Allow me to direct your attention to the device around which the four gentlemen in the above photograph are gathered. If you are not familiar with this device, it is what was once known as a "pay phone"-- a mechanical device into which one inserted metal currency to enable the user to place a telephone call. Have you seen one around lately? Perhaps, but their numbers are dwindling (pun intended). Digital mobile communication devices have rendered them incomprehensibly obsolete.
The entity, or, to some, state of being, philosophy, whatever you want to call it, known as Menace baffles some in a similar manner. Whenever I would mention Menace, or, especially in the halcyon time or 1997, when I would skate only Menace boards and rock the classic Menace backpack around the city, i would be met with derision of the "Menace? Those dudes suck" variety. MENACE TECH became a semi-sarcastic battle cry of urban skateboard elitism as the promise at the end of the Trilogy section remained unfulfilled, as elusive as the faint aroma of weed smoke wafting through the banks. Indeed, "video coming soon" became a focal point for Menace's seeming ineptitude.
Indeed, one could easily, as Mackenzie Eisenhour did in his 2006 piece in Transworld Skateboarding, characterize Menace as "gangsta skateboarding." However, not only would that be factually untrue (the only gang activity in Rhode Island is, I believe, those inbred hitmen fucks from The Sopranos), it would oversimplify the part Menace played in the end-of-the-century milieu that engulfed the city of Los Angeles. That is the main purpose of this piece--to gain perspective on Menace/AC/CS by examining the context in which it existed, and, by doing so, ponder the meaning of menace tech on a journey of self-discovery--a vision quest, if you will.
At first, I intended to structure this post as a Powerpoint presentation posted as .jpg's. However, that would inconvenience those of you who read this and other "blogs" via Google Reader, so maybe if I run out of ideas at some point I'll just reconfigure it as a .ppt and make it available for download or some shit. So, what I'm going to divide it into a series of exhibits in chronological order, kind of like that one scene in Pee Wee's Big Adventure (exhibit Q!).
Exhibit A: The Conquest of Mexico by Cortes - 1519-21
The takeover of the Aztec empire by the Spanish conquistadors resulted in a synergy of the Spanish-European and Mayan-Aztec cultures and peoples. As a result, what we now know as contemporary Mexican culture was made possible, as well as a distinct melding of socio-religious imagery, which would influence the history of California hundreds of years later.
Exhibit B: Mexican Independence from Spain - 1810-1823
People tend to think of the present day as a time of unencumbered freedom and impunity. Well, that ain't shit compared to the 1800's. Based on my rudimentary Wikipedia research (the source of the facts in this article so far), it was easy as fuck to either invade another country and declare yourself or one of your relatives emperor, take over part of another country because, hey, they weren't doing anything productive with it, or start your own army with the goal of staging a coup of these United States. A gentleman by the name of Aaron Burr almost accomplished the latter, after shooting the Vice President and fleeing to a house in Perth Amboy, about 100 feet from the site of the last few tricks in this Fred Gall video part. Indeed. truth be told, one could start or take over some or all of a country with the ease with which modern day peoples can, if they choose, locate nine different versions of "Slide it In" by Whitesnake on Youtube--"Rock in Rio" '85 with John Sykes? Steve Vai's inspired rendition from his brief, yet lucrative, tenure (my personal favorite)? Or even a cheap-as-fuck edit of the song to some equally-cheap-as-fuck Playboy softcore video from 1989? It's up to you.
That's what it was like.
Mexicans seized the opportunity to take advantage of the situation--specifically, Naoleon's brother's systematic declawing of the Spanish military--to revolt against Spanish rule, eventually establishing the United Mexican States.
Felix Fernandez, the new republic's first president, adopted a new name (wouldn't it be fucking awesome if our presendents just, like, invented a newer, more fucking awesome name for themselves after they took office?) :
Guadalupe Victoria--the Victoria indicative of Victory, and the Guadalupe in tribute for the protection afforded by Our Lady of Guadalupe, a potent socioreligious image to this day:
Exhibit C: The Spanish-American War and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo - 1846-1848
As I previously mentioned, the 1800's were a wacky time for national sovereignty. When the inhabitants of Texas just "felt like" seceding from Mexico in 1836, they proved that they were indeed not to be fucked with by routing the forces led by the infamous Mexican dictator Antonio López de Santa Anna. However, their independence was short-lived, as just 10 years later they "felt like" joining the United States of America. Mexico took umbrage, resulting in the Mexican-American War. We fucked them up, resulting in the above treaty. As one of its provisions, we were able to acquire the barren, uninhabited northern territories of Mexico--territories that would later become California, Nevada, and Utah--for $15,000,000. Oddly enough, if current trends continue, Mexico will be able to buy it back--perhaps for even less!
EXHIBIT D: Los Angeles - founded 1781
It would be impossible to deconstruct Menace without exploring its primary operating location. If one is to expand menace tech beyond a skateboard brand into a way of acting, a way of being, a way of talking, a way of thinking, one must consider the City of Los Angeles as as major a player as any. Indeed, the central paradox of Los Angeles mirrors the central paradox of Menace itself--the “menace” lurking beneath the surface of a seemingly idyllic town. Along those lines, Los Angeles, based on my brief visit there ten years ago, is simultaneously the most explosive and most boring city in the world. For example, one could be walking down the street and be literally the only person walking down the street. However, there was shit going on, you could tell. It was just beneath the surface, like "hot lava." The zeitgeist of this city has been depicted hundreds of times in, just off the top of my head, L.A. Confidential, Heat, Bukowski’s run-down flophouse barroom Venice of the Sixties and Seventies, the slew of ‘hood films of the early Nineties (more on that later), and my favorite scene of all time.
