If you regularly lurk the deepest corners of Instagram, you may have come across Ted Barrow’s Instagram account before. Ted has quickly built up a decent following, and the concept for his account is extremely simple: submit a skatepark clip via DM and receive a publicly posted, all-encompassing review of both your trick and outfit, along with whatever else Ted feels like pointing out. It’s every bit as hilarious, subjective, and occasionally dick as you’d expect crowdsourced skateboarding to be.
I knew little to nothing about Ted before following @feedback_ts, beyond the fact that he lives in New York City and he had a clip in Static V, but I was eager to learn more about the man behind the criticism. With that in mind, I caught up with Ted at Brooklyn’s Fat Kid Park (of course we met at a skate park) to learn a little more about the Robert Hughes of skate park clips.
Let’s start with the obvious, who are you and what gives you the right to criticize all these people?
In other words, how dare I? That’s a tough question to answer, but off the bat, I’d say this comes out of the tenuous way that I still try and maintain some hold on skateboarding. I am an art history professor and tour guide, so I am trained to lecture and give feedback to my students. Most of my feedbacks are not rehearsed, and part of the fun for me is trying to come up with something to say that is spontaneous, engages the actual clip, and hopefully succinct and entertaining. I should also underscore that my opinions are totally arbitrary: they should not be taken seriously.
The idea is more this ludicrous one that I am taking something that most people glance at a little more seriously, and often over-analyzing something that speaks for itself. In other words: the whole thing is a farce, and I know it, and I do hope that everyone gets that.
I grew up like most other skaters, skating every day, two hours a day at least, for about 20 years. Then life happened: I went to graduate school, I got other jobs, developed other interests, and now I’m lucky if I actually skate more than twice a week. I have no right to criticize, but I have as much to say as anyone else who skates. We all skate and our input is actually pretty important.
“Part of the fun for me is trying to come up with something to say that is spontaneous, engages the actual clip, and hopefully succinct and entertaining”
Do you have your Ph.D. yet?
I’m in a very long Ph.D. program in Art History, which means that I have had to take a lot of side jobs while I finish my doctorate. For the past five years, I’ve been an art history professor for different colleges in the area, and I give historical walking tours around New York City. I just took a full-time position in the curatorial department of a museum, so I may be submitting fewer clips per day, which is probably overall a good thing.
Is this your way of trying to stay connected with skateboarding as you grow older, or are you trying to criticize what skate culture has turned into?
The account started out of inside jokes amongst friends in our group chats. It seemed we were always exchanging clips and commenting on them, and often the comments that had the least to do with the actual skating were the most entertaining. My buddy Dean—@batcitylegend—really jump-started it. He did this sweet heelflip in a cool outfit and I sent him an appreciative video about it, then realized that this might be a thing I could do for everyone.
You’re one of the few skateboarders I know who likes The Magnetic Fields. When I listened to that band heavily, I felt I was masking an underlying depression. Would you say that your Instagram account is a coping mechanism for similar feelings?
Jesus, nailed it. I would extend that analysis to skateboarding in general. The older you get, the more responsibility (and let’s face it—abject sadness) you have, the more vital a role that skateboarding plays in our depressed lives. I’ve always been on some hipster shit on the low, and The Magnetic Fields were definitely the soundtrack to my well-dressed but utterly depressing first few years in New York (2002-04).
There’s a couple of low-key rules to your commentary, can you explain them?
There are a couple rules, none of which are overt. First is that it has to be skatepark footage. For me, this kind of keeps it casual, less serious, but it’s also a commentary on what we have grown accustomed to seeing and accepting in mainstream skateboard media. Think about this season of “King of the Road”: at least half of the stuff is filmed at a skatepark. Think about The Berrics being so huge. I’m old enough to remember a time when the idea of submitting skatepark footage for a video part would have been unthinkable. I’m also into skating enough to like it all: the more the merrier, and having skatepark-only footage seemed like an easy parameter.
The second is that if someone does submit non-skatepark footage, I ignore it and tell a pathetic name-drop story about some awkward encounter with a #90s pro. That one is pretty straightforward.
The third—and this one more tacit—is that whether I like or dislike the footage is pretty arbitrary. I have praised outfits and tricks that I’ve secretly hated, and I have beshat upon what I consider to be the best skating that has been submitted to me. It is totally arbitrary and really depends on what sort of review I feel like giving. I will say that the mean ones are much easier to record.
Finally, sometimes I submit my own footage and the reviewer gets to say whatever they want.
What are some of the weirdest submissions or interactions you’ve had so far?
Definitely this kid “Lil Dunks” from Indiana. He sent a fully-edited video with him dancing to trap at the skatepark. It piqued my interest enough to check out his feed, and that took me on a wild and uncomfortable ride through the exquisite awkwardness of youth. He has an imitation account where he gives feedback to his little buddies, kind of mocking mine. I’m totally into it.
I know Jerry Hsu submits clips to you. Are there any other notable skaters that do too?
Tons. My Austin homies get first dibs because this thing really grew out of our group chats. Taylor Nawrocki has sent me a couple clips, he always gets in. A couple randoms whose skating I really enjoy, and always post a comment on right off the bat are @postsasso and @surprised_orange. I love how these guys skate and they’re seriously top of the list.
I have a few friends that think that I should be doing pros only, but that is totally antithetical to my idea of it. Pros can get in, but they get treated like everyone else. It’s more about giving voice—if that’s what you want to even call a thing where I speak on/about some stranger’s clip taken out of context—to the rest of us.
