Spam is no longer the kitschy canned treat that used to feed anyone with little money and lots of courage (e.g., soldiers and mountain climbers). It is now a virus relentlessly
infecting our e-mail accounts with nonsense.
I digest about a hundred spam e-mails a day, which is probably easier than digesting one can of the miraculous mystery meat whose first ingredient is,
“Pork with ham.” Well, so what? The ingredients of spam the e-mail are far more redundant and just as repulsive. For example, my inbox just blurped
at the arrival of a new message—this time, from “Carmela Vernon.” The subject line reads, “Separate yourself from other men.”
That sounds good, I think. I open e-mails like I climb bolt ladders and fill out electoral ballots—mindlessly and quickly. This one, I find out,
is nothing but an advertisement for something called “Penis Enlarge Patch RX.” Haven’t heard of it? This antidote to timidity purports to “expand erectile
tissue longer and wider without any extra effort.”
No extra effort? Holy balogna, this is too good to be true, I think (not really). So I keep scrolling. At the bottom of the message is a picture of a pretty
brunette holding a tape measure up to a penis the size of a baby’s arm.
The brunette looks surprised, but I’m not. Like I said, I get 100 of these things a day. With so many spam-mails crawling into my computer and promising
me a better sex life, more happiness or the chance to make $9 million by simply handing over all of my bank-account information to Prince Toto Bouba
of Nigeria, it’s a red-letter day when I get spam that succeeds in shocking me.
That day came last month, when I was spammed by a fellow writer. My lawyers and conscience have agreed that I should not publish his name. And why would
I, when I can just as easily refer to him by some cleverly appropriate nickname like “Spam Male”? Anyway, Spam Male was asking for large amounts of
money to go climbing abroad. It started like this:
As many of you know, I’ve been in the mountaineering world since 2000, climbing nearly 40 peaks across the globe. However, I now have a unique opportunity
to climb [blah blah mountain in some Asian country] this year.
The e-mail then went on to explain the details of the ironic “self-supported” slog: how many miles they’d need to cover each day, etc. It continued:
Along the way I’ll be documenting my trip and writing about it for a climbing, men’s or adventure publication. Why am I doing this? For a challenge that’s
not a trek. This is also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Wow, this is an amazing opportunity, I think (again, not really, since I know what’s coming next).
I’m raising money to help defray the cost of the climb ($2,800) and flight ($1,500) … all superfluous funds are going to help the Children’s Hospital
… I’ll be asking companies to help with donations of gear … and I will be selling my “[Spam Male] Climbs Asia” T-shirts in the coming
Thanks for your help in advance. More to come, including a Paypal donate button.
When I saw the words “children’s hospital,” iThrewup on my iMac, and now I need a new one. I will be raising money for a new computer with T-shirts, rubber
bracelets and other superfluous garbage that I am guessing you are smug enough to put on your body.
If you would like to be part of this exciting opportunity to see humanity grow through me getting anything I want for free, send checks directly to me
Yeah, right. There’s a rising trend going on, and this time, it’s not a freak-out over Harry Potter. That is, more and more people think that they shouldn’t
have to pay full price for anything anymore. From my perspective, this is especially true in Boulder, where the Spam Male is based, along with many
others like him: mountaineers intent on tagging humanitarian missions onto their trips to the Himalaya in order to make themselves feel as if mountaineering
really isn’t the most selfish thing in the world.
It’s not just with mountain climbers, either. The same phenomenon manifests itself in many ways; namely, with the bling’d out band of young climbers who,
on some level, believe that the climbing experience climaxes when you finally become sponsored.
There’s something terrifically entitled about Boulder. I can’t walk two blocks in that town without being asked for a dollar or a cigarette. Now these
egg-suckers have figured out how to set up Paypal accounts and send e-mails. I’m not safe, not even where I hide (that is, live) in little Carbondale,
Open letters concerning the state of our high-gravity sport are the new thing, so here is mine: “Dear adventuring humanitarians: Just because you’ve successfully
invented a charitable mission, it does not automatically mean that your trip to go play your ridiculous gear-laden Western sport should be free. Besides,
it’s obvious the only reason you want to go to the Himalaya is so you can justify having a giant American house filled with all those Tibetan prayer
flags and gongs you bought from Beardy McWeirderson on Pearl Street.”
