Jumbo shrimp.  Sweet sorrow.  Open secret.  Seriously funny.  Liquid gas.  Recreation industry.

My wife and I were in Vail over the weekend.  Something called the “GoPro Mountain Games” was packing them in.  “GoPro Heros” are those small video cameras that some folks attach to their ski helmets, four wheelers, or kayaks to record in, numbing and disorienting detail their self-proclaimed “heroic” antics and exploits.

The modern version, in other words, of those equally numbing and jittery 16 mm home movies that our folks used to make about summer vacations.  And then punish friends and family by making them watch them.  Before, mercifully, consigning them to some dusty box in the attic.  Where they stayed until they were rooted out decades later and shown to howling family members as they recovered from a turkey induced coma after Thanksgiving dinner.

At least, that’s how we sometimes do things at our house.

The GoPro Mountain Games or, for that matter almost any other aspect of the “recreation industry” is, when you think about it, a seriously funny notion.  As if there were such a thing as “industrialized recreation”.

Which, in reality, there is.  It’s called skiing.  Think about it; I did the last time I sat on a lift contemplating the scene in my curmudgeonly way.  The skier “bolts” on his equipment-skiis, boots, poles, helmet, goggles, etc.  The “product”-the skier-is then put on the “assembly line”-the lift (for which privilege you pay a pretty penny).  Which deposits the product at the other end of the assembly line-the top of the run.  Where, if you are like the great majority of us skiers, you pay even more over a period of years to have assembly line workers-ski instructors-make the product fit to go down ever steeper assembly lines, the ski run, at ever higher rates of speed.

Call me crazy, but I don’t think the comparison with Henry Ford’s assembly line and Detroit-before that now benighted city became the Mogadishu of the West-is entirely inapt.

“Extreme sports” are even more bizarre-and scarcely less industrialized.  Base jumping, solo free climbing, motocross. The deaths and maimings these “recreational” activities generate remind one of the scene in “Gone with the Wind” where Southerners are bemoaning the casualty lists from a “little town in Pensylvania called Gettysburg.”  At least in war you can occasionally, even if not often, plausibly claim that the sacrifice is for a higher purpose.   But where’s the “higher purpose” in a sport where, if you slip up, the almost certain consequence is death?  It seems more like another oxymoron to me:  self-destructive narcissism.

So what should recreation look like?  A good question. And not one susceptible to a glib answer.  Especially in an age where work  has, in so many cases, become so utterly deracinated from its historic connection to physical activity.   Rodeos were a natural recreational outgrowth of ranching.  But what is the recreational corollary of sitting in front of a computer screen all day?  Computer games? I suppose so.  But a virtual reality seems a pale substitute for the real thing.  At least to this old curmudgeon.

Perhaps it would be helpful to go back to basics.  The Latin root meaning of “recreation” suggests rest and renewal: “to create anew, restore, refresh.”  The virtual polar opposite of “industry“: “the habit of working hard and steadily”.  And, even more alien still to the notion of renewal and restoration, is the industrial ideal of how many people can you pay the least amount possible to make your particular segment of the recreation industry as profitable as possible to you and your shareholders.  A notion that most, I hope, would find entirely foreign and offensive to the idea of “recreation”.

But, that being said, my real issue is not so much that we may have to “work” at our recreation.  It does, after all, require a concerted effort to shut out all the distractions of our hyper active lives.  On a regular basis, I participate in silent weekend retreats at the Sacred Heart Retreat House in Sedalia.  A wonderful place to get away and refresh-I highly recommend it.  But is does take an effort.  And the Jesuit retreat masters there, like the ski instructors in Vail, turn out a “product”:  in one case satisfied retreatants and, in the other, satisfied skiers.

In the end, however, while I am willing to concede that there are similarities between the types of “re-creation” that goes on in Vail and that which occurs at the Retreat House, they aren’t the same.  Recreation, rightly conceived, is not an industry.  And it has every right to claim a special, more sacred place in our lives.





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