...and me. September 19-21, 1999.
I got home from work on Thursday, Sept. 16th, to find this message in my email box:
>Date: Thu, 16 Sep 1999 10:28:26 EDT
>Subject: Jenny Jones Show
>X-Mailer: AOL 4.0 for Mac - Post-GM sub 54
>To whom it may concern,
>The Jenny Jones Show is planning on doing a show on the World Wide Web. After surfing the web, we stumbled across your website
and would love to speak with you in greater detail concerning your website. We need to hear from you ASAP.
Feel free to call me via my toll free number, [***] or my direct line [***]. Thanks for your time.
>Randy S. Kouba, Associate Producer
Curious. So I called Randy, and we talked for about half an hour. They were doing a show on "controversial web sites", he said, and were interested in having me on to talk about my Manson page. He asked me a bunch of typical questions - does Manson advocate suicide, should people be blaming him for Columbine, all that. Having been through this sort of stuff many times I fielded it with little distress. He seemed to think I'd done well and asked me to leave a phone number I could be reached at.
After finishing the conversation I realized I hadn't given him my office number, so called back, and we talked for another half-hour. At this point he asked me if I'd be interested in doing the show. I said "sure, if I have enough advance notice." Well, this actually is your advance notice, he said - we would be taping this show on Sunday. Right, this coming Sunday. I gulped, but said I could do that. I then got put on the phone with Jennifer, one of the show's producers, and had yet a third interview. None of the questions were at all out of the ordinary, same stuff we've all heard from the fundies and talk-show types all along. Seemed as though it would be pretty easy.
So they said they'd call me back with details and I commenced to jitter. What the hell had I just agreed to do?! We (EVB, coyote/judy and I) talked it over and agreed that we were always ticked off when they dragged kids out to defend MM to various haters, and that we'd often griped, "man, if they'd just get some serious fans who actually know something onto one of these shows..." --Well, it looked like time to put up or shut up. I said yeah.
They did call me back and gave travel details, so the deal was a go.I got time off from work and spent some time worrying about what to wear. Goth but dignified, we decided; I went shopping for a black velvet skirt and ended up with a classy Victorian-style ensemble. Judy redid my hair dye and brightened up my stripe to a great shade of fuchsia-violet. I told a select few friends and all were encouraging. Gradually the stark terror simmered down to a mild stagefright...I even began to think it might be fun...
Flew to Chicago on Sunday 9/19. They make a big fuss over you, I'll say that: picked up at the airport in a big white limo with bar, TV, the works; set up in a nice hotel (the Executive Plaza, $260 a night) with a little expense account you can charge your meals and phone calls to, etc. Gee, I said to myself, I feel like a rock and roll star.
Basically it goes like this: first night you're there, they have you come in, ask you a bunch of questions about your topic and tape you talking for about half an hour. Much praise and encouragement follows and you're given to believe that this - in your own words - is what the show will use. They then boil down your remarks to a bunch of one-liners which are pretty much what you said, though not quite in the way you said them, if you know what I mean and I think you do.
Second night, they call you back in, tell you there were sound problems with your first taping session and ask you with many apologies if you'd mind doing it over -- but this time they tape you reading just these statements. This punched-up stuff is what actually gets on the show, to be shown just before you come onstage. You may smell a rat at this point, but there's not much you can do. Meanwhile you're still getting star treatment - paid cabs everywhere, room service, all on the show's tab.
Monday was my day off in the city (while they were dicing my Sunday interview into soundbites, not that I knew that). Chicago's a pretty place. The hotel was right on the river and I walked up and down the waterside for awhile, seeing lots of neat architecture and the funny fiberglass cows they've had on display all summer (you can see them at Chicago Cows on Parade and Cowsonparade.net). Jay Hawkinson (DarkeOne of Spookykids List fame) is living and working in Chicago now and we had arranged to meet, so spent his lunch hour chatting over coffee at a Starbucks. Great to see him =) (he says hi to all list Spooks - his brother Justin/HooDoo is at school in New Mexico now, BTW).
That night I really began to be scared. I read my notes on the band's recent history over and over, trying to think what they might ask me. I had tried to call home, but mesa roomies are just about always using the computer so it's impossible to get through, and the hotel lobby's Internet access kiosk was down so I couldn't send an e-mail. The same thought kept dominating my mind: no matter how many people are on my side and think I should be doing this, I'm the one that has to go out there by myself and face whatever they throw at me. I felt very, very far from home and alone. (and a voice from somewhere said in my head: "now you really feel like a rock and roll star.")
