You Kids Get Off My Lawn: The Remix

Today, I ordered a hat from Steep and Cheap. It didn't read the description very well until AFTER I had ordered. If I had read it, I never would have ordered the product.

Here's the description Steep and Cheap offered for an Outdoor Research brand fleece hat:

Outdoor Research Fleecy Hat - Women's

Pull on the Outdoor Research Women’s Fleecy Hat for everything from a chilly stroll through town to a day making turns on the mountain. This versatile stretch-fleece beanie also features a hidden zippered pocket inside the ear band, so you can stash a doobie for the extra long lift ride.

Yes, I wrote them a letter of complaint. Yes, I told them that skiing is a dangerous sport that requires mental alertness, coordination and dexterity. I reminded them that people die on ski slopes every year. Do I think my complaint will fall on deaf ears? No. Do I think it will be addressed in any meaningful way? No, I don't and I'll tell you why.

Below, I am including the entire conversation that I had with a rep of Steep and Cheap a while back. I was looking at products on their web page and saw a product description that included the word "shit". I wrote to the company then, just as I did today. Here is the conversation that I had with the Steep and Cheap rep. Great guy, but apparently a lone voice of reason in the company of 899 stoners. Here goes.

D: Ok, I'm an adult. And a pretty opened minded one at that. But you guys have GOT to get a clue and realize that adults are not the only ones looking at your web site. I like Backcountry.com and I like getting a good deal on Steep and Cheap, but I have just about reached my limit with your off-the-wall, cool kid-kid approach to sales that now has you cursing at me. When I read a product description like the Canada Goose M-Tech Bomber Jacket and I see the word "shit" in the description, I have to ask: whatever happened to common courtesy? Some people still believe that you don't talk like that in public or in front of strangers and certainly not in a professional environment.

Between that and the privileged, white male cluelessness of the Daily Dose, I'm just about done with the bunch of you. Can someone please tell that guy that being able to use epithets against different groups and not cause a bar fight over it does not herald the beginning of a post-racial America? I'd get truly angry except that it's obvious the guy is just ignorant. Why in the world you would want an ignorant oaf sending out emails daily to potential customers is beyond me. Maybe someone else should read his "column" before he whips them out to your readership. You know, and ask the obvious question....is this really going to help sell our products?

But cursing in product descriptions? Really, aren't you guys just a little more grown up than that?

The response came quite a bit later from Fred.
Fred: I have taken it upon myself to respond to any question regarding our content - whether it be the accuracy of a product description, or the nature of our language. First, I thank you for taking the time to express yourself.

I realized yesterday that your e-mail fell through the cracks, as I had two surgeries during January in a 7 day period - the second surgery falling on the day after you wrote to us.

To be totally frank, like you, I'm an adult (actually at 61 the oldest employee here) and pretty open minded. However, since I arrived here last May, I have been, myself, somewhat conflicted about the language that has always been characteristic of backcountry - so I have given lots of my own internal thought to this topic. and I wanted to give serious thought to the matter before writing back to you - six weeks should be more than adequate :-).

I joined the company last May as Content Manager, and I've been in corporations for nearly 25 years - but never in an organization like this one.

You are not alone in voicing concern about our language and our approach. I have always tried to reply to people with compassion and understanding. We may get 2-3 such e-mails a month on this topic.

However, the fact of the matter is, we get a exponentially greater number of e-mails from people who love our "non-conventional" approach.

(See this recent Blog Post for example: http://lefsetz.com/wordpress/index.php/archives/2009/02/10/tramdock/

I've been worked over a few times for my stances on these issues, and in general, I have personal issues with the degeneration of the English language that has been abetted by the Internet. The one consolation is that we never go to the extremes that you can find nightly on television in HBO, Showtime, or any other number of venues.

We are far more circumspect about language on the backcountry site, but dogfunk and our ODAT sites really push the edgy and irreverent style. No matter what my personal feelings are, I cannot argue with the fact that this approach has worked for backcountry, the vast majority of our customers love it, and it is difficult for me to argue with success. We've grown from 3 employees in a garage about 9 years ago to over 900 employees today.

As for the guy who writes the Daily Dose - he works remotely from NY - and I've struggled to relate to his humor, his attitude, his logic and, most of all, non-linear thinking. At first, I chalked this up to being at least one or two generations off the mark. However, again, I can't tell you how many totally dedicated readers of this daily message we have - or how very many e-mails we get from customers raving about the Daily Dose and saying that they never start their day without reading it. Go figure?

So, I'm truly understanding of your position and your feelings. I'm also trying to be honest about my own conflicted thoughts on these matters, but I'll also be honest in saying that it is not likely to change in the future.

If we lose you as a customer over this issue, I am truly sorry. I, like you, have been trying to "elevate the conversation" not only here but at all times in my 60 years. Most times, I feel like the world is winning, but it doesn't stop me from trying.

Also signed
Not a prude ...but a thinker
Fred L.

Regarding the link Fred offered. It is an interesting read. The most interesting comment made there, I think, is this:
Play to your core. If you deserve to be bigger, your fans will spread the word. And don’t be afraid of offending those not in the loop. They don’t matter.
In any event, I wrote Fred back with my afterthoghts.
D: Fred,
I appreciate your response. It was kind of you. I can't recall when I have ever received a more heartfelt response to a letter (or email) to any company.

