Roger Marolt: We believed everything they said about us
I think Aspen is becoming a caricature of itself. For as long as I can remember I have been correcting stereotypical perceptions of my hometown: Everybody is rich. Nobody actually lives here. Everyone is fit and thin. Nobody works. Everybody drives a Range Rover. The town has no soul. It’s all glitz and glamour.
These misconceptions were easy to refute with the truth. My parents weren’t rich. I knew truck drivers and maids, ranchers and cooks, mechanics and carpenters, and even a cobbler who repaired my corrective shoes. There were plenty of people who drank beer and watched sports on weekends instead of doubling down on fitness classes. There weren’t too many celebrities around, and the ones who were here were hard to recognize because they wanted it that way. I knew lots of people who were beautiful on the inside. Aspen didn’t seem glitzy or glamorous. We all woke up in the morning with messy hair and bad breath just like everyone else, but drove Jeeps wherever we needed to go.
I don’t think it has become harder to bust the myths about Aspen, but the myths have changed. I would have no credibility if I told those curious about Aspen that the culture isn’t dominated by money for show today. On the other hand, I can say that I don’t know many ski bums who are not middle-aged.
It seems what Aspen has become is a study of self-fulfilling cultural prophesy. When a lot of people looking in from the outside see a place they imagine instead of the place it is, the stereotypes eventually become realities. If everyone thinks Aspen is a glitzy place, then people who like glitzy places eventually move here and take up living lives to match their expectations. If Aspen wasn’t really glitzy after all, as it was not in the 1970s, some moved on, but more decided to try to make it glitzy. After giving this process enough time, Aspen became glitzy. Here we are. I can no longer refute this common outside observation. We are what we ate.
I wonder why we don’t pay more attention to this phenomenon. Communal personality appears to be the result of a deliberate process, yet we act as if our core civic personality just happens. We focus on the material in order to bring back a lost sense of spirit. We can continue preserving historic buildings and being sentimental over roadway configurations, but that isn’t going to save the town’s character. Things don’t create aura. People do, and sometimes dogs, too.
It’s easy to assume that Aspen can never be what it once was. We drive into town and look at all the new development and unfamiliar shops and restaurants and we think what our eyes observe is what defines the town. This causes one to either give up or double down on historical preservation, as if saving old houses can somehow bring back the best annual softball tournament in all of Colorado and teachers living in West End Victorians.
To the best of my knowledge, Aspen has never made a concerted effort to brand itself as anything other than a glitzy resort, so why are we surprised that the image we crafted and sold has finally become who we actually are? A lot of people here now came for this and they like it.
I believe a town can remake its personality, if it wants to, by purposefully willing itself to be something else. Corporation do it successfully all the time. But where would one start, if they wanted to change what substance their town is actually made of?
Some would say money and the price of admission is what has determined our character. While this is true and inextricably going to be part of our future, we should also remember that not all wealth is created equally. It is an error to believe that money, show and arrogance are woven together by fate. There have been wealthy people in our history who embraced the unifying human concept of body, mind and soul above membership in private clubs. It could happen again, if we make the effort to focus on the development of a personality more fitting with our surrounding natural beauty.
Developers only build the structures and infrastructure that support the community vibe. Much like what we wear and how we style our hair, buildings only reflect our character. If we desire Aspen to be more like what it was, we need to massage less product into our hairdo.
Roger Marolt thinks too much historic preservation can be more about personality and less about looks. Roger@maroltllp.com