Third day is when they actually tape the show. It developed that they bring in 6 - 8 people for each program, toss 'em at the audience, tape the resulting free-for-all and edit the show that will actually air from that. So there's no way to know ahead of time which of the assembled guests will appear in the finished episode. It also developed that the real topic of today's seminar was "Hateful Web Sites", and that my fellow guests were (1) Rev. Matthew Hale of the Church of the Creator (you may remember the recent shooting rampage by one of Rev. Hale's parishioners); (2) another white supremacy guy, this one more on the neo-Nazi side, who runs a site called stormfront.org
- he was there mainly because his 10-year-old son Derek runs the companion site, Stormfront for Kids ("..and belongs to the Racist Kids Webring," we muttered); (3) two of the semihuman creatures who run www.godhatesfags.com, passing for raucous good ol' gals ("You can yell at us all you want, but you cain't yell your way out of hell, honey!");
(I tell you, no matter how accustomed you are to the idea that such people exist, their brazenness in person can still shock you. When these two were asked what was the first thing you would see on their site, they answered straight back, "Matthew Shepard burning in hell, where he belongs." --I mean, dear Mother Goddess...)(4) a guy from the Michigan Militia; (5) me; and (6) a guy who runs a site called Gore Gallery, which features autopsy and surgical photos, weird sex, mutilation and the like. (He turned out to be the one who had recommended me to the JJ talent search...)
--As you can see, a wide range. As you can also see, I began to have great trepidation about being in any way linked with these fine folks.
Randy K. took me aside for my briefing. He explained that, being a soft-spoken intellectual (!), I would need to modify my presentation for today's crowd: "dumb it down", speak slowly and loudly, and be prepared to get into the fray if you want to be heard. He also told me that they would have someone to confront me, a California woman who blamed her son's suicide on Manson. Well gee, I'd like to have known that a little sooner...
I did have some backup, that being Michelle, a Chicago spook they had brought in (very nice kid, about 16; she had carted in a whole crate of MM stuff to show off, though she never got to. She did know who I was and was genuinely excited to meet me; um, wow. =). --We sat in the "green room" (yeah, they're really green) and discussed our predicament while the racists talked shop and the gorehound guy sat cuddled on the couch with his wife, watching TV, cute as kittens. What a surreal roomful we were. Eventually they trotted us off to makeup and then lined us up in the waiting area. You sit on these little plastic chairs and listen to the staff revving up the crowd, waiting for your turn to go on. Must be how the old gladiators felt.
Rev. Hale got on first, and black audience members were all over him from the word go. Had to give him a point: he's a smooth, heartless little godpusher and thoroughly loathsome, but he's got his rhetoric down to an impervious drill and fielded them all with ease (you'll hafta forgive me at this point: such was my terror that I was no longer hearing ideologies but only trying to pick up some cues on how to address a crowd that's there to hate you.). His confronter was Darren, a well-spoken black Navy Seal about the size of an office building. They had words. The Stormfront guy and his son were next on and that kept the hate level way up, though Jenny kept trying to steer the point away from the site's specific content (racial separatism), and toward the nastiness of targeting racist material at kids and/or raising your kids to be racist propagandists. (Derek did get to address the audience himself though he wasn't brought onstage - he was seated in a separate room & Jenny and the camera went in to talk to him. He was one scary little piece of work. Absolutely calm about how he was doing this of his own accord, not because dad told him to, and how he didn't consider himself to be a racist but just wanted white kids to take pride in their own heritage, etc. And the site is real kid-friendly; even includes Pokemon stuff and a downloadable game: White Power Doom.)
--Man, this was getting creepy. The energy level in that room was something else, and I wouldn't call it healthy. The two she-things from godhatesfags went on next (Liz and Judy had actually bet me they'd be among the ones on this show, so they won their cookie). Lots of gays on the JJ staff apparently, so these two were popular =) and two audience members were brought on to be their confronters. More fun ensued. You understand that this consists of everyone who's now seated yelling back and forth at everyone else, standing up, shouting each other down, just this side of a brawl. This isn't a talk show, it's the goddamn World Wrestling Federation. (They had off-duty Chicago cops standing at each side of the stage and they'd been lecturing us all along that "this isn't Jerry Springer" and no fighting is tolerated. I could see why they were needed.)
By now they'd run about 45 minutes of their taping hour and Michelle and I were starting to wonder if we were going to get onstage or not, or if they'd just bring on the militia guy. Nope. Someone came around the corner and called our names. They showed me where my entrance would be from and said I'd get a cue. I was terrified. I just knew from the bottom of my gut that I could not do this. Too late to back out now: Jenny said my name, the guy said "go!" and out I went.
