Summer camp for "adults," pt. 1 -- The Rahh of the wild

This post is a partial follow-up to: Bowling alone, camping together

I.

Many posts ago I wrote about the so-called "invention of loneliness" and the intentional community of adult Cool People who volunteer at CampQuest Northwest. To be honest it probably wasn't the best editorial decision; the post seems rather disjointed, and CQNW deserves better than that. But it's from Kayla (who's a CQNW staffer in addition to blogging at Crows Against Murder) that I learned about Camp RAHH.

Camp RAHH is "Seattle's Summer Camp For Adults," and if that doesn't already sound twee-or-maybe-unctuously-startuppy enough, check out their website, and their mission statement:
Let’s face it… we’ve got a problem. Our dependence on technology and the urgency of our demanding routines can often introduce unnecessary anxiety into our daily lives.  Social pressures to stay on top of everybody’s business - and to excessively share all of our own - can often lead to feeling overwhelmed without enough time to unplug and breathe. Check out Camp RAHH!'s 5 Core Values to see how we aim to curb these unhealthy cultural patterns.
Those five core values, incidentally, are (1) DETOX; (2) PLAY; (3) EMBRACE EVERY MOMENT; (4) AVOID PROFESSIONAL NETWORKING; and (5) ACCEPTANCE OF SELF AND OTHERS. Values #1 and #4 are the immediate odd ones out here, and form the crux of my intense disdain-mixed-with-despair for this whole enterprise, but I fear the others aren't innocent either.

"Camp RAHH!" - Who Cares If The Marketing Copy Makes Sense?


II.

Let's start with the First Core Value: DETOX.
Detox from harmful habits - Camp RAHH! will be free from of all tech devices, booze & drugs. Campers will experience activities and social interactions in a natural, unaltered state - without the various interruptive elements which have become culturally accepted norms. Let Camp RAHH! be the jumpstart to replacing these bad habits with a healthier approach to your every day - from mouthwateringly simple gourmet meals to deeply authentic conversations.
But really. Have these "various interrupted elements" really become "culturally accepted norms"? Or should I ask, in whose culture? Because while Camp RAHH's lament about the teched-and-drugged state of modern life could be David-Brooksian hyperbolic frustration at anyone who uses a smartphone or smokes now-legal weed, I doubt it. I'm actually taking them at their word: there are quite a lot of people in the Pacific Northwest (and elsewhere) who use technology and mind-altering chemicals excessively. As in, for every problem one should first look for a tech or drug solution: an app, a device, or an off-label dosage of some prescription pill. This is the techie-startup-Millennial set. Or, if you're attempting to be a Thought Leader writing for Mashable, the (ugh) Young Urban Creatives.

And yet these people seem to lack the creativity to not glue themselves to "the cloud," or to engage the broader press of humanity rather than digitally clap their hands for The Help. Self-diagnose with anxiety disorder all you want; it's probably a vicious circle, and you're still recapitulating the worst of Fitzgerald's New-Egg nouveau riche.

Which brings me to the end of this Core Value: "a healthier approach to your every day - from mouthwateringly simple gourmet meals to deeply authentic conversations." No. My mind recoils from this clause. Beyond the marketing-speak that is the use of "every day" as a noun, I find the promise highly circumspect. For one, "simple gourmet" is not in any sense "every day." If it's truly simple-to-make food, is it really gourmet? If it's really gourmet—and it is, they hired an executive chef from the (yes, really) Huxley Wallace Collective meta-restaurant, formerly of the nothing-under-$10 Skillet Street Food, with the gall to sell $17 meatloaf as a Monday-dinner "Blue Shirt Special"—then by definition it's non-trivial to make at home, so in this case "simple gourmet" is the same as "minimalistic art." That ain't "every day" unless you want to dedicate a hobby to it.

Finally, "deeply authentic conversations." To me, strongly signalling a particular preference for "deep authenticity" sort of loses the plot; if you meet a "deeply authentic" person on the road, kill them. I mean that if you feel compelled to gush about an experience as "deeply authentic" then you have now commodified it, de-authenticated it. Your experience is now a buzzword and a line on your resume. Why wouldn't an experience be authentic? Is it because the experiencer is thinking, first and foremost, of which Instagram filter would be most appropriate? How many Likes, Favs, RTs the proper status update will garner? Where the trendy trending places are to check-in to? Hell, some of the RAHHers said as much about regular life on their personal blogs:
Let’s be real: you can’t hold your Instagram photo. Unless you’ve printed it, its existence is limited to your screen. Is your existence limited by a screen? Are you thinking for yourself or for the sake of retweets and the lofty bragging rights of 100k Twitter followers? Are you living your life for the pretty Instgram photo, so you can receive validation from strangers and late at night as you wonder why you feel so unfulfilled because your life just looks so good, why doesn’t it make you feel that way too?

