Exterior. A mountainside. Day. Close-ups as helmets are pulled on, shoes laced up, pads tightened. Atmospheric slow-pan of trees. The music builds. Drone shots of landscapes, time-lapse mountain clouds… bikes thump into the back of a cool truck, and you wonder vaguely how the teenage rider can afford it. Hey, putting on a glove looks so meaningful in slo-mo. The truck does wheelspins. The music pounds.
Smash-cut to some rad riding!
Oh look, it’s a two-to-three minute mountain biking video edit. Another one.
We’re constantly told the internet has democratised everything from technology to capitalism, to the basic human right to hound strangers to suicide on Twitter. And now I’ve gone and told you again.
Sorry. In truth, the net has democratised access to inaccurate facts, pictures of pussy cats, and marketing. It’s done this by turning every one of us into our own marketing department — we are all, like Nathan Barley, self-actualising media nodes.
Trees. Makes you think, yeah? Leslie Kehmeier, Creative Commons, Creative Commons
Cheap yet high-quality equipment and bandwidth means everyone can be a star. If you’re ten you’ve probably got your own YouTube channel. But it also means that everyone who wants to get anywhere HAS to be a star. You can’t afford not to ‘join the conversation,’ to promote yourself and show that you can promote yourself, because everyone else is doing it.
And that’s the bottom line. This decade’s good news is you can bypass traditional publishing gatekeepers, embrace the DIY punk ethic that’s such a good fit for mountain biking, and get yourself seen. The bad news is that so can seven billion other people. And now you’re competing with them.
At this point I don’t want you to get too sad, so read on for at least one joke about a cruel dictator.
There are whole sites out there that do little more than aggregate streams of mountain bike videos, piling them up by the day and the hour. Many of these videos — skimmed from a roiling sea of wildly varying quality — are extremely good. They’re well-shot, tightly put together and feature great riders.
So it’s not like the riding isn’t brilliant and inspirational, and the scenery lush, and the editing really fantastically nice. They are. It’s that there are so very many of them, every day, that it gets harder and harder to care. So you’re a super-talented racer with style for miles who just needs his big break? That’s nice. I saw nine more this morning. Fifteen yesterday. And all those videos ‘told a visual story’ too. The story was: man prepares to ride bicycle. Succeeds.
Not much conflict or character development in that one.
Yes, that’s an incredibly harsh way to look at it, but it’s also human nature. Familiarity breeds contempt. And here’s another fitting cliche — easy come, easy go.
If it’s a thrashy punk or metal soundtrack, you know you’re in for a fast-cut movie about being rad and awesome and stoked
These videos aren’t quick or easy to make, but for the consumer there’s an endless, fast-flowing supply just a free click away. That means their place in the media economy is not really comparable to a movie: they’re the popcorn. Each is a piece of popcorn in a box so overfull it hardly matters how many spill over. You just grab another.
A rider heads into the bushes to avoid a cameraman — they’re literally everywhere Patty Mooney, Wikimedia Commons
It doesn’t help that so many are alike. You know from the first twang of a super-mellow track that this one’s about being at one with your bike, with nature and with your sponsors. These videos must include calm voiceovers that philosophise about what bikes and nature and forests and creativity and freedom mean to the super-successful riders being expensively profiled with all the best tech, camera people, editors and travel budgets.
If, by contrast, it launches into thrashy punk or metal, you know you’re in for a fast-cut one about being rad and awesome and stoked. One about being uncorporate and anti-branding to the point of that being your brand. These videos must also include horseplay, including but not limited to donuts in the truck, funny dancing, funny drinking, throwing funny shapes in the air and winding each other up during your roadtrip. Funnily.
The biggest giveaway of all is if you recognise the music. An established artist on the soundtrack almost certainly means sponsors have paid for this… because big, moneyed brands have long since caught on. They’re routinely using humble little edits to market the idea they’re really just a handful of passionate riders messing about in the woods, ones who just happen to have 56 CAD programs and an industrial autoclave. Kind of disingenuous when your drone costs more than most bikes.
This is good for us consumers, of course – we get to see the most amazing global locations, riding and production values you can get, all the time, all for free. But it’s another kick in the unsponsored baggies of the genuinely small-time, the passionate up-and-comers with their phone cams. It just gets harder still to be heard above the tidal roar of endless beautiful vids. The competition has expanded from the best of the planet to the rest of the planet. Probably even Kim Jong Il is at it.
A senior North Korean programmer uploads Jong Il’s sickest edit yet Jan Fidler, Creative Commons
But how long will people keep picking through it all? With near-infinite options but little real choice within, we must all sift for the few videos that show us anything new. And on the other side, how long will creators keep putting weeks of heart, soul and money into films that at best might trend for a day… and at worst, simply sink? I don’t know. Sorry if you were expecting an answer. It’s anyone’s guess.
With that in mind I emailed Kim Jong Il himself. He didn’t reply and that’s a nice segue, because I like to end on a positive note: I can now reveal it turns out Kim Jong Il is, in fact, dead.