Getting back to nature is generally considered a humbling experience, stripping away the excesses of modernity to enjoy a more primordial human experience. With food, water, shelter and fire, we become equals, individuals in a larger species in an even larger biome. Unfortunately, outdoor recreation has a well-documented reputation of being an elitist venture for wealthy, broadly white enthusiasts with the time and funds to stomp around the backcountry.
Outside Magazine, arguably the nations seminal outdoor focused publication, is a major factor in perpetuating the exclusivity of outdoor recreation. Outside has a class problem.
Today, 4/12/18, a scroll through the magazine’s website homepage features an article headlined, “Stop Whining About Expensive Bikes,” where regular columnist Aaron Gulley argues that modern bicycles priced above $10,000 are not just worth it but critics of such lofty retail rates are annoying skeptics who don’t understand technology and proper rides.
Another article called, “Best Spots to Live (for a While) as a Digital Nomad,” recommends eight cities around the world for people with telecommuting jobs to hunker down for an adventurous tenure. Among the list are New York, NY and San Francisco, CA, the two most expensive cities to live in in the US. Meanwhile, a study by Salary.com find that telecommuting jobs earn workers between 15-50% less than comparable in office positions.
These articles aren’t outliers. A recent issue of the monthly magazine include 60 Meters to Anywhere author and blogger Brendan Leonard taking a road trip in his new gull winged Telsa that starts at $80,000. Their March issue on jobs recommended workers trade “the cubicle for a cabana” (ok…) and to “maximize one’s side gig,” when a Harvard study found that almost every job created since 2005 is a temporary contract job with no benefits and that the gig economy is one of the primary drivers of our runaway income and racial inequality.
Last year they ran an article recommending health care fixes that relied on individual responsibility and linking premiums with an person’s physical activity, an abhorrent policy that ended up being a catalyst for the West Virginia teachers’ wildcat strike last month. These ideas fly in the face of the Medicare For All campaign that is favoured my the majority of Americans. The article concludes with the quote, “Go outside and take care of yourself. The government isn’t going to save you.” Outside selectively rips conservative ideology while parroting it when it suits their own.
What are outliers are the crumbs of inclusivity that Outdoor publishes: a piece on equal pay, on diversity in the mountains, on homeless youth, on powerful private interest extorting our resources. These are important stories and help do the work that and public lands set out to accomplish in the first places, offering an equal footing for folks of all backgrounds to enjoy things that make us human and alive. But for every story about how oil men are fucking us over, we get scores of articles that only pertain to those oil men’s advantages.
Maybe the chicken came first, that the outdoor industry is elitist, that skiing, biking, world travel are exclusive to a rarefied few and that in order to sell magazines publishers need to speak directly to those audiences and their opulent tastes. Maybe the staff at Outside are part of that upper class who were privileged enough to take interest in elitist activities that influenced their career path, that they had wealthy enough parents to cover their costs during college, internships and Outside Fellowships, that they’re on the inside looking out and see no problem with their coverage.
But as inequality in America soars beyond Gilded Age disparities, as our public lands get privatized and wasted, as capitalism threatens the very viability of our planet, Outside needs to recognize their slant and correct course to promote the outdoors to every class, not just when a issue theme pops up on the calendar, but every month, every article and every post. Otherwise you’re just a rich asshole talking to other rich assholes and you can do that plenty behind closed doors.