Didn't trip on my skirt coming down the steps; so far so good. Jenny asked me a coupla'questions about my site and I said my little Manson defense piece: doesn't worship Satan, doesn't kill animals, doesn't advocate violence, doesn't promote suicide, has been lied about for years. Is his stuff hateful? I hope I said no (though that's not exactly true - depends on definitions..). It's kind of a blur. Michelle then came on and gave a great speech about the positive nature of her MM experience (bless her, she did much better than I did). So, sez JJ, you feel Manson's misinterpreted and misunderstood? well, we have someone here who doesn't agree with you...
Enter angry blonde woman, who gave us a look that I hope to Isis I never again receive from anyone. Pure ice-cold hate. To her we were as personally responsible for her son's death as if we'd handed him the rope. My mind went blank - I'm sure now that I know who she was and what had happened to her son (Ben Bratt, of Pollock Pines, CA: hanged himself with a guitar string in Feb. 1997. He was actually listening to the Sex Pistols when he killed himself, and had the name "Sid Vicious" carved into his chest, but his parents cited the Antichrist Superstar CD-- which they themselves had bought him for Xmas --as a major influence, along with NIN and the Dead Kennedys. His death closely followed the suicide of Ben's friend and fellow Goth/Industrial fan Chad Stuart, who had hanged himself in a nearby park on Jan. 28th - oh yeah, that's obviously all MM's fault.) - but I could think of nothing. She demanded to know why Manson had written "shoot shoot shoot" if he's so not in favor of suicide. That could be about Manson's own death, I said, it could even be about drugs; I'm sorry for you, but what your son did is not what Manson would want, he doesn't advocate suicide. She just glared.
She would not sit next to us and moved away at each break thereafter.
After that I was just no use. We were obviously not going to provide a "colorful" fight, so the camera and JJ's attention switched back to the other end of the row. The godhatesfags duo kept yelling that Manson was a pervert, but I ignored them (as I would if I heard that on the street) and only later realized that I was supposed to stand up and engage them in an argument...
See, that was the problem. The rules of the JJ game went against all my experience and discipline and everything I do. Ever since Thursday I had been telling myself "no matter what they say don't let 'em get you mad, don't lose your temper, make your points but keep your balance" -
which is what I always tell myself, which is the course I have tried to hold to, this whole five years of dealing with haters - and I just could not change plans that fast in midstream. I could not do it. (Not that I believe I should have - just that I didn't fully realize, till that moment, that what was expected of me here was not in my vocabulary. - see footnote below.) I doubt my voice is heard at any time in the remaining ten minutes or so.
And that was that. JJ made a closing statement and they herded us off to set up for the next taping (they tape like four shows a day). The militia guy and the gore fan never did get on. --I was just about in tears, feeling I had failed completely. Michelle was great, she gave me a hug and told me I had done much better than the others by staying cool and not letting them get me into a fight, that all MM fans could be proud of me (this has been the line from just about everyone I have told this to so far; I hope they're right though I don't feel they are). After some shuffling I ended up loaded in a limo back to O'Hare with Stormfront Guy and his son. and that's about it.
I've been alternating between bashing myself for not being able to manage the situation, and accepting what everyone's telling me, that I did the best thing for MM and Spookdom Worldwide by keeping my dignity and not getting into a dogfight. I don't know really. It was a horrible experience and I feel I was seriously misled about the premise - if anyone had used the phrase "hate page" at any time I would have never agreed to go.
But anyway, that's it. It airs in "about three weeks" which by now (September 30th) is about two weeks. [10/04/99 footnote: Actually, today.] I seriously doubt I and Michelle will even be in it. If we are, and you're disappointed, I'm truly sorry; but try to understand what it was like...
Postscript, 10/04: Thanks for all the mail, spooks & friends. I think I need to clarify one thing: though I do a lot of kicking myself here, I don't mean that I think I should have abandoned all dignity and joined in the mud wrestling.
What I feel as if I should have done is to somehow make my points without descending to that level - just made more of an impression somehow.
I have gotten lots of fine, thoughtful comments since this page went up, and I guess I have to agree with the general opinion that (a) the show is solidly rigged against rational discourse and the rules of civilized debate, and there's no way I could have played their game with my rules;
and (b) I (one hopes) made a better impression by what I didn't say with composure, than with anything I might have gotten said at the cost of behaving inappropriately.
I hope so. At any rate, please do not think that I regret not having gotten into the bar brawl. I do not. I just wish I could have thought fast enough to prevail over those conditions and still say more on behalf of us and MM. C'est la vie. ==a==
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