When keeping it real goes wrong
Skate magazines these days catch a lot of flack from world-weary oldsters on the internet who view modern interviews in the long shadow of the mid-90s rags, in which certain pro skaters vowed to, for instance, infect every other pro skater they could with the HIV virus. Or simply murder one another. What can I say, it was a different time.
What’s funny, in a not-so-funny way, is that as social standards continue their gentle downward slide, interviews in skateboard magazines have generally gotten less interesting*. Now, there are any number of explanations for this. For one thing, there’s more skateboarders in general, and thanks to the law of averages and the forum provided by the likes of ESPN and the Dew, skateboarding has attracted a greater number of less-interesting individuals than it used to.
Then there’s the general corporatization of the skateboard industry, another slow process, since a lot of reputable corporations are way too uptight when it comes to the type of lackadaisical shipping schedules and haphazard bookkeeping practices that fly at skateboard outfits (shoutout to Ipath). Magazines were one of the first juicy morsels of the industry gobbled up by corporate concerns, since the magazine business is a known commodity. Cue ads for the Army and Ford Trucks, font size limits for the word “fuck,” and the sudden appearance of kiddie graphics over top of previously entertaining nudity (from Larry Flynt, of all people).
So yeah, the Time Warners of the world definitely bear some blame for the watering-down of skate magazine content. But what’s becoming more and more clear is that skateboard magazines themselves seem to be doing their damndest to sanitize their own shit.
About a year ago there was that industry-wide panties-bunching over blank boards. You may remember how they destroyed skateboarding forevermore and took food from the mouth of Andrew Reynolds’ baby. Anyway, the IASC printed up a little pamphlet for the winter ASR that featured a load of prominent pros going off on blank decks and espousing the virtues of branded hardgoods concerns, real warm and fuzzy stuff. Part of the deal was that said pros posed for a big group photo in some LA ditch… and around the same time, TWS ran the same photos under the guise of “a bunch of pros getting together for no reason except just to skate, man.” Slap messageboard maven Neal Boyd broke it down nicely here. Kind of slimy altogether.
There’s loads of other political stuff that goes on, photoshopping of shoes and clothing logos of course, and during his recent debate with Jamie Thomas, Clyde Singleton alleged that the Zero chief is notified whenever his name or likeness appears in any magazine, and presumably he gets the final sign-off on it. Which may or may not be true.
Anyway, all of this of course is a longwinded buildup to me calling Arto Saari a total pussy.
Apparently about four months ago Arto spoke with Big Brother/Vice alum Chris Nieratko (who knows from journalism, at least to some degree) for what was, by all accounts, a pretty straightforward interview: what have you been up to, what’s up with injuries, what went on with the big sponsor changes, and the now apparently obligatory questions about his mobile sauna, which I find a total snoozer. But after hanging up the phone, Arto apparently came down with the old 120-day itch and called up the boys at TSM, ordering them to pull the interview… which apparently they did.
Let’s all take a moment now to revel in the sad irony of TSM, a magazine supposedly started by the TWS staffers fed up with corporate bullshit, cowtowing to the corporate concerns of Arto, a fully owned subsidiary of Burton snowboards.
Now, I like Arto. He’s a bona fide legend, though I’m fairly certain the best of his skating is behind him at this point. I like DNA, though I’ve aired concerns that they’re losing their identity with this whole Burton takeover. I don’t even hate Burton. I mean fuck, they’re not K2 or Salomon.
But how this doesn’t make all parties involved look like boardroom image-management assholes totally escapes me. Contrary to what a lot of people have said, I don’t have a real hard time seeing why Burton suits would want this axed: Arto said in no uncertain terms how difficult it was to leave Flip, sort of agreed when Nieratko made fund of Burton and Gravis, and tugged back the curtain on how dead serious Burton is about their riders’ contractual obligations. With all the work the company does to promote Jake Burton as this “jus’ folks” granola-munching dude who’d rather be hiking the backcountry than sit on a conference call, it’s not a good look. And Arto of all people should have known better.
The problem of course is Nieratko. He dipped out of the skate magazine scene when Big Brother was still drawing breath and just recently checked back in, which shows in the way he interviews people and is probably one of the reasons why he’s still one of the best dudes doing this kind of thing. He calls bullshit on stuff—i.e. the sad state of Gravis’s past footwear designs—and probably used his silver-tongued powers to lull Arto into forgetting his Burton loyalty oaths.
The mistake Nieratko made was assuming that his editors at TSM would have his back on the whole deal. With Gravis just rolling out and Alien gearing up for a video release, Burton probably has got a good amount invested in TSM real estate, and at a time when belts are tightening at magazines in general and skate magazines in particular, I’m sure the threat to pull that dough probably was heard loud and clear. You have to wonder though, if magazines keep pulling this type of shit and running interviews bland as a late-period 411 (RIP), who’s even going to read them anymore.
*There are exceptions. Tony Tave’s interview in Thrasher last year, when he was fucked up on salvia, was pretty entertaining, for instance.