Mixed Feelings About Adidas Skateboarding

I'm subscribed to enough skateboarding YouTubers that YouTube likes to recommend me whatever skateboarding videos are popular right now. I've been trying to shift my focus away from the recommended feeds and back to my subscriptions and manually curated content. However sometimes I just can't help myself. So today I ran into this adidas video:

The Splits /// adidas Skateboarding Japan
(see note on embeds below)

First, for the video itself, the style and visual choices are excellent. Patrik Wallner has created something really special here. The minimal narratives that are mixed in add a layer of depth that give the video a punch not normally seen in these kinds of pieces. We get to see the skaters waking up, setting up tricks. There’s an extra focus on framing and shots of background are interspersed in a way that reminds me of something from Kyoto Animation.

The video also adds subtle and not so subtle special effects, color correction, and other filters that give the video a more cohesive feel than I usually see. The adidas clothes and boards bring a uniform sense of style and color palette that influences the rest of the choices in the video.

Transitions from day to night scenes have been picked deliberately and placed carefully rather than randomly distributed because of how the skater’s tricks turned out. And the music choice sets a specific pace and flow to the video that the action follows perfectly

Needless to say, I love this video. I plan to check out more of Patrik’s work soon.

At the same time, the surrounding context of the video drives me to deeper thoughts.

Whenever I run into Japanese skateboarding I can’t help but wonder how the scene can survive there at all. My understanding is that Japanese society expects a level of conformity that skateboarding runs counter to in every way.

Being a skateboarder in Japan must be very difficult. I know that it can be difficult anywhere, with the physical and legal risks involved, but Japan has another layer of norms on top. I just started watching Oreimo, and the title character’s struggles with her secret hobby make this feeling even more prominent for me.

I personally had only a brief time where I actually tried to skate. I’ve never been very good at learning on my own and certain portions of the mechanics escaped me at that age. I’m also pretty conformist and risk averse. So eventually I stopped trying, my board was stuck in the garage. Relegated to be used to slide under cars for the rest of its life. Because of that experience, the people who stick with it truly impress me. I think pushing through the extra barriers in Japan is even more impressive.

The one thing that worries me about this video is its commercial aspect. This video is sponsored by adidas and released on adidas’s channel. All of the skaters are wearing adidas clothes and skating on adidas boards. The adidas logo is featured prominantly at the end.

Skateboarding is supposed to be this punk subculture. It’s indie and non-conformist, but it has been co-opted by adidas to sell shoes.

I talked to my roommate about this and she said “Yeah but that’s everything”. And indeed, skateboarding being subsumed by corporate interests is not news. We have X-Games and Redbull and multiple mall chains dedicated to making a buck off of skateboarders and skate fans. Many many other things have been consumed by the megacorps in the same way. This is capitalism at its finest. Even the people who are trying to deliberately escape the confines of the system end up participating in it anyway.

I read a sci-fi piece a while back where the government was secretly funding the resistance movement as a means of keeping its economy intact. If the resistance kept blowing up buildings, then there was more work for the police, fire, and construction crews. People were afraid enough to keep the authoritarian ruling party in power. Obviously this is not that, but I’m often concerned that our attempts to stretch and push the boundaries are actually perpetuating negative situations.

In this case, skateboarding’s most creative influencers are building on top of a culture of creative participation in a way that subtly nudges their followers toward consumption rather than production.

Is this really ok?

A Note About Youtube Embeds

I've generally taken a stance of no tracking, external widgets, or JavaScript on my site. But I'm making an exception here for YouTube embeds. When I'm discussing a video, the experience is just way better if I can embed it. Since the video doesn't belong to me, I can't host it myself. So embedding is the best option. If you are browsing via a commandline browser or with JavaScript disabled, the video link is included as well. I've embedded this YouTube video with YouTube's Privacy Enhanced Mode. So hopefully the tracking will be kept to a minimum.

If you are the owner of a video I have embedded and want me to remove it, contact me on Discord - radicaledward101. Hopefully I'll update this soon with a better means of contact.