Once an asshole… “What’s Left?” August 2013, MRR #363

Memory is a motherfucker.

Bill Ayers, Fugitive Days: Memoirs of an Anti-War Activist

So, I get this email from Mykel Board. He’s asking me to write, in my column, pro or con about MRR’s recent decision to shit-can Mykel from the magazine. He’s appealing to me as one of two of the surviving columnists from THOSE DAYS, but whether I’m for or against, he doesn’t want this action to pass quietly.

Okay Mykel, I approve of what MRR did. Let’s start with the basics. This has never been about freedom of speech, or the threat of censorship, in the pages of MRR for you or for any other columnist under the current editorial regime, or even when Tim Yo ran the show. Yes, you occupied a rather privileged position when Tim Yo was still alive. He rarely, if ever, to my knowledge tampered with your columns, even though you constantly complained that Tim and MRR were on the verge of violating your precious right to free speech. I joined “Tim and the Gang” in July of 1991, shortly after moving to the Bay Area. After cutting my teeth on laying out the now defunct Classifieds Section, I started laying out the Columns, which I’ve been doing ever since. I remember once when you demanded that we print a picture as part of your column, a picture of a black stripper as I recall. In your column you asked that your readers rally to complain to the magazine if we didn’t print the picture. Needless to say, Tim printed the picture.

I contend that this has never been about free speech or censorship because Tim was not a free speech absolutist. He never believed anybody had an absolute right to free speech, including you. He liked that you pissed people off, and he liked the controversy that the magazine enjoyed thanks to your columns. He put you up on a pedestal as a consequence. But he was not above censoring people whose opinions he didn’t agree with. Case in point, when Tim fired Jeff Bale for his columns at the annual general meeting December of 1993. Tim argued that the opinions Jeff regularly expressed in his columns were rightwing, reactionary, and little different from the rightwing reactionary tripe that could be found in mainstream media of the day. That full-to-overflowing meeting was held at the old Clipper Street house, and I attended it. I participated in firing Jeff Bale, wholeheartedly, because I too am not a free speech absolutist. I too don’t believe anybody has an absolute right to free speech, including you.

For Tim, the issue was always about editorial policy and control of MRR. I’ll get back to this point in a moment. For now I’d like to bring up one longstanding MRR columnist who had a history of continuously being censored by Tim Yo, as well as by the coordinators who followed. His columns were perhaps the most censored in the history of MRR. I’m talking about Bruce Roehrs. Bruce loved a style of rock music—including oi!, street punk, and skinhead hardcore—that was decidedly un-PC in lyrics and politics by MRR’s standards, then and now. A Roehrs music review was nothing without ample quotations from this or that song’s often nationalist, sexist, racist, or white supremacist lyrics. Beginning with Tim Yo, and continuing through every subsequent set of MRR coordinators, Bruce’s columns were regularly examined and his words routinely expunged, to satisfy the magazine’s standards of political correctness. Yet Bruce always deferred to this editorial control, good-naturedly accepted the changes to his columns, and continued to write for a magazine whose biases time and again infringed upon his self-expression, until the day he died.

I’ve read you yell and whine and throw shit-fits in print about Tim Yo’s entirely sham attempts to censor you, as well as the more substantial acts of censorship of your columns by coordinators since Tim’s death. I’ve even read of your faux outrage that lasted all of a New York minute when Jeff Bale was fired. But where was the anger at the ongoing censorship of Bruce’s column? Where was the indignation when Bruce’s columns were cut? When did you urge your loyal fans to write MRR to “Free Bruce Roehrs!”? It’s too damned easy to point out your fucking double standards.

Which brings me back to the issue of editorial power. Tim Yo was all about that, when it came to MRR. When Tim was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, he made plans to pass on the magazine to the shitworkers and contributors. That began with the plan for a “Gang of Four” of dedicated super shitworkers, which eventually evolved into an extended Board of Directors and one coordinator, then two; a scheme that became reality immediately when Tim Yo died. That structure remains in place to this day. I was part of that effort by Tim to turn over MRR to the punks from the beginning. I remember when Tim said that there would be only one rule: MRR always had to be printed on newsprint. Newsprint forever! I even remember when Tim said that we, the original Gang of Four, and the subsequent iterations of Board of Directors plus Coordinators shouldn’t fire you, Mykel, just because your columns pissed people off. This last desire on Tim’s part was never chiseled in stone however, or more precisely, never written down anywhere.

Finally, I remember asking Tim, pointblank, sometime during the transition period about what we should do if you turned out to be a rightwing reactionary asshole, just like Jeff Bale. Could we fire you? Yes, Tim said, we could, under those circumstances. I pushed further, and made it clear to Tim that we, as the future editors-in-chief of MRR, could let you, Mykel, go under certain conditions. Tim said that it would really have to be justified, but that yes, you could be fired. In other words, you weren’t sacrosanct. You weren’t an MRR columnist in perpetuity. Your tenure at MRR was not for life.

The myth of “Tim Yo’s legacy to Mykel” abides, if not in MRR, then in your own mind, Mykel. Certainly, it contributes to your sense of betrayal at being fired by MRR. Your first sentence in your email to me read: “[P]robably know by now that I’ve been canned by the current MRR regime (Yes, in violation of Tim’s instructions).” I would argue that the myth has contributed to a sense of entitlement on your part as well. And here’s where I transition from the realm of subjective memories into personal opinions. I won’t spend much time detailing your petty indignation in your columns, your facebook page and your blogs, whether or not you have been truly censored by the “current regime.” Or the thorough intransigence on your part to carrying out even the simplest requests on the behalf of MRR’s coordinators that you reply to letters printed in MRR critical of your columns, despite having done so when Marc Rentzer wrote a critical letter of your 9/11 column. Your churlish, petulant, and childish behavior toward MRR coordinators, past and present, has often amounted to conduct just short of harassment, in my opinion.

This infantile bravado, this sense of entitlement and escalating aggression, this mixture of braggadocio and insecurity is behavior that reeks simultaneously of desperation and resignation. As such, it suggests to me “suicide by coordinator.” Much like its namesake, you seem to have deliberately provoked MRR’s coordinators to fire you, an intentional act of literary suicide within the pages of this magazine because, basically, you appear to have been tired of writing for MRR and you wanted to end your involvement with the magazine once and for all. MRR’s coordinators honored your literary death wish, and obliged you by shit-canning your ass.

I say this, all of the above in fact, having always liked your columns. I have rarely agreed with what you’ve had to say, but I’ve always enjoyed you saying it. It goes without saying that no, I don’t think you have the right to say what you have to say, not in the pages of MRR. But now that you can no longer say it here, in MRR, I’m sad to see you go.

1 Comment

  1. […] former friend of mine continues to rant and rail against gays who’ve “betrayed” their […]

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