Summer camp for "adults," pt. 3 -- Late stage camp-italism

This post is third in the Summer camp for "adults" series: See part 1 and part 2.

How long can I go in critiquing another, more transparently corporate-retreat-aspiring "summer camp for grown-ups" before giving up and yelling "fuck off"? Read and see!


At the end of last summer I wrote two posts about Camp RAHH, "Seattle's summer camp for adults." And my feeling by the end of it was less rage than bleakness and despair, except for the one hopeful fact that they were paying money to their host camp, Camp Kirby, and that Kirby is a lovely place that deserves all the money it can get.

Now I've come to learn about the broader trend of adult summer camps, and I'm angry again.

I think I have a Facebook sponsored ad to thank for this, but first, here's a TIME article from 2013:
Like cartoons and cupcakes, summer camp is becoming one of those things adults just won’t leave to the kids anymore.

“Glamping” — that is, staying in a tent, yurt or treehouse but with butlers, electricity and luxury hotel-style amenities — was discovered by Justin Bieber and Elle magazine last year, and this year, camp fever seems to have trickled down to the masses. An “American Idol” alum is even hosting a new reality show called “Summer Camp.”

There are camps for dog lovers and drummers, for surfers, and for senior citizens. The Wall Street Journal says there are some 800 summer camps for adults, and the number is growing by about 10% a year. So go write your name on the inside of your undies and grab some granola bars: Your camp is waiting.
As soon as my eyes scanned the word "glamping" I had to fight the urge to yell "Fuck off!" at my laptop screen.

I mean, god damn it, but "retreats" were already a known commodity among the middle and upper classes. Why bother calling them "summer camps"? And for "grown-ups" no less?

Among those mentioned in TIME's list is Camp Grounded, whose original advertisement I saw on Facebook and on whose website I found the TIME link in the first place. How are they billing this...

Unplug & Get Away

Pure, Unadulterated Camp for Grown-Ups

Just Like the Summer Camp You Remember from Your Childhood
Trade in your computer, cell phone, email, digital cameras, clocks, schedules, work-jargon, networking events and conferences for four days of pure, unadulterated off-the-grid camp fun. Together, we’ll create a community where status updates, job titles, bitcoins and “busyness” models are worth little… and individuality, self-expression, community, friendship, and memories are what matter most.
Ffffffuuuu... no. I can't say it, not yet.

I said this before about Camp RAHH: What exactly is this giving people that can't be gotten on their own initiative? Well, I'll be charitable; maybe these camps are in places, and serving people, who maybe don't have the opportunity to enjoy natural parks or forests...?

It's not summer camp without tee-pees! ~u.w.u~
Well, this isn't a good sign. California, N. Carolina, New York, and Texas, all places that are pretty well known for having nice backcountries, and whose residents go outside a lot. But maybe they're at a lower cost? No tech might mean less expensive (oh who am I kidding)...

NY: 595 ticket + 27.85 fee
TX, NC: 645 ticket + 29.35 fee
CA: 695 ticket + 30.85 fee

Notably, the California rate is double what it was in 2013, judging from news articles.

I've got a bad feeling about this, but where are these camps, really...? How do they relate to urban centers...
Only 150 miles from the Bay Area...
Just 60 miles from NYC...
Just 40 miles from Asheville, you’ll find yourself in a setting rarely found in real life.
Just over an hour from downtown Austin...
Yep, tech nerds, hipsters, and "creatives" (hurrrk) abound! (Granted, New York City is New York City, but c'mon.) The North Carolina one is especially egregious, since Asheville itself is just two hours away from Charlotte, the largest city in the state!

Then there's the white-people-playing-Indians aspect. Sweat lodges and tipis! But don't forget speaking to the spirit of the fire with your fellow "primitives"!

But why stop at Native Americans? Throw in some milquetoast Eastern mysticism!

I sense a theme here. (The hell does tea ceremony have to do with camping in the wilderness?) And that theme is: stuff that's already thick on the ground in hipster/tech/"creative" enclaves. There's nothing surprising here, nothing that isn't advertised in every arts and music magazine, or random lamp-post flier, or every farmer's market, or every skill-sharing school.

It's all the same thing as one can find (if one is so motivated) in a hip urban setting, just now in a woodsy environment (with camp counselors!). Hooray? Again, there are already retreats for this sort of thing, as my friend Jon found out, to his chagrin.

I guess the idea here is that you can try several different things out? But isn't that also true of the regular in-town stuff? Oh, nevermind, I've already speculated on this in the Camp RAHH posts. It's (probably) all about highly-mediated-experiences and all-inclusivity.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, the press for Camp Grounded was bemused, at least in its first year. It was also, well, pretty obvious: the Atlantic article notes that the session was attended by correspondents for the New York Times, the New Yorker, and NPR. Ding ding ding!

The New York Times article not only drops the analogy to Wes Anderson's movies that I was totally going to make with a bit more disdain, but it includes this oh-so-flattering anecdote about the campers vis-a-vis the food:
Meals were vegan and gluten-free variations on summer camp staples: The first night we ate chickpea “sloppy Joes” and kale salad; another night, gluten-free “mac ’n’ cheese” made from rice pasta and soy with collard greens.
Oh, but that's not all. The official blurb about food is, well, eye-rollingly obvious:

Ding ding ding! No, that's not the dinner bell, that's the "rich urban liberal memes to justify price premiums" bell. Kombucha on tap? What's next, actual food woo?

