Supplement to "Running from the Facts: Follow the money—what little there is" edition
Whatever you think of the current running environment, it's become mostly a product of competing, not cooperating, individuals
"We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever. The goal is to create something that will.”
— Chuck Palahniuk
On the surface, the motivation for most of the Wokish madness reviewed in this space appears to be the simple desire to disrupt or ruin other people’s lives, ideally by curtailing their ability to support themselves within their chosen limited professions. This style of disruption, concurrent with widespread anti-speech efforts by self-professed liberals now infesting every social and professional niche, serves as both a means and a waypoint sort of end: Stifling your critics’ voices makes it easier to keep your own banal, dumbstruck blather relevant, and “activists” transparently powered by excoriating feelings of personal unfulfillment love the thrill of announcing “I’m well-off, but butthurt, and here’s who to blame,” despite this accomplishing nothing beyond the momentary dopamine-rush of attributing one’s lifelong psychic bugbears to external forces both immutable and malevolent.
While it’s true that some of the Wokish are merely using kayfabe-style cultural momentum to slash and snipe at the Older White Male demon for no better reason than personal unpleasantness, even most of those types are hoping to continue to see their nonsense published and paid for by the now wholly Woke-controlled fitness media.
Among many aggravating aspects of this is that none of the gasbags profiting from the stupidity are poor, and none of the money seems to go to, say, people of color in genuine need. Even people who have long enjoyed enviable levels of personal prosperity and security are in on the scam, positioning themselves as allies of the powerless while demonstrating total blindness to both fundamental economic realities and the effects of these realities on everyday people. Above all, they display their own rank illiberalism. (No one should be referring to Wokish folks as liberals or even leftists. They are torchers of truth and destroyers of useful civic norms in the manner of religious crusaders, because they are religious crusaders.)
The Wokish pursue their extermination-cum-self-promotion quests through dishonest and incoherent smear campaigns, the playing of all available oppression-cards, sexist and racist stances and statements of their own, and openly craven refusals to engage their opponents or even treat them or any of their words as legitimate. The people most visibly exploiting this—their ideas, their photos, their writing—can appear so frankly dilapidated that it is easy to see their desire to “problematize” an environment as being free of profit motives. After all, when someone seems to have no traditionally marketable traits, even when graded on a necessarily generous Wokish curve, how sincere can they really be about monetizing their antics beyond a chickenfeed level?
But this view is naive. It disregards the fact that just because someone may be too uninformed, unattractive, or illiterate by conventional, pre-2016-ish standards to make a decent living as an Internet gadabout doesn’t mean they won’t try anyway, prostrating themselves to whatever extent is needed to achieve a swell of followers and hence a reliable pool of donors. Registering social-media accounts is free, and the capital expenditures required for nonstop self-glorification nonexistent. It’s a freakish and sad, yet wholly viable, home-business model, overlapping at the psychological supply-and-demand level with the peddling of webcam masturbation.
Ultimately, however, any influencer who rides a wave of false claims to sufficiently visible status will be challenged on those claims, especially if they’re using distance running as substrate. When this happens, the only logical response within this cash-in, garbage-out framework is to spew public hostility at the critic, with the intention of shutting that critic up altogether and keeping the façade of perseverance in the face of relentless evil oppressors from crumbling. Latoya Shauntay Snell has done this repeatedly; it looks a dumb strategy, but blind, dumbass posturing is the smartest defense anyone can try to mount after catapulting fib after obvious fib into cyberspace. And as you can see in her statements to Murphy, on top of playing the victim more enthusiastically than anyone alive, Snell uses intimidation and even cruelty in her efforts to suppress the truth. While Murphy was as reserved as he could be when he first contacted her—giving her as much benefit of the doubt as the evidence warranted, and admitting he’s a back-of-the-packer himself—when Snell’s real persona emerges, it meshes with at least part of her shtick, as she’s nothing more than a glowering, nasty ogre. (The food she prepares does look really good.)