The power to corrupt is a central facet of this—the power exuded by the intoxicating amalgamation of money, drugs, sex, and perpetually perfect weather.
Like many dudes born in the mid-seventies, this power kicked down the door of my subconscious through something called Appetite for Destruction. I’m not going to spend that much time analyzing it, as it has been done effectively by others such as Danny Sugarman in the highly recommended Appetite for Destruction and, of course Klosterman, who, in Fargo Rock City, depicted the opening of the massively influential "Welcome to the Jungle" video thusly:
The first fifteen seconds of that vid explain everything we need to know: Axl gets off a bus in downtown L.A. with a piece of friggin hay in his mouth (and evidently, he didn’t do much chewing during the twenty-six-hour bus ride from Indiana, because it still looks pretty fresh)…I realized that Axl wasn’t welcoming me to the jungle, people were welcoming him. Suddenly, the whole album made a lot more sense: Axl Rose was screaming because he was scared.
Sex, violence, materialism—somehow, prolonged exposure to this trinity, first in a motel with Steven Adler, then, in that electric chair or whatever the fuck, metamorphosizes Axl into the shamanistic ubermensch we all know and love.Of course, the now-defunct companies Hollywood and Hellrose appropriated this image more literally than Menace did--Kareen et. al utilized Los Angeles moreso as a metaphor for life. I missed that whole "hammers" era, but one Hollywood ad warrants mentioning--in the narrative of this ad, a young lady, a lady of the evening perhaps, or maybe the protagonist in the "Fallen Angel" song/video, has spelled out "Hollywood" in cocaine on her glass coffee table. Simply one of the most devastating ads in the history of the industry, and it would have indeed been an effective Menace ad in 1994-5.
Of course, the above transformation did not occur across the board – Enrique Lorenzo and the Lebron/Fernandez connection turned out okay. More on them later. By the way, did you know Slash went to Fairfax High (1:10 here – note shirt)? Trip the fuck out.Exhibit E: California Gold Rush: 1848
Although this primarily affected San Francisco and Norcal, the Gold Rush set the precedent for the West Coast as a mecca for viral, exponential hypercapitalism, violence, vigilanteism, and sprawling population growth. Oh yeah, it also made that dude to the left possible. Who knows what the 49'ers would be called if ther had not, truth be told, been "gold in them thar' hills"--the SF Seals perhaps? That reminds me of the time I saw Joe Montana outside Supreme in the mid-Nineties. I can't remember what I said, maybe something like "Hey! It's Joe Montana!" He replied "Yeah yeah yeah" in a dickish way, probably thinking I was fucking with him.
Interestingly, similarly to menace tech, the Gold Rush attracted enterprising individuals from France and other European nation-states, driven in part by the cycle of revolutions that had just ripped through the continent. However, in the Nineteenth Century there would be no ironic reverse migration similar to the one that attracted Menace dudes to Europe in the mid-00's due to A) fertile spots and B)fertile bitches.Like my friend Ernesto always said, "you gotta go where the food is."
Exhibit F: Compulsory Education - 1852
Unless your name is Holden Caulfield or George W. Bush, you probably went to a public school. That's because, in this country, it's compulsory to go to school until they let you drop out or you graduate. Because of compulsory education, which was implemented initially in Massachussetts in 1852 and gradually spread across the country, it became the responsibility of the state to educate its populace. Despite the criticisms of Gatto, et al, who claim that compulsory education is, in essence, a tool used to maintain the hegemony of the ruling economic class, it resulted in a much wider dispersion of school construction. And where there are school, there are schoolyards. The proliferation of schoolyards in urban areas, particularly in the Los Angeles area, facilitated the development of menace tech.
Besides, have you ever tried to skate at Choate, Peddie, Exeter, or even Harvard-Westlake? Come to think of it, the Harvard-Westlake administration would probably let you skate there--I went to college with a bunch of dudes (and one chick who is now a B-list actress) who graduated from there, and it seemed like an ex-hippie Hollywood kind of institution. You know, the kind where you call the teachers by their first names and they encourage the kind of free-thinking cognitive-social development skating provides. Truth be told, I would fucking love to work there.
Exhibit G: Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society - 1964
Once upon a time, governments had this "crazy" idea that their main purpose should be to enhance the quality of life of those whom they govern. LBJ was of this opinion, and he took action when he implemented a series of programs along those lines that fell under the umbrella moniker "The Great Society." The title originating from a speech he delivered in Ann Arbor Michigan in 1964:
“We are going to assemble the best thought and broadest knowledge from all over the world to find these answers. I intend to establish working groups to prepare a series of conferences and meetings—on the cities, on natural beauty, on the quality of education, and on other emerging challenges. From these studies, we will begin to set our course toward the Great Society.”
In terms of education, specifically, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 got the ball rolling by providing previously unavailable federal aid to the most destitute public schools for materials (including, presumably, PVC picnic tables) and exceptional education. Who knows how many picnic tables and benches were subsidized by this legislation? One could even make the argument that LBJ's Great Society resulted in the Los Angeles Unified School District eventually having the means to purchase the parcel of land that would become Lockwood Elementary School--as noted in Joey Suriel's essential 48 Blocks interview.
Postscript: Truth be told, my friend "mnctech101" once made inquiries into purchasing a PVC picnic table, but found the cost prohibitive--between $500 and $1000. Knowing what I do now, that cost isn't really justified, especially when that could buy you an entire array of cinderblock ledgery/quickcrete Barcelona banks.
Still, it would be rad to have a picnic table.