Fffffuuuuu... no. Not yet. Back to the Times:
To hear some of the campers tell it, giving up meat was harder than giving up technology, and by the second day, talk of hamburgers, bacon and fried chicken was constant. For some, the craving for meat got so bad that a group of campers sneaked into the kitchen one night and devoured slabs of bacon and packets of hot dogs that had been stored in the freezer for the kitchen staff. Another night, two campers who had volunteered to tear kale for hours in the kitchen were rewarded with bacon, which they passed around like contraband candy at a weight-loss camp.
Jesus Christ, people, it's a fucking long weekend! But I guess Camp Grounded is delivering on its promise of letting campers behave like children...

Unaccustomed to such a legume- and leafy-green-rich diet, many campers privately complained about feeling bloated or snickered about the dubious wisdom of feeding 300 people so many lentils and asking them to share a few latrine-style toilets.
Ah yes, lentil sharts. Just like Boy Scout camp!

Oh, and there was naysaying press too. The Atlantic article shared some of my current views. The Atlantic Wire article put it succinctly in a headline: "Digital Detox Camp Is So Easy To Hate." Contrasted with the unshakable feeling that, say, the Mashable writer was genuinely surprised by face-to-face, unplugged conversation, I can't help but agree.

One attendee, not a professional journalist, blogged about the experience, including "The one event that completely ruined camp for me":
Sunday was the camp-wide activity – Colour Wars, and this one activity completely ruined Camp Grounded for me. We were all divided into teams based on our favourite colour – mine was blue. I was looking forward to Colour Wars – my childhood camp was always divided into two tribes, and throughout the month you earned points for your tribe by doing individual activities, earning badges, and participating in camp-wide programs. At Camp Grounded there were about 10 different colours and after breakfast that morning we all met our groups and were tasked with coming up with cheers, chants, posters, slogans etc. This might have been fun, however the sheer volume of items they asked us to create seemingly took hours to finish. When all the teams reconvened on the parade ground we all had to present the judges with their various cheers and slogans, and we were to be judged on them. This again could have been fun, except the judging was a farce with the judges assigning points in a random manner that reflected only the level to which a team would, to put it bluntly, kiss ass for what seemed like hours as each team repeatedly went up to do their cheers, and fawn over the judges.

Eventually it was time for lunch and we all sat in our teams, and at least where I was sitting, the talk turned to how Camp Grounded was nothing like what had been expected by the campers. There was a general feeling of discontent with some comparing it to being in high-school – the popular kids were the councillors and the chosen few of the campers who knew them previously, and the rest of us were the wallflowers who were being asked to obey their every whim.

About halfway through lunch the judges decreed that as of that moment we were no longer able to feed ourselves, and had to find someone to pair with and feed each other. I, along with some of the campers around me, refused to participate, and continued to eat as before. If a plausible explanation had been given for the request, or if there had been a reasoning behind it, I would have more than likely participated, but the dictate simply to force us to do something for the councillors amusement was despicable.
Highlights mine. Later in the post, we learn:
Camp Grounded was advertised as drug and alcohol free. It wasn’t. This alone wouldn’t normally bother me – drugs aren’t my thing, but I’m aware there are some people who enjoy them. What bothers me is that it was advertised as one thing, but no effort was made to ensure it stayed that way. This reinforced the ‘high-school’ feel of camp in that there seemed to be two sets of rules – one for the ‘popular’ kids, and one for the wallflowers and that wasn’t the experience I was looking for.
This is my completely unsurprised face. The Bay Area (and really, by extension, Silicon Valley) has acquired a Greek-row reputation for a reason, after all. And the extreme "do this, now do this" attitude (even in the official promotional materials) walks a very thin line between "authentic experience" and "hazing."


And now, the face-heel turn. What's this button?

Team building, eh? That sounds nice... but why do I get a bad feeling...

Oh. Oh no. Oh nononononononono...

Stop. Don't go there. Pleas don't. Pl―



This is all a goddamned lie. How can you go on about authenticity and "being a kid again" when every element of this experience could be found in a decently sized liberal-arts-college town? How can you go on about "unplugging" from work and digital addiction when you flirt so coyly with "analog" versions of those same things, knowing full goddamn well (or do you?) that it's called a "bulletin board" and not "analog analogies" (fffuuuucckk offfffff) of some Web 2.0 service, as the Forbes article helpfully offers:
The camp’s main courtyard is littered with analog analogies of today’s most addictive tech habits. Campers have physical “inboxes” — cubbies where they can receive letters, painted pet rocks, or even “spam,” as one camper hand-wrote letters from a Nigerian prince. They can ask questions or leave notes on large scrolls of paper — a human-powered Google search and Facebook wall. And the canteen has a board with post-it notes stuck on it with tips about the food — a replacement for Yelp.

And make no mistake, the trajectory back into corporate life is clear. Both Digital Detox (Camp Grounded's parent company, tagline "Disconnect to Reconnect"―fffuuuccccckkkk offfff) and Camp Grounded itself have prominent "for teams" sections, with Digital Detox explicitly "corporate + teams," and their mustachioed (fffffuuuuucccckkkk offffff) founder proudly told the eager techie press that Camp Grounded would expand to offer "day camps" in the Bay Area proper. I can only assume that was the precursor to "Daycare"―how transparently infantilizing can one get?

I mean, if literally wearing diapers is your thing, you do you; but can we not advertise it as something allegedly for the general public?

Oh wait, they also have a version just for Jews! Ffffffuuuuuucccccckkk offfffff