I, too have given some thought to your response and I have only this to add. It is possible to be hip and irreverent even "nonconventional" without cursing at people. I don't think the cursing adds anything to the mix that wouldn't be sufficiently hip, irreverent, or nonconventional otherwise. Furthermore, there are words that are more accepted in our society (I'm thinking things like "damn" or "hell") that could be substituted and not raise an eyebrow from me.

But "shit"? That is not an image I want brought to mind when I'm deciding whether to spend a lot of money or not.

As for the daily dose, I have not struggled to relate to the non-linear thinking. I have struggled to understand why this gentleman would select topics to discuss that in no way relate to selling outdoor gear. And honestly, some of his topics reveal a disturbing lack of empathy or even cognizance of other's perspectives and feelings. Truly, his column does nothing but scream of incredible white privilege. Just because the writer doesn't see it, doesn't mean it isn't slapping the rest of the world in the face.

I just purchased a $200 sleeping bag from backcountry.com. I worked with the folks on your live chat to achieve that order. I had to return it, so I talked to your reps on the phone. I got my replacement bag and was very happy. Very happy. Everything about your company is top of the line--except this. And I am sorry to say that despite your best efforts, I'm not willing to continue to deal with offensive language.

So yes, you have likely lost a customer. Best of luck with the hip crowd.

And in fact, I hadn't ordered anything from the company since then. But recently, I guess I forgot about my stance and reloaded the Steep and Cheap notifier on my new computer. And I hadn't really ordered anything from them until today when I saw a good deal on this hat I liked. And wouldn't you know it, the very first product I order includes language that I find offensive.

So do I think that Steep and Cheap will change its ways? No. I'm not hip. I can be ignored. However, I did also write Outdoor Research this time. I asked for their ideas on how their products are being marketed. I anxiously await some sort of response from the company whose product I actually ordered.

Until then, there is nothing for me to do but get older, less hip, and more irritated by the younger generation. There is a change happening everywhere that I just don't agree with. Examples here. Here. And here. I fear I've become obsolete and my morality is out of fashion. Sucks to be me.


  1. Dude. Ok, I get surprised when I see epithets and cursing in things like catalogs, but I really could give a shit what language is on their website in terms of cursing in general. I've never understood this -- a word is a word; *how* it's used is the key. I'm not arguing that words have no power, but their power comes from their use and our understanding of it, not their simple existence. It seems part of your objection of course is that the word was used gratuitously, to evoke attention and appear hip; it was a stupid shortcut, in a way. "Ooo, I'm edgy!" (Your comment is almost about aesthetics in that way--"You guys are trying to be cool, but you're being idiots about it. It doesn't work" is part of the subtext I read in your message.)

    But did you actually do the "not only adults are reading your website"? What will it do to children to see the word "shit"? The worse it could do was make them incautious in swearing--that is, not knowing it's ok in some circumstances but not in others. But knowing the word itself isn't a problem, and knowing when it's ok to use it to me just points to the arbitrary and ridiculous nature of separating curse words as "different" in the first place. They're not "bad"; they're just inappropriate to use in some contexts. Why? Because we decided they were. How did we decide they were? Tradition, mostly. How was anyone ever harmed by swear words (excepting racial slurs here)? Especially those not directed at demeaning someone?

    And I don't really care for the argument that civility etc. is getting worse "these days". The fact that they used *different* words to curse at people 100 years ago doesn't mean they were more *polite* words. And certainly no one has been caned on the floor of the Senate in a while. Nor has their been a fucking duel between congressmen. Nor are racial epithets, many of which used to be fine in every day speech, acceptable any longer, a huge step FORWARD in my mind. We are, if anything, more civil -- no one has called me "boy" because I was black in my life. I'd say that's plus 1,000,000 points; I'll deduct 100 for inappropriate "shit" placement.

    The standards of what constitutes "things getting worse/less civil these days" never cease to amaze and confuse me. (One example: your suggestion that damn and hell are more acceptable. But this is only because people used them so much they became so; someone printed hell in a catalog 80 years ago and caused someone to write a letter to a company, no doubt.)

    Much of your peeve against them makes sense to me, but really more on a critique of the dangers of trying to hip through "talking the lingo" rather than through your actual behavior and interactions with other people. It seems like the problem is almost more that they're posers, than anything else (completely ignoring the Daily Dose dude).

  2. Oh, and on a totally different angle: one thing I think you're overlooking in "kids these days" as a huge step forward is, despite whatever other problems they may carry, many many people have observed that the generations coming up now believe that they can and *should* fight for social justice. Now, my generation (tail end of "Gen X") thought apathy was the coolest thing since, well, whatever. The normative assumption was that the world's problems were insoluble, and always had been. All other generations had been naive idealists, but we were on the real; work your hustle, but don't think that changes the big picture.

    The fact that I have students and have heard many stories of this generation coming up wanting to be involved, wanting to change things, the whole Obama-message--is an immense positive. Many of them are even civil while they're doing it, but whatever. If the overall attitude is for change and justice, the fucking absolutely curseword-laden shit that might come out of their mouths from time, or in their poseur catalogs, is a small price to pay.


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