Mud and Obstacle Magazine: An (Uninformed) Obituary

Mud & Obstacle cover

Farewell, Mud & Obstacle

I learned via Twitter that Mud & Obstacle magazine has folded.

I have no personal thoughts about that. I didn’t subscribe, and was only barely aware of it before hearing it had stopped publication.

I have several impersonal thoughts, though. Because this is the internet, I’m going to share them. Unlike much of the Internet, I hope it is helpful, or at least not harmful.

In any event, I’ve put more effort into this obituary than the any I’ve been paid to write. At least, most of them. There was the one about the lady who got eaten by a pack of wild dogs that I put a lot of effort into fact-checking, since it was a bit unbelievable and also because our readers were the kind of people who would send in fake obituaries in hopes that they would get published so they could make a big deal about how stupid we were. I also had to control my impulse to laugh my ass off, because the deceased was one of our readers who, as previously noted, were the kind of people who would send in fake obituaries in hopes that they would get published so they could make a big deal about how stupid we were.

But back to Mud & Obstacle:

Thought 1: That sucks. The magazine was created by people who, I assume, derived some or all of their livelihoods from that work. They lose that, as well as whatever satisfaction they derived from the work, which sucks. It also had subscribers, who had a relationship of some sort with the magazine, and had some sort of need satisfied by the magazine. They lose that relationship, which also sucks.

Thought 2: I’m not at all surprised that Mud & Obstacle existed, nor that it ceased to exist. There’s fairly little in the world that doesn’t have a magazine about it: I once worked for a company who counted among its publications the gloriously-named Bovine Veterinarian, and I’ve even had my writing published in a magazine dedicated to the apparently burgeoning lower-tier Renaissance Faire market. I’m not talking Minnesota, Texas, Bristol, or Carolina for this magazine—I’m talking Ren Faires in Decatur, Tempe, and Shreveport (I’m actually not sure about that last one, but I’ve been led to believe that you can find anything on a humorously small scale in Shreveport). You know, Ren Faires where you can get ye olde sausages smothered in ye olde cheese from ye olde plastic squeezy pump thing.

So, yeah, no shock about the existence of an OCR magazine.

But also no shock that it died. Like most things, magazines are businesses. Unlike most things, however, magazines are shitty, shitty, shitty, shitty, shitty businesses. I say that as someone who worked in magazine publishing for a lucky 13 years and never experienced a good business year. For most magazines, the business model relies more on ads than subscribers, and the 2000 recession combined with the rise of the web put magazine advertising into a toilet more difficult to escape from than Meat Loaf’s.

Thought 3: Ultimately, it won’t matter. The pain suffered by the magazine’s creators and its fans, as previously noted, sucks (increasing the net amount of pain in the world is not generally a good thing), but at the same time they will have the resilience to recover.

What about its value as an information source? I can’t really speak to the magazine in specific, but in general… well, I’ve seen too much of the publishing sausage being made to be too concerned. Let me clarify: I am certain that there are many pieces that appeared in the magazine that the authors put a lot of thought and energy into. (Even in my most bitter publishing days, when I was excited about a story I put my all into it, and as a result made some things I was quite proud of.) But I strongly suspect that there were other things that were published to appease advertisers, or because the subject served as catnip to readers, or because the editors simply had space that needed to be filled.

That’s really not intended as a criticism of the magazine’s creators. And, to be fair, it may be completely inaccurate. But I doubt it; it reflects my experience well, and the experience of other people I know.

I fully realize it’s weird to be as disillusioned by publishing—at least, much though not all of the end product—as I am and also working (on a voluntary, non-professional basis) in publishing as I am by blogging. How do I reconcile the two? Well, first off, I have no qualms about admitting that I’m hoping that this blog will lead to something—lucrative book deals, speaking tours, godhood—good for me. But I can also say that I will do my best to provide information, or perspective, or entertainment. It may or may not be successful, it may or may not be as worthy of attention as Mud & Obstacle, but it is.

Other people will do the same, in magazine or other forms. Some of this will be good, and some will be bad. Some of what is brilliant will be ignored, and some of what is terrible will be deified. That’s unfortunate, but not new.

Ultimately, we as people exist, and we continue existing, and we do what we do, and hopefully that is good. It seems like Mud & Obstacle will be missed, and that’s a good thing—the act of creation is far greater than the act of commenting on creation, and it is good and rare when something that is created is appreciated. But the creators, and the world of obstacle course racing will ultimately be okay.

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