical was, even in the eighties, bro-ificated to a level unattainable by even the raddest domestic publication of today. So ahead of it’s time in sheer elitism, off course compounded by the unintelligible language, that we were irresistibly drawn in. The inspiration those black hole pages had on us I have not felt since. We backpacked in Swedish bogs because we had seen the pics of Gabarrou solo the Shroud.

    Do we want the outdoor media to become bland, diluted and boring? Will that be the trick to grass root conservation and a diverse, mature user group? God, I hope not.

    This is my first reply here, so it might be a fitting opportunity to also commend you on creating possibly the most interesting blog of the outdoors. Subtle, yet sublime bro-ification is what gives you readers. And I know you have a lot!

    1. Thanks for reading Jan, and the kind words. Perhaps we’ll see each other in Moab sometime soonish.

      I think there is a (rather subtle) distinction to be made between broification and outright elitism, and again between elitism and simple elite performance. I certainly don’t want outdoor media to become boring, and authentic representations of more mundane sorts of trips asks for more from the writer/photographer/etc. But it can be done, and done well, and has been done well very often. So no excuses. I also think it’s just fine to hold up exceptional performances as an ideal. Outdoor sports are fantastically democratic in that the barriers between any person and elite performance are more accessible than almost anywhere else. Too many people think too many things stand between them and such achievements, which is too bad.

      My quarrel is with inauthentic or manipulative representations.

  2. I read the original blog post, as well as yours, and I think that the term ‘broification’ is an inaccurate and possibly sexist term. In the least, I think it is misleading. ‘Bro culture’ is a fairly new concept and definition that is linked to harmful machismo attitudes often promoted in young men. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bro_(subculture)

    To use the term ‘broification’ to me, means you are taking bro culture and somehow connecting it to this elite marketing for outdoor activities. It implies that men are rich, violent, and elite, and outdoorsy. I think a better term would be ‘yuppification’ or just plain old elitism. No need to attach it to the male gender. Women in sport also experience this elitism in marketing; most women in outdoor ads are beautiful, with perfect hair and makeup, on top of some mountain, with no sign of sweat or dirt on them.

    1. On the one hand I agree with you, the elitism is certainly universal and takes different permutations for different genders. At the same time gendering the concept as “male” seems accurate insofar as many/most of the implicit norms here are decidedly masculine (in a stereotypical sense).

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