Jimmy Chin produces inspiring photographs and admirable stories. I have followed his work for years now. My dad, who climbed both the faces of Half Dome and El Capitan used to show me videos that Chin helped to produce. Though I myself am not a climber, I have been immersed in the culture thanks to my dad, and have gone on many climbs. I know what it takes. The elements can be unforgiving and extreme athletic ability is required. I respect Jimmy Chin and the work that he does. I also respect Chin’s good friend Jared Leto for the artistic genius he brings to both the big screen and the stage.
However, Jimmy Chin’s recent photoshoot in Joshua Tree with this A-list celebrity bewildered me. According to their post-photoshoot interview, Leto is a frequent climber and has even climbed with Alex Honnold, a world-famous climber. The primary purpose of the photoshoot was to promote a collaboration between The North Face and Gucci, both of which are environmentally conscious brands according to their websites.
So if Jimmy Chin has every right to make money with his talents, and Jared Leto is not a poser, and the products are presumably sustainable, why did I feel so icky looking at these pictures?
Because the whole thing is inherently consumeristic. It is a representation of the covetous core of our culture and society. It represents our growing desire to be associated with an active lifestyle to impress others. The photos of Leto in Gucci gear represent our idolization of the celebrity elite and the incessant hunger for materialism instead of genuine experience. The photos say that we should be concerned with how we look participating in the sport rather than how the sport makes us feel.
In fact, the photoshoot has nothing at all to do with climbing. It is only the vehicle used to promote an expensive product that dirtbag climbers will not be able to afford anyway. Several climbers have even felt insulted by the lack of authenticity in the photos according to the comments on Chin’s Instagram. Ropes were edited out, the clothing was impractical. The photos do not represent climbing culture because its intended audience are not climbers. It is a fashion show. If you follow the #TheNorthFacexGucci hashtag, you will see anyone but climbers who have jumped at this purchase. Using an A-list celebrity to promote high-end products via the outlet of an extreme sport is not new. This effective marketing move is rampant in every sport. It is consumerism hiding under the guise of adventure.
By no means am I saying that if you buy products from Gucci or the North Face that you are not a true climber or that you are a consumeristic asshole. However, it is important to not be so concerned with your self-image, especially if you are sacrificing the enjoyment of the sport for your vanity. Extreme sports boost confidence and teach humility. They create a community in which you can find a sense of belonging. Do not value material possessions over human connections or the lessons you will be taught through the sport. Consumerism will not fulfill you. Let’s bring it back to the basics.