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ALPINISM AND THE MEDIA: A WAY FORWARD?
Posted on: February 27, 2007
2007 Piolet d'Or winner Marko Prezelj addresses the audience at this year's awards in Grenoble, France. Prezelj has since rejected the idea of awards in climbing and suggests instead that festivals simply celebrate alpinism without trying to select a winner in what is inherently an unquantifiable pursuit. 2007 nominees, from left to right: Serguey Samoilov, Igor Chaplynskyy, Denis Urubko (seated in front), Ian Parnell, Boris Lorencic (winner, with Prezelj), Pavle Kozjek (People's Choice award winner), Tim Emmett, Prezelj, Michel Piola. [Photo] Montagnes Magazine
First I want to admit that a label of "naive" has been affixed to me many times. I'm aware of the boomerang effect of my essay [see yesterday's NewsWire] and I don't want to act like a purist who only fights the media.
People who know my opinion ask me why I went to [the Piolet d'Or awards ceremony in] Grenoble, saying that if I didn't respect the Piolet d'Or I should have stayed at home. Last year Rolo Garibotti, Alessandro Beltrami and Ermanno Salvaterra didn't want to go [they were nominated for the first ascent of the north face of Cerro Torre, but withdrew their climb from consideration —Ed.]. It was not an easy decision for me to go, but I realized that I would have more of a chance to be heard if I went to France and tried to play the game. Maybe I was wrong. I'm not certain yet. Only time will tell.
This letter is addressed to alpinists as well as the media, because in my opinion, the main problem is manipulation, and I believe there have been several examples in the past when the level of manipulation—on either the side of alpinists or the side of the media—was quite high. Responsibility is on the side of alpinists first. If we report our climbs when we do them—when we discover the "why" of our ascents—then we should also be clear about the what and the how.
Alpinists should also at least question whether we like the rules of the media game. Many don't think about it and simply rush toward ... toward what? Maybe some money at the far, far end?
And if we want to preserve the spirit of alpinism, the media should also work as a mirror, not just as a big drum or a trumpet for "the Incredibles" and their sponsors. The media should be a bit sceptical; they should work, ask questions and try to avoid sensationalism and exagerations that hide inconvenient facts from their audiences. I know that this is not so simple. We live in an era when "truth" is very virtual. My point is that real alpinism cannot be virtual. When it gets serious, an alpinist confronts himself/herself and nothing else. If we accept the media game, the logical exit is to be a cyber alpinist on a cyber peak. Do we want this?
It would be nice if there were a fair amount of respect on both sides from the start. There is no need to stop promoting alpinism if it is done with respect and honesty.
Last year, when Rolo, Alessandro and Ermanno said that they didn't want to join the competition of the Piolet d'Or, there was almost no discussion. I want to provoke a discussion now.
Why not stop "competitions" such as the Piolet d'Or and make a kind of alpinists' festival, showing photos (true or false), telling stories (true or false), sharing ideas (new and old) and doing some climbing? Maybe young people would actually get inspiration from such an event?
Alpinism needs attention and promotion. But does it need it at any cost?
I feel a responsibility to open the discussion. On the wall of the Talkeetna Ranger station hangs an answer to the question "Why climb?" "If you have to ask the question," it says, "you won't understand the answer."