DON’T BLAME THE MESSENGER (Editorial, Arthur No. 5, July 2003)

Originally published in Arthur No. 5 (July 2003)


…To rage in sound this valiant despair

Doom and gloom as each a splendid pair

To rage in sound the valiant despair

Play your gloom axe Stephen O’Malley

Sub bass ringing the sides of the valley

Sub bass climbing up each last ditch and combe

Greg Anderson purvey a sonic doom…

Don’t blame the messenger of gloom,

Don’t blame the messenger of doom,

For this be the Ragmarockingest aeion

In stillness O’Malley and Anderson play on… play on… play on…

– text by Julian Cope for “My Wall” by SUNN0)))

When we started working on this issue, the war was still on. (Oh we know it wasn’t a war, it was an invasion. And yes I know the war isn’t over yet, that  it’s only just shifted into a traumatic transition-to-imperial rule period.) We’d just finished the last issue as the USUKFOXMSNBCAOL forces had begun to roll across the desert, embarking on an epic fool’s errand that we‘ll all be paying for the rest of our lives. We decided to do what we could as soon as possible: to publish an issue of Arthur as powerful as we could muster to confront, or at least examine, the United States’ newest, and most dangerous yet, lurches towards imperial power abroad and a weird kind of proto/crypto-fascist rule at home.

“Imperialist,” “empire,” “fascist”: these are strong words, and I assure you, they are not used lightly here. But what other words describe where we are now? America is simply continuing to expand its military presence across the globe—now we are not just in Germany (100,000 troops, 58 years after the end of World War II), or South Korea (40,000 troops, more than four decades after the Korean War’s conclusion), or Japan, or the Philippines, or Puerto Rico, or Afghanistan, now we are in the heart of the Middle East. We are acting as empires do: expanding outward, identifying pockets of resistance, stamping them out and replacing them with puppetish local governments who operate under the watchful eye of centurions who report back to the seat of Empire.

And at home? I walk out my front door and find that an American flag has been placed on my (rented) front walk by a local realtor, advertising his services. I drive to Vons for some groceries and almost every vehicle has an American flag stickered on it. “United we stand, divided we fall” warbles some mawkish Up With People choir on the Vons PA; when I complain to the store’s manager, she looks at me like I’m a madman, or worse, a Muslim. I come home and there’s a letter from a Dreamworks promosexual about the success of country dipshit singer Darryl Worley’s call to arms, “Have You Forgotten,” an execrable song that advocates the slaughter of innocent Iraqis in revenge for the September 11 attacks they had nothing to do with. (Note: This song was #1 on the country charts for six straight weeks.) In the weeks since, with the exception of wise old Senator Robert Byrd and some brave mainstream media commentators (take a bow, Paul Krugman, James Wolcott and Robert Sheer!), there’s been such a wave of unrelenting propaganda and willful disinformation and just plain misdirection by both the government and the media that many of us who know something has gone terribly wrong are finding ourselves disheartened, isolated and depressed. We return to our various recreational and business and creative pursuits in a (totally understandable!) ostrich-like effort to forget what has happened and what is happening and what is gonna happen next. 

We are in a trance-state. A trance State.

So,  naturally, people started asking, Are you still planning to do that anti-Bush issue of Arthur? We said, Hell fucking yes. You’re in the worst danger when you don’t think you’re even in danger. Better to leave the light on, so you can at least see what is happening. When crazy talk has become accepted common sense, when a powerful elite’s delusion has become the consensus reality, that’s when dissidents have to speak up, or at least speak with each other. An historical example of this, and the primary inspiration for this specific issue of Arthur, is the ferociously satirical work that German collagist/artist John Heartfield did for the AIZ paper in the late ‘20s and ‘30s, warning against Hitler’s ascent from early on. Heartfield was not just right–he didn’t just see something awful coming that way–he did something about it. This is crucial. Heartfield didn’t curse the darkness–he cursed Hitler. 

We want to try and do the same. This issue is a collective curse against the folly of empire, against those who advocate it and those who profit from it. It’s a curse against the Bush Administration and its media mandarins and apologists. It’s a curse against the willful ignorance and docility of so many Americans. And it’s (hopefully) a call, an inspiration, to all righteous free-thinking individuals to simply do what you can to shut this shit down. Do what you’re best at! But do it in such a way that at a minimum, it causes no harm. 

Think about the consequences of all of your actions. 

Re-align your life the best you can. 

And remember that you are NOT alone. 

Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned doing Arthur, it’s how un-alone we are. Know that this whole enterprise is ad-hoc, put together by both friends and strangers on the basis of trust. It’s entirely financed by our loyal, beneficent advertisers, by some unbelievably generous donors and, well, by Laris’ and my personal credit cards. It’s created by a talented, as-yet-salary-less staff and a loose coalition of brilliant, as-yet-unpaid contributors. It’s distributed—by hand!—by a guerrilla network of wonderfully dedicated, as-yet-uncompensated volunteers, spread across North America. Arthur’s success is, in short, a model of a different way of doing things: of people engage in mutual aid and good faith and goodwill, all in the service of freethinking, at-length-if-necessary, full-on free expression. Isn’t that what being human amongst other humans should be about? It doesn’t have to be about endless exploitation and bottomless greed and an unending quest for power/control and the rule of the jungle. This may sound banal, but seriously: if more of us just tried harder, more of the time, this can be a better world.

And if the world doesn’t get better? Well, at least we did our damnedest.

Jay Babcock

Los Angeles

May 29, 2003

THIS MAGAZINE COULD BE YOUR LIFE (Editorial, Arthur No. 9, March 2004)

Originally published in Arthur No. 9 (March 2004)

This Magazine Could Be Your Life

We’d like to give a warm public welcome and a hearty hurrah to author Daniel Pinchbeck, cartoonist Ben Katchor and publisher/cartoonist Tom Devlin, who are all joining the Arthur team starting with this issue. 

Like every single person associated with Arthur, from those listed from top to bottom on the masthead to the right, to those with bylines and credits in the magazine, to the 120-plus folks who distribute 40,000 copies of Arthur across North America every two months, these gentlemen are working for Arthur for close to nothing. They could be doing something else. They’re not. They’re putting their time and energy where their heart is. 

This is not something unusual: there have always been people like this. Just look at this issue of Arthur, with its true stories about pirate radio operators, kinetic sculpture racers and revolutionary rock n rollers: like most issues of Arthur, its pages are devoted to people who have placed love over gold, in their art and in their craft and in their work and in their lives. 

None of them—none of us—are perfect (except maybe T-Model). And sometimes, we at Arthur sing in a key we simply can’t quite reach, as we try to build something that is a little less compromised, a little less oriented toward greed, a little more loving and open. Basically, we’re trying to do a magazine that reflects and embodies a set of ideals that run absolutely counter to the mainstream culture, which is more diseased, corrupt, demonstrably insane and world-destructive by the day. The funny part, though, the part they (and you know who “they” is) never tell you, is this: once you opt out of that terminal culture, you opt in to something much more fun. It’s not too hard to leave all that bullshit behind—if Laris and I can do it, believe me, anyone can. 

That said: Arthur needs all the help we can get. Integrity shouldn’t mean involuntary poverty: everyone needs to eat, even the starving artist. So, thank you to all of you who have already helped Arthur to its early success. And for those of you who want to play a bigger role, who want to put a little more of your money where your heart is, please buy a subscription, or a T-shirt, or support our honorable advertisers. We can make this work—for everyone.

All best,

Jay Babcock