This year the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board delivered a message to visitors and locals unlike any it has before. A one minute and 32-second promotional video produced by Minnesota firm Colle McVoy begins rather predictably: an image of the Tetons glistening against azure skies, snowflakes kissing the aerial tram, eager snowboarders and skiers piling into the gondola. Then we hear an old-fangled voice—a sharp juxtaposition to scenes of gregarious people donned in techy outerwear. Our impassioned narrator is Charlie Chaplin, circa 1940, but his words, it seems, were written only yesterday.
“The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way,” Chaplin says. “We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.”
His most powerful thoughts come next, but first some context is important. Chaplin’s voiceover is from a speech he delivered at the end of The Great Dictator, his first speaking film. In the 1940 satire—what some considered a plea for isolationist America to enter WWII—Chaplin plays two characters who are mistaken for one another: a Jewish barber from the ghetto and a dictator resembling Adolf Hitler. The slapstick tone of the film abruptly shifts at the end when Chaplin steps out of his character roles to deliver this speech, a scathing commentary on fascism and Hitler. It was a brave stance; when Chaplin began making the film in 1938, the rest of Hollywood, fearful it would lose the German market, was keeping its mouth shut about the Nazis.
In the Jackson Hole ad, Chaplin’s tenor rises: “Don’t give yourselves to brutes—men who despise you, enslave you, who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men—machine men with machine minds and machine hearts. You are not machines. You are men. You have the love of humanity in your hearts. You, the people, have the power, the power to create machines. The power to create happiness. You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.”
If we are to consider the crisis of humanity that compelled Chaplin’s words and compare it to the deeply troubling times we find ourselves in today—that we have a president who is actively eroding our democratic institutions and sowing public distrust in the press much the same way fascist dictators of the past have, then it was indeed a bold move to use Chaplin’s speech, to politicize Jackson Hole and say: These are our values.
“We can no longer be a scrappy counterculture that rejects the mainstream.”
To be sure, people will derive different messages from the ad. “I think it resonated so strongly [among board members] because it has so many meanings,” Kate Sollitt, executive director of the JH Travel and Tourism Board, told Adweek about the winning pitch. She distilled the message in this way: “We look at it as a little bit of a rallying cry. We want to keep this place wild. We invite the tourists to visit and learn, and when they go back to their communities, we want them to advocate for it.”
Indeed, the campaign’s slogan is “Stay Wild”—a call to preserve and protect the wild places that define the character of Jackson Hole. At its core, though, it is still a marketing campaign intended to drive millions of visitors and revenue to the valley.
Other companies in the outdoor industry have been more forthright. Some, for instance, are using their clout and capital to fight President Donald Trump’s attack on public lands. For his part, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard announced he is suing the president for shrinking Bear Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments by nearly two million acres. The words “The President Stole Your Land” were emblazoned on Patagonia’s homepage following Trump’s decision.
People like Chouinard understand the stakes are too high to keep politics out of the conversation. That’s one reason this issue includes stories that speak not just to our experiences as outdoor enthusiasts, but also as people who can be agents of change, beginning with cover artist Corinne Weidmann. Her stunning work largely focuses on the effects of climate change—how imperiled natural places, like the Swiss Alps and the Tetons, are losing the characteristics that have long defined and sustained them. Meanwhile, pro-snowboarder Halina Boyd, we learn, is embarking on a mission to empower female mountain guides in Nepal, women who report they are often abused or discriminated against by their male counterparts.
Individually and together we have agency. And that is among the messages to consider when thumbing through the pages of this magazine. Because while much of it remains as it always has—a celebration of snow, of Jackson Hole—there are also notions weaved throughout that suggest we can no longer be a scrappy counterculture that rejects the mainstream. No, to change the system, we must find ways to work within it. That is precisely what a working-class snowboarder born into a military family did. Mayor of Jackson Pete Muldoon planted his passion for people and his activism roots, that included political blogging and organizing “Occupy Jackson Hole” protests, and he ran for office. As a renter, a small business owner, a baggage handler—as someone who holds down several jobs to have a Jackson address, he represents the interests of regular people. After all, he began blogging about politics because he lost his home in the 2008 housing crisis.
Muldoon may have entered the fray for personal reasons but that’s not why he stayed. He knew something championed by Chaplin and other brave souls throughout history: if he remained silent, he would be complicit in the ills he saw around him.
So, as Chaplin declared in his cinematic screed, “Let us use that power. Let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world that will give men a chance to work, that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie. They do not fulfill that promise. They never will. Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people.”
Seventy-eight years later, fighting these same oppressive forces is indeed our only hope to stay wild.
See you in the snow… and on the streets. – Robyn Vincent