Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Concrete Wave's Lame ‘Pin-up’ Cover

Is this cover a good one? No.
Each year, Concrete Wave Magazine publishes a fantastic Buyer’s Guide showing off the latest in longboarding equipment and apparel.

You’ll find every major manufacturer and distributor represented in its pages. It can be thought of as an annual snapshot of the sport’s technical and design evolution.

Recently, the magazine posted a preview cover (one of eight) for the upcoming 2012 Buyer’s Guide that has provoked controversy.

The cover depicts a slim female model brandishing a pair of chequered flags, while downhill skaters roll by on either side of her.

Let me explain why this was not a good choice for the cover.

It’s not about the skating
The clearest argument against this cover is to ask, “What’s the focus of the photograph?”

The answer is, it’s not the skating.

The model’s rear end is literally the central focus of this photograph. Just look at it. The composition, her stance, the lines, our inevitable ‘male-gaze’ -- it all points to her ass!

The picture itself is high quality -- the scene is interesting, the model is attractive and the lighting and post-processing must have taken a lot of work and thought to set up. Kudos to the photographer -- I think you successfully accomplished what you were trying to do.

But ultimately, it’s an ass shot -- not a photo of inspired skating. That’s why it’s not a good choice for the cover.

Concrete Wave and sexist skate culture
Is this cover sexist? (And, who cares if it is?)

I’ve read that the intent was to pay homage to the mid-20th-century California drag-race scene, evoking the mood of outlaw competitions and classic pin-up art. While that might be the case, it still doesn’t justify using this photo for the cover.

I feel let down. It’s not like I’m outraged, or disgusted by the cover -- trust me, there’s a lot worse they could choose -- but I’m disappointed. I know that Concrete Wave can do better than this.

Why can’t I simply lighten up and not take this seriously? Why chastise the magazine for indulging in a little harmless wink-wink, faux-retro rebel attitude? (Not to mention, there are 7 other covers being printed)

Well, Concrete Wave is a major influence and voice in the longboarding world. One of the main lessons you learn in skating is, You gotta set an example for the groms. Don’t bait spots. Wear your safety gear. Don’t be an asshole in traffic.

And we expect Concrete Wave to set the right example, to be an enthusiastic, passionate, mature observer of the community -- and the industry. Its cover ought to reflect the values and culture we want to promote in the burgeoning growth of the sport.

Concrete Wave, you don’t need a cover babe to sell your magazine. Let the skating speak for itself.

Or, as one commenter (Doug Parkins) wrote succinctly, “If they needed a hot chick for the cover, why couldn’t she be riding?”

I know many female skateboarders. I can’t speak for them, but I’m pretty sure that each of them has had to deal with the challenge of being a female skater in a male-dominated sport, in their own way.

Women getting together to skate is still, in the current era, sufficiently rare as to be noteworthy (e.g. FUBU Skate Race Weekend, Longboarding Girls Crew, etc.). Representation does matter.

Is it appropriate for Concrete Wave to use a cover that insinuates women are merely adjuncts to the sport, who aren’t there to participate, but merely to look good? Where’s the respect for the skating?

Certain skate manufacturers may find that printing suggestive, testosterone-laced advertising fits with their ‘edgy’ branding and target demographic -- but is that the message and attitude that Concrete Wave itself should be reinforcing? Even if it’s not intentional? Do we want our culture to be open and welcoming, or awkward and intimidating for female skaters?

“We are here to shake things up a little,” wrote the magazine on Facebook.

It’s entirely possible to make an argument for this cover from a cynical perspective. A massive percentage of longboarders are male teenagers -- who in that group is going to object to looking at a shapely female derrière? It wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that this cover turns out to be the most popular of the set. Also -- controversy begets traffic, which eventually turns into more readers. Perhaps Michael Brooke (the publisher*) actively wishes to court a little friction, in order to juice sales and readership.

And he’s welcome to do that. But I’m hoping that’s not the case.

Luckily, there are 7 other
covers to choose from...
I don’t think the pin-up cover fits with Concrete Wave Magazine. It is at odds with the publication’s positive themes of sparking inspiration and fuelling stoke.

There is a decade of past Concrete Wave issues that back up my point of view -- about culture, about content, and about what it takes to sell a skate publication. Mr. Brooke obviously disagrees with that assessment.

What do you think? Is the ‘pin-up’ cover appropriate for the Concrete Wave 2012 Longboarding Buyer’s Guide? Let me know in the comments...

Update - March 7, 2012
Concrete Wave/Mr. Brooke sent me a lengthy response, which I have posted here.

Regarding the publisher of Concrete Wave, Michael Brooke: Few people command greater respect than Mr. Brooke in our skate community. He has tirelessly chronicled, supported, and celebrated longboarding in all its myriad forms through thick and thin. I do not dispute in any way his right to tell critics -- including me -- to stuff it and to publish whatever he wants about longboarding to his audience. He has earned that right, and I thank him profusely for his contributions to the community. It’s the editorial decision I am disappointed with, not Mr. Brooke.

See also (other skate related posts)...
• Letter to Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon: Why Jeopardize the Ashbridges Bay Skate Park?
• Is Skateboarding Illegal in Toronto?
• Speed! Thrills! Women! FUBU Skate Race Recap
• Grappling with another longboarding death
• Aftermath - 2011 Toronto Board Meeting
• The rise of Patrick Switzer, Downhill Skateboarder
• Our first longboarding tragedy