In the older post I scoffed at the notion of "the invention of loneliness," but surely there is something like "the invention of authenticity." History backs up my claim too, in some sense. On the one hand, you have the massive Internet backlash against an article in Vox from modern-day Victorian re-enactors. I do think the article was, ah, tonally dissonant. But in principle there's something to be learned by actually using the stuff that historical people used—see this rather sympathetic and persuasive post in r/BadHistory. Is such a lifestyle "authentic," though? I don't think so; that might what people read into the article's claims, and maybe that's the root of the backlash.

On the other hand, you have this episode of BackStory (a podcast I highly recommend!), about the American view of "wilderness". In particular, the creation of National Wilderness Areas is highly oxymoronic, as the areas are anything but left to their own natural devices. The "forest primeval" romanticized by 19th century Transcendentalists was, for thousands of years, actively managed by native peoples, so that English colonists favorably compared the woods of New England to the parks of their own homeland across the Atlantic.

So there's something there, but we seem to be fighting against a deep motivation to seek mediated experiences that match our ideas about authenticity, and then signal our appreciation of that 'authenticity', rather than experience authenticity itself, which needs no acknowledgement.

III.

What of the Fourth Core Value, AVOID PROFESSIONAL NETWORKING?
You are much more than your job, which is merely a societal manifestation of your interests and talents. Come to Camp RAHH! to have fun with the amazing people around you and build meaningful, authentic relationships based on who you are - not necessarily what you do for a living.
The first sentence is just brutal. Maybe this is just cynical marketing from Camp RAHH, a form of flattery. Of course everyone's job is completely determined by their "interests and talents"! And yet, is it so flattering to need the reassurance that you are more than your job? Isn't that the supposed default attitude of the American worker?

And again we see authenticity-as-prime-virtue pop up. Authentic relationships—is it naive to think that authentic relationships are likely to form over a long weekend? Is authenticity, at least in relationships, that easy? Then why seek it so strenuously?—not necessarily based on what you do for a living. Immediately I see a vicious paradox. If the only people who go to Camp RAHH are people who have problems forming relationships that aren't job-centered (or worse, personal-#brand-centered)... how likely is it that a three-day camp experience, with other people who have the same problem, is going to change things? We'd do as well to ask how well a one-off meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous goes, except the meeting is not exactly about getting sober or at least nobody's really going to force you to do it, just "do you" and hope for the best?

IV.

I said we'd return to the other three Core Values, and here we are. First up is PLAY:
Campers can easily shrug off the stresses of city living through a wide array of analog activities, classic camp games and cool instructional classes including: morning yoga, trail walks, swimming, stargazing, kayaking, foraging, arts & crafts, rock wall climbing, dancing, volleyball, music, board games, beachside bonfires, frisbee, archery and a whole lot more. Adventure awaits!
How is any of this "adventurous"? Aside from archery, which is still sort of niche, one has to be fairly insulated or sheltered to find yoga, hiking, kayaking, bouldering, board games, or Frisbee novel or surprising in the Pacific Northwest. You can't swing a grass-fed free-range cat around here without knocking over a trail-running Catan-playing Ultimate-Frisbee-from-a-kayak nut. And I write this with the utmost affection.

Now, EMBRACE EVERY MOMENT:
The entire weekend at Camp RAHH! will be focused on experiencing the present moment with clarity, intention and mindfulness.
There's potential here, but pretty much the entire predicate of this sentence is just so many empty Millennial buzzwords, dusted off the New Age shelf. Or else, the implication is that everyone's regular behavior and thinking are unclear, unintentional, and mindless. A sort of robotic, substance-clouded half-life, also known as working in tech. (Zing!)

Finally, ACCEPTANCE OF SELF & OTHERS:
Camp RAHH! provides an environment conducive to self-rediscovery in which individuals can freely be - whether that’s goofy, daring, loving, bombastic or introspective. If you fall, your counselors and fellow campers will be there to catch you and lift you up again.
Again with the HMX.