“The core idea of this feed is that I am devoting just a little more time—usually 45 seconds—to describing something that most people scroll right past and never think about”
How many misunderstandings have arisen from your feed? Have people gotten pissed?
An expected amount of misunderstandings have arisen. That’s understandable. I think people who happen upon this page get pissed when they see me assuming some authority. There’s this weird jock side to skateboarding that is on some tough guy-shit like “Dude, let’s see you do it!” I have a problem with that because it comes out of the assumption that people who suck shouldn’t have an opinion.
My whole thing is, we’re all skaters. We are all consumers. Our input and response matters to one another and to companies. I do not expect my commentary to be taken seriously. I assure you that it’s for mild, if peculiar, entertainment. However, I am entitled to my opinion, as everyone else who visits my page and likes or dislikes it is. I have been skating for a long time, and have done most of the tricks that I am commenting upon. So I do speak from experience, even if I know that there is something fundamentally absurd about offering my feedback on some stranger’s skating. They volunteered it, though.
The core idea of this feed is that I am devoting just a little more time—usually 45 seconds—to describing something that most people scroll right past and never think about. Good or bad, that is what I think makes it unique.
I took a look at your Rate My Professor page. Who do you critique more harshly: your students or your submissions?
Oof. I haven’t looked at that for a while. Unfortunately, my students have borne the brunt of my harshest critiques, but that’s my job as a professor. That said, some of my former students have submitted clips to me, and they actually fared a lot better in my account than they did in my class.
Do you think judging teenager’s outfits and talking about professional skateboarder’s heroin withdrawals might negatively impact your academic career?
Unfortunately, no. Academia is in a tailspin right now anyway, and I think having a (semi-) popular feed may, in fact, be an asset when and if I am on the job market again. Put it this way: I don’t think that it will necessarily help, but it probably can’t hurt. I don’t want to be too offensive or absurd, but I do want to keep it fresh and engaging. We all wear many different hats throughout the day, and it’s not necessarily a conflict to have all these different things going on.
Do you ever get sick of just reviewing tired and soulless skatepark footage? Am I missing the point here?
I don’t agree about any of the skating being tired and soulless. I think it’s all pretty rad, even if I’m not into some aspect of it. I think the soulless thing is maybe derived from the medium and format in which we see it.
I would never disrespect anyone’s efforts or reasons for skateboarding. We are all blessed to get to do and share this activity. But that doesn’t mean that I have to like or accept how skateboarding is presented and—let’s face it—promoted. Most of it is garbage. Sometimes it’s entertaining garbage, but garbage nonetheless.
The format often kills the excitement, and it must be hard from the filmer/skater/editor’s perspective: you never know what will work. Dancing on that razor-sharp line of working within a convention and not relying on rote formulae must be very difficult indeed. Which is why I have this stupid feed and don’t work in skateboarding.
The way I learned about skating was basically through trying to decipher inside jokes made six months before in magazines. That’s what Big Brother was, right? So in some ways, this is just an inside joke among friends, and I’m happy to share that with and include as many people as possible.
Do you see yourself branching out and live critiquing anything else?
I had an idea a couple years back where I’d just film myself subjecting board graphics—most of which are so fucking awful—to art-historical analysis, and I kind of always wanted that to be a part of this feed, but it has turned into its own monster and for the moment I’m happy with what it is. I save the formal analysis and overarching methodologies for my Ph.D.
One thing people should know is that I am a strong practitioner of the Pomodoro method: which is to write in a little burst. If I am at my desk filming a skate commentary, I am taking a 5-minute break from writing. These commentary videos are my little breaks from writing 350 pages.
The main thing that grabs me about this feed is that sometimes skating is about not skating. Care to comment on that thought?
Skating has been the lens through which I’ve discovered the world, so even when it’s not about skating, it’s about skating, you know? Put another way, I wouldn’t be talking about the not-skating stuff if it weren’t for skating, and I wanted this feed to be an offshoot of the stupid, ongoing inside jokes that I have with my few skating group chats. We all have these, right? Skating brought us together, but more often than not it’s the verbal or textual friendship that keeps it going. Would be boring if we were just talking about spots and sharing clips.
Is there’s a disconnect between skating being about not skating and the kind of Thrasher ethos of shut up and skate?
Well, I think that this ethos is half bullshit. The fact that you called it a “Thrasher ethos,” for example, reveals this paradox. Is Thrasher skateboarding? Yes, as it is a representation of the culture of skateboarding. But is skateboarding Thrasher? No. Skateboarding is a physical activity. It’s not really a dichotomy when you just accept that the physical and the cultural sides of skateboarding have always been fused.
When I started skating, it was hard, demoralizing, and fun and thrilling, but slow going. I immersed myself in the culture, I read every magazine cover to cover, listened to the bands they advertised, learned new words, etc. It was always cultural for me. Why do we watch skateboarding videos when we don’t skate? Why does skateboard media exist? Because not only is it the most radical activity—as Max Schaaf once described it—it is also the most compelling culture where you’re going to meet the best and worst and most diverse group of people you’ll ever encounter. The media reflects and drives that.
Believe me, I move through a lot of different worlds and scenes, and I remain rooted in skateboarding because I truly think it is the fucking best. When some stranger sends me a clip to review, I know that whether they agree with me or not, we share the same culture, which is rad.