SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
October 9, 2016

Tossing Out the Gauntlet

 

In the ongoing and seemingly hopeless scrabble for work that actually, you know, pays, I’ve been casting a wider and wider net, pitching ideas to an increasingly unlikely range of publications. Can’t say why after all these years I would suddenly think the mainstream press would have any more use for me than I have for them, but what the hell, right? Not surprisingly, turns out they have absolutely no use for me whatsoever, even after I went to the trouble of returning to some of the stories I’ve been pitching them in order to excise any references to “cripples,” “Chinamen,” and “fuckwits.” I mean, I bent over backwards on these things, but I guess I wasn’t fooling anyone.

            Deciding to take a more realistic approach (or what passed for such in my case), I reeled things in a bit and began thinking back to the higher-end but still underground magazines I used to read when I was younger. I was so completely out of touch with what was out there now it seemed the most logical way to begin. Those older publications might be worth a shot. Way I saw it, if they were still around after twenty or thirty years, they must be swimming in dough. I knew Answer Me! was long defunct, as was RE/Search. Forced Exposure still had an online presence, but consisted mostly of new record reviews. I knew roughly as much about contemporary music as I did about contemporary television and movies, and cared even less, if that was possible. Then I remembered Gauntlet. It was perfect.

            With the tagline “Testing the Limits of Free Expression,” Gauntlet was a quarterly, perfect-bound journal that ran essays, interviews, fiction, cartoons and debates, all of them focused on taboo or otherwise controversial subjects like pornography, prostitution, racism, and religious and political extremism, while railing against censorship and politically correct thuggery. Given the wide scope, each issue was a crapshoot, with articles ranging from the insightful and challenging to the shrill and insipid to the stupidly shocking for shocking’s sake. But that was fine. They didn’t care who they offended, and in fact the more, the better. That was, at heart, the true nature of the First Amendment, wasn’t it? Not that it only applied to people you agreed with, but more importantly that it applied equally to people who pissed you right the hell off. They knew how to push buttons and did so with gusto. (In the wake of the hubbub surrounding Spike Lee’s Malcolm X biopic, they published a special issue devoted to racism which featured a cover photo of a Spike Lee lookalike wearing a confederate flag cap.) The editors had guts, which was a rare commodity at the time, and almost unheard of now.

            If ever there was a time when such a publication was sorely needed, this was it. We’re living in a pussy age, in which delicate, hypersensitive and over-sheltered college students are demanding “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” and railing (in their own simpering way) against something they’re calling “microaggression,” whatever the fuck that means. Worse, colleges are buckling to this wave of limp-wristed blackmail, rewriting policy and history alike to expunge anything from the campus or curriculum that might offend any of these soft-headed little coddled fags in any conceivable way. At least god bless the University of Chicago (my alma mater), which raised a national shitstorm by announcing they would abide no such nonsense and anti-intellectual pampering, that they expected their students, as ever, to debate issues directly and deal with different opinions in an open and intelligent way, no matter how uncomfortable it might be at times. Oh, heaven forfend! You can’t possibly ask today’s students to do anything that unthinkable! Yeah, it’s probably for the best I’m no longer teaching, as I have a tendency to shout trigger words a bit too loudly (“ANAL LEAKAGE!” “DENTISTS!”). Trigger Warnings my ass. How about a few fucking “Grow Up and Deal With the Real Goddamn World Warnings”?

            Contemporary universities are merely one obvious and extreme microcosm of the widespread disease. I’m hard-pressed to think of another time in modern American history when there’s been such a crackdown on language and ideas. Thing is, it’s not coming down from the power base—it’s being conceived and enforced by the young, which is fucking insanity, and blows a fecal wind toward the future. On a much smaller scale, it’s an era in which I’m finding my own stories edited without my knowledge or permission (not here, but in a couple of other places) to make them as inoffensive and non-threatening as possible. Suddenly the word “rape” becomes “assault,” and “blindo” becomes visually impaired.” What the fuck is that? I don’t think I’ve ever used the term “visually impaired” in anything but an ironic sense.

            Yes, it’s still easy to find plenty of shocking and offensive material out there, from unfathomable fetish sites to homemade and charmingly vulgar racist and sexist rants to snuff videos, but whenever any of these things comes to the attention of the media, the responsible parties are tracked down and publicly excoriated. Careers and lives are regularly destroyed because someone holds an unpopular opinion. Teachers at all levels have been shitcanned for questioning the dominant mythology or, in at least one case, using the word “niggardly” in the classroom. Our beloved Freedom of Speech is another goddamn myth, not in terms of governmental legislation, but in terms of the culture at large policing itself. Try it out some time and see how it works.

            Well, I’ve been ranting about all this for thirty years now. Point being, if ever the culture was in dire need of a magazine like Gauntlet to call bullshit on the whole namby pamby circus, now was the time. Better still, they looked like they paid. That was the place for me, alright. I mean, I know I was reading it a quarter-century ago, but it still had to be around. The times we live in simply necessitated it. So I got online to look up submission guidelines, contact info and pay rates.

            Oh, but I can be such an idiotic Pollyanna sometimes. Of course the magazine folded years ago, it seems a few short minutes after I picked up my last issue, meaning it folded before the Internet age. So there’s no print mag, no online presence, not even an archive. Nothing but a cold and quaint listing in a catalog of world periodicals—a brief obituary for not only a magazine, but an idea that could simply never survive today. And why should I be surprised?

 

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