Monday, May 09, 2005
Skateboarders in the Mist
There was a team of cultural anthropologists at the skatepark the other day. I didn't even notice them at first; they were dressed in coveralls that had been painted over with graffiti, so they blended right in with the walls and ramps. It wasn't until I actually almost sat on one that I noticed they were there at all. The anthropologist didn't get indignant that I had mistaken him for a bench; he merely winked and held his finger up to his lips in a "Shush" gesture. I guess he didn't want me to blow his cover.
At first it seems that they were just taking notes. One of them had a portable reel-to-reel tape recorder and a boom mike device, with which he must have been making a record of the skater argot. Another of the crew had some surveyor's equipment--one of those tripods with the level on top. I think she was measuring the relative and absolute heights of the skaters' ollies and kickflips.
Eventually, after watching for quite a while, they started catching and tagging. Their method in this was ingenious. Starting with the younger, weaker skaters, they would lure them away, one by one, from the pack. This was done with a skateboard pulled allong the ground on some fishing line. The deck was used to entice the skater, keeping it always just out in front of him--the old donkey and carrot routine. When the subject was sufficiently far from his fellows the anthropologist would let the skater sieze the board, which must have been coated in some kind of industrial superglue, for when the hapless skater went to step on it he stuck fast, and the tagging team could then move in with the hypodermic sedative.
Once sedated, the skater would be subjected to various measurments, tissue and blood samples, the state of sneaker decomposition would be graded, etc. Before release, a subcutaneous microchip was implanted--probably a GPS tracking tag of some sort. The entire posse of skaters was catalogued in this way: luring, sedating and tagging them one by one. Only the Alpha-Skater gave the researchers any trouble. He wasn't tempted by the prospect of the free board that the other skaters had fallen for (he was likely getting free product from the local skate shop, and could thus look with disdain on the proffered, glue-coated deck). After experimenting with a variety of lures--food, drink, even pornographic magazines--the research team finally had to construct a convincing facsimile of a female skater, or "Skate Betty". This mannequin, placed provocatively beckoning from a small grove of sheltering bushes, did the trick, and the Alpha-Skater was promptly rendered unconscious by a deft application of the hypodermic.
Once testing was completed, the still sedated subjects would be left lying somewhere near the lip of the bowl. Upon awaking, the hapless skater, slightly groggy and sore but none the worse for wear, would simply assume that he had bailed coming out of the bowl, possibly knocking himself unconscious. Most of the skaters simply laughed it off, got back up, and resumed skating.
I tried several times to approach the anthropologists--to discover the aims of their research, who might have been funding it, and to what end the information gained would be employed; but they were extremely reticent and tight-lipped, all but ignoring my attempts to converse with them. I can only assume the study was part of an ongoing project to understand and catalogue the increasingly esoteric skateboard culture of the street.
I hope the information gained is put to good use. Perhaps the effort to track the movements of skate posses will lead to better municipal policies concerning the placement of public skate parks. Or perhaps the project was simply research for its own sake, a type of scientific census to better understand the makeup of spontaneously forming social conglomerates, of which skate posses are such a good example. Whatever the motive, it was nice to see the scientific community taking an interest in skateboard culture, and Fakiegrind applauds the tireless pursuit of knowledge that can only broaden the horizons of humanity as we march onward into the twenty-first century.