Why, other than the joy of expressing a suite of unchecked personality disorders, do so many talentless bozos go to—and create—this much trouble just to look like a fool to most of the world? Because, as it happens, there is real money at stake for some of these racism survivors, sexism overcomers, fat-shaming resisters, those who survive to adulthood without brains, and so on. The erratic vehemence of their defenses of fundamentally indefensible claims is therefore proportional to their compulsion to keep the donations rolling in, and tends to coalesce into predictable, theatrical and self-immolating displays of righteous but impotent rage and dismay. And besides, what’s “chickenfeed” anyway? Who gets to decide how much Instagram self-shaming $500 or so is worth besides the people doing and paying to see it? I’ve posed nude for less. Well, not adjusted for 2021 dollars.
Most people realize they won’t live forever, especially people who are pathologically focused on themselves and the quantifiable public value of their own gristle and meat. They understand that the process of accumulating wealth, notoriety, and other status-driven inessential forms of social capital spans only half a century or so, maybe less.
While this itself isn’t new, we’re suddenly living in an time where a glut of Americans below a certain age and occupying particular social niches (like distance running) see the currency of oppression as a more valuable form of capital than, say, proficiency, hard work, or even basic integrity, and have scurried to erect a bunch of trash heaps—not just cancellation-campaigns, but also the normalization of anti-white and sexist rhetoric, pretending that biological sex differences are subject to personal whimsy, and other examples of performative graffiti that cannot possibly withstand the full electorate’s scrutiny once enough people finally realize how bad, pervasive, fast-moving and rapacious Wokism truly is.
Most of the people in charge of the running media, including the various folks providing event webcasts, are relatively young to be at the nominal forefront of any professional field. Most are under 40, certainly. None of the webcasts I’ve seen have featured anyone my age as a commentator or interview guest. In the face of weirdness like “It’s wrong to ‘mention bodies’, but I just got a text about what runner-dude the runner-chick in third is banging” (a rough but accurate composite of two Chris Chavez outbursts), I’m wondering in my dotage exactly where the people newly in charge think the sport they’re working in came from, and why they seem to believe that its foundational principles and honesty and integrity can be tossed aside as part of the pesky legacy of hapless, staid oldsters.
The types eager to revamp and enforce a set of new discussion and promotion standards don’t seem to grasp that the promotion of Wokish liars and the amplification of their lies are curious stances both for anyone claiming moral high ground, and that dismissing critics as being behind the times is the flat-footed denial of timeless principles: If you say you did it, show it. If you’re shown to have not done it, own it. Then move on or move out. They also seem to forget that the coaches of the current generation of elites, on whose presence their own roles in the sport depend, are overwhelmingly coached by people over fifty, or by those a little younger who possess an abiding respect for where their own knowledge and interpersonal skills come from.
Those old-timers and their apprentices in the trenches don’t worship individuals. What they hold sacred is the summation of mentoring concepts that have allowed them to enjoy being in running for as long as they have, as these concepts, unlike cultural fads, are timeless. And they lead to people sticking around despite running’s meager external rewards and homing in on those primed to carry the same concepts to the next generation. There is deep satisfaction in believing you have tried to impress a curious and motivated young person in the proper way, and seeing why such people come to trust some mentors and guides more than others.
I don’t listen to a lot of running podcasts, but it seems that the market has to be saturated. If it weren’t, these podcasts wouldn’t routinely feature guests whose main or only substantial claim to running fame is hosting a podcast about running, which routinely features…and so on. As an inconsistent-at-best consumer, I may not be in a position to declare the market saturated, but I certainly recognize a gleeful circle-jerk when I see one. So just where is all of this audio eventually going to go, and to what elements of the sport is it contributing in a lasting way? (I can answer this with a few excellent examples, but this isn’t an occasion for that.)
Running’s influencers, most of its newsletter producers, and almost all of its media outlets are building nothing of stable value. The owners of the media conglomerates producing dishonest and destructive stories are knowingly and avariciously, if not necessarily proudly, milking “social justice” for all it’s worth, aware that the phenomenon is as finite as any other. Everyone else wants to make money, a name for themselves or both; this doesn’t preclude their efforts resulting in valuable contributions, but these are incidental to the pursuit of personal glory. And the only thing I really condemn about this drive to succeed, as it’s also helped bring some good things to the sport, is people weaponizing it for personal lowbrow use and pretending that they mayhem is supposed to be widely, or at all, beneficial.