I thought that the trend of “Save the Children 2008 (And Climb Mount Himalaya, Too)” had died out. What’s so bizarre and crazy is that I was wrong, which
At one time, let’s say the mid-90s, it was popular to scam gear companies and other people with lots of money and little courage into sponsoring an adventure.
Then, after enough people saw the genius in using guilt to get free money (like the church), the whole scam became so overdone and prosaic that it
stopped working. Or so I thought.
I’m sure I will get a lot of flak for being cynical, but that’s some rotten skin I’ve become accustomed to wearing. Not to say that there aren’t worthwhile
humanitarian groups out there. I think the folks at the dZi Foundation and the Central Asia Institute (CAI) are truly doing good, meaningful work,
and deserve all the support they can get.
Unlike those groups, however, are people who say they want to save the children, or whatever their cause of the week is, and then refuse to leave their
kayak on the roof of their 4Runner where it belongs (right next to skis or bikes, depending on the season). Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue.
Spam Male wants $3,000 just to go climbing. That’s a lot of money to spend on yourself. I never thought I would say this, but Whole Foods was right: People
really will pay for anything, especially if it makes them feel elite.
Do you think Spam Male really needs the money? This is America, and anyone with enough free time to consider a month-long departure from reality is probably
fat and happy enough to float themselves. Which makes Spam Male’s plea even more disturbing. By making his trip seem like a big, important mission,
he’s really just buying himself a brand-new raison d’etre. Spam Male’s trip now has the facade of a worthy purpose that successfully covers up what
this whole thing really is: a vacation.
This tiny fact allows Spam Male to impress others with phrases like, “I’m going abroad to save the world and, gosh, maybe climb a mountain or two.” This
mock coupling of heroism and bravery unfortunately really stands for, “I want to go climb mountains, bro. To hell with everyone but me.”
Being sponsored gives new meaning to the daily grind as well. Instead of his typical training (for nothing), he’s now training for something. Do you see
the difference? Some have said that you can’t put a price on giving your life meaning—but you can: $3,000.
The same goes for many sponsored rock climbers. For some reason, getting free gear justifies an existence spent on the entirely selfish pursuit of climbing
all the time. You should see the number of hoops sponsored climbers go through just to get a free pair of $80 shoes four times a year. The effort is
hardly worth it, but it’s not about the money—it’s the exterior validation of their worth as climbers. That’s priceless.
Everyone complains that there’s no money in the outdoor industry—but that’s because no one is putting any money into it. Many companies literally
have about 100 people on the shoe-dole. When was the last time you paid retail? These days, everyone is either sponsored or knows a bro to hook ’em
up with a pro deal. When did everyone turn “pro”?
The need for freebies comes with a price, and the providers will, of course, want payback. This has affected the way many climbers act. First, no one can
go and do anything anymore without a camera. The magazines need to know about your great achievement—or, barring the 99 percent chance that you
don’t actually achieve anything great, whatever second-rate thing you end up doing instead. You better turn up in a magazine with a feature or in a
climbing film with your shirt off and your free shoes on, or the taxman will come and get you.
As climbers are increasingly rewarded for self-promotion, the “pure climbing experience,” as ironically overused as that phrase is by the people I’m talking
about, is lost. This experience is all about climbing, with your friends and having fun. That’s it. Climbing becomes pure when you realize that even
if there was no one else around to spray to, you’d still be climbing the same things, enjoying it for yourself. Likewise, when you go abroad just to
save the children, because that’s your true passion, you’ll have a much easier time raising money from optimists like myself. Also, you won’t be a
lying hypocrite, which is important for reasons too stupid to type.
Otherwise, do yourself a favor and check out this one grant program. The application is easy: Fill out a form with your name, address and Social Security
number and send it to Visa. If you win the grant, Visa will send you a plastic card. Show the card at gear stores and airports, and you will get all
that you need.
Like most spam that promises “no extra effort,” the Visa grant may seem too good to be true. When you get back from your big trip with nothing but awesome
memories, stories to tell your friends around the campfire and one giant credit-card bill, you will realize the universal truth—nothing is for
free, and the true self-supported missions offer the best reward programs.
Andrew Bisharat gets lots of free gear as a senior editor of Rock and Ice. He also sends out weekly spam. Sign up here to get E-Blasts sent directly to your inbox. The children are counting on you.