Oh yes, there's also music—Camp RAHH billed itself as a music festival in two other (and, notably, more general-audience) magazines. Not like a talent show, mind. The camp had performances by three local indie bands: Manatee Commune (blandly pleasant chillwave electronic stuff), Zach Fleury (gratingly bland indie acoustic Mumfordism), and Susy Sun (grating indie-girl-voice dreampop)... hooray! Only music that everyone is supposed to like and nobody is supposed to hate! Granted, it would be highly surprising to find campfire music performances that were risky. Risque maybe. But is the selection here any different from what you would find in the heart of Capitol Hill, Ballard, Fremont, or Belltown? Nothing sets it apart from urban existence. It's still the same kind of "chill."

And it would be so easy, too. Folk songs and Americana are still pretty huge. Why bother with electronica, except to ensure that nothing is upsetting?

V.

How did (allegedly) actual people plug Camp RAHH? Well, we have Fresh ʃess, a "digital marketing strategist" who is also good at abusing website-header typography and URL of this post:
We're all looking for a little more time to unplug and decompress, no? Here in Seattle, a group including some of my favorite creatives [Ed. *hurk* *gag* *barf*] has created just the space and time to do that.
As a Pacific Northwesterner who spends way too much of her time staring at a screen when she could be taking in the lush, beautiful nature scenery surrounding her, Camp RAHH! just seems so fucking cool.
One wonders if maybe a non-digital marketing strategist would have more time unplugged, or if marketing strategy isn't the least compressed job one could find... but again, is the second paragraph supposed to be some self-effacing joke? Or a cry for help? Fresh ʃess "could be taking in the lush beautiful nature scenery" but doesn't... why? Just do it! That's even a marketing slogan!

Here's Stone Cold Betch (aka Nicole), lifestyle blogger (including hella ironic(?) space magic), who asks Do YOU Need a Digital Detox?, only to answer:
We ALL need this: a dedicated weekend, summer camp style to make us unplug, recharge, and reconnect with people in the real world.
Well, that was easy. "All of us," then. Now, granted, Camp Quest is a whole week of unplugging for me, and I love that about it. But I don't want to be a camper, I want to be a counselor. I can do that and still "recharge and reconnect".
I think it’s important to think about how many people we, as young and hip and connected people, disrespect without trying because of our constant “need” to be on our phone. My grandma gives me the stare of doom when I’ve *unknowingly* grabbed my phone and started to look through it at dinner or something. I realized that’s not the social norm for most people. As a generation, we have terrible table manners.
Translation: I'm a huge douche, and so is everyone I know. Seriously. "As a generation" nothing, Betch! Just your little insular social bubble. Nothing but FOMO—really, narcissism sublimated into paranoiac social anxiety—forced you to get all those apps and services, after all. I know; I technically have an Instagram account, for joke reasons. It was work to use. Same with novelty Twitter accounts. Same with my actual Twitter account, any more. Microblogging and status-updating feels like more of a chore to me than does writing this novelette of a blog post. Think on that.
I’m taking a wild guess that we all have some kind of photo on Instagram with the hashtag #memories – or at least one associated (and hence the reason you posted) and, it sucks – you can’t actually remember much about said memories as you spent the entire time trying to figure out what or how to take the perfect photo to communicate said experience for social media.
Two things here. First, I don't! Ha! Assertion disproved! Second, some people seem far too desperate for #memories, like God and Zuckerberg forbid that you do something and it's not memorable enough. This is what I think underlies the Tinder-girl boilerplate of "I love going on adventures!" It's worth noting that an experience can be quite satisfyingly enjoyable, and yet not #memorable. At some point #memories becomes #nostalgia—I mean, #tbt—which is its own special evil.

And here's Billy Thompson, or BTHOMP, one of the Camp RAHH organizers:
Our work is largely in response to a growing trend of digital dependency that is threatening to undermine the way we connect with our friends, coworkers and community at large.
Again, I wonder: is it really a growing trend in the large? Or just within a subset of the population?
Campers from various backgrounds were empowered to emerge from their urban shells, connecting with likeminded people to explore new interests and practice being present in the moment.
"Empowered," eh? Well, this leads me to a final question: Is all of this really necessary? And, what exactly is "all of this"? That'll be the topic of part 2, because this thing is long enough already. Until then, go on your own hike or something.