Wokish efforts are not cohering around any concept of a sustainable sport. Accordingly, their missteps should be flagged and described as what they are: A desire to make a living in a climate in which all erstwhile ethical guardrails have been removed. Some of the loudest self-appointed voices in the fight against eating disorders in running post some of the most triggering content imaginable; while this has been a feature of “pro-ana” sites for decades, it wasn’t something promoted by editors of outlets like The New York Times until the past few years. Then there’s Outside’s Martin Fritz Huber and his feeble-minded editor deciding to “problematize” not only Laz Lake but Tracksmith, underscoring the fact that, to a lot of today’s media types, in order for running to be interesting, it needs to be not just cash-poor and controlled by corrupt oligarchies, but also the battleground of various civil wars, and douchebags like Huber have assumed roles as cheerfully trigger-happy platoon sergeants.
These are not people working to build anything good and lasting, because they are not looking beyond the lifespans of their own assumed prominence.
Meanwhile, the running media is intent on spreading the idea that the sport is unfriendly in every possible way to everyone but while males, and that remedying this imbalance requires an unending stream of manufactured controversies aimed at lowering the number of white males in play in what they hope is a zero-sum game.
If the editor-in-chief of Runner’s World is preaching about the plight of professional runners while the magazine lionizing proudly slow, obese cooks and other con-artists, then maybe the editor should have a word with the publisher about a more opportune use of the magazine’s precious space, especially its six yearly covers. The magazine can stand behind both sane social principles and do its best to promote the professional runners its own editor says are shy of support. So where should that support come from? This all feels like it has most of the elements of a Ponzi scheme, with various figures happy to make money interviewing and chatting up the pros while simultaneously barking in a variety of ways that show that they really don’t care that much, because, hey, in 100 years, no one else alive is gonna care, either.
But maddeningly, the Wokish are succeeding no matter how utterly ridiculous they and the stories they offer are. If you don’t believe this, please explain why Saucony is no longer sponsoring brand-new, breakthrough 2:09 marathoner Noah Droddy, but Jocelyn Rivas gets swag from all over in a bogus record chase. And in a more direct conflict, explain why HOKA, a company I really like, dropped the New Jersey-New York Track Club last year, but has kept Snell on board. Or try to explain almost anything Oiselle does using any pertinent ethical business model that existed before 2016.
One can correctly counter this by noting that sponsoring a single elite runner costs more than throwing a uniform at a handful of high-energy slugs. But the answer to that is easy: If money is so tight in this sport, then why waste a single damn dime of it on Woke-washing? What definable purpose to the sport do these actions serve, and who is benefiting and the expense of whom? Unfortunately, it’s not a mystery.
Meanwhile, the serially villainized Laz wants to give away $1 million to charitable organizations before he’s gone, and he’s well on his way to doing that. Now there’s a man whose real legacy will not only last, but outshine those of a countless array of drive-by pretenders and suckrakers whose names, if not forgotten outright, will ultimately be coupled to a stream of shamefully off-base screeds. (Mine may well be among those names.)
As a final-for-the-time being observation, with the U.S. Olympic Trials approaching, the Wokish have shifted most of their efforts to actually covering track, and have largely ignored the injustices supposedly plaguing the sport. This is because there is more money and notoriety at the moment in securing interviews with top athletes and coaches than in pushing what they know is nothing but noisy nonsense.
In abandoning or merely tabling these supposedly urgent concerns, the Wokish are either pretending that these problems miraculously disappear during major competitions (and buildups to those competitions) or they are tacitly admitting that these problems are a contrivance. What’s more likely to have a lasting, positive effect on the sport and on free society in general: Addressing and solving real, systemic problems, or using personal neuroses as an excuse to invent or exaggerate problems and punish those “responsible” with utmost severity? Hint: One takes real work, the other takes only a blank Word document or blogging interface treated as a funhouse mirror.