About a week ago, an article titled “The Business of Escapism” ran in the Washington Post Business section. The story was about the marketing of outdoor gear and “adventures” to an increasinlgy wealthy (and white) demographic. Well, that’s one of the things it was about. It was also about technology and modern conveniences infiltrating outdoor activities. But what I’m interested in here is who chooses to (and gets to) use the greatest resource Americans have–our natural and wilderness spaces.
The following is a lettter to the editor I wrote in response to the article. Since The Post chose not to publish it, I guess I’m free to post it here:
Who would think that getting back to nature could be so fraught. Unfortunately, as Lillian Cunningham points out (“The Business of Escapism,” Sunday, Sept. 7 Business section), in these hyper-connected times one cannot take a walk in the woods without carrying deep cultural baggage.
Among Cunningham’s insights, one point in particular stands out. By and large nature activities are, as Gregory Miller of the American Hiking Society points out, marketed to an increasingly affluent and overwhelmingly white demographic–arguably to the exclusion of lower income urban youth. Companies that specifically target minority youth to sell fashion and status stop short when it comes to promoting environmental values. Why?
One of the main responsibilities of my job is to accompany these very same young people into nature on wilderness adventures. I can tell you that such experiences have dramatic effects, and that love of the natural world is not, and should not be, exclusive to any particular demographic. Missing an important opportunity, outdoor companies continue to market exclusivity and privilege over authentic appreciation of nature. That is just sad in so many ways.