I’ve often said that Stomp and Stammer ought to be examined in a laboratory as an unlikely example of a print media entity that somehow thrives in a digital media world.
Now, that examination could include its unfortunate self-destruction — which, at this writing, is ongoing and may be irreversible.
Stomp and Stammer is a modest Atlanta music magazine edited by Jeff Clark. Clark wrote something very dumb and insensitive in his January 2014 issue. Somebody took a photo of it — in the print edition, of course — and posted it on Tumblr. The ensuing social media shitstorm was breathtaking.
The January issue included a 2013 review, and Clark wrote (or as editor, approved) the following:
- “Most Overdone Memorial: The ongoing posthumous deification of Ria Pell. She was a nice woman who opened a restaurant that helped revitalize a stretch of Memorial Drive. She was also unhealthy and met with an early death. Had she not been lesbian, had she been a straight woman or man we would have seen but a fraction of the reaction. Instead, she was unrealistically elevated into something she wasn’t: a symbolic figure.”
Yeesh. Talk about tone deaf, ill-advised and wrongheaded. This was the kind of aggrieved-white-guy crapola that made radio talk show host Neal Boortz a gazillionaire. But while Boortz courted an audience of old, angry white folks, those aren’t Clark’s readers.
The folks who continue to mourn Ria Pell’s death — intown, diverse, gay-friendly — are the people who read S&S, patronize its advertisers and patronize the businesses that distribute the magazine. They got very, very angry. I don’t blame them.
They created a Facebook page. They began contacting S&S’s advertisers, some of whom announced they’d pulled their February ads. They began contacting the businesses that distribute S&S — or simply visited the businesses and swiped the pile of January issues that typically sit near the door.
They want to destroy S&S. I’m here to argue that S&S shouldn’t be destroyed.
S&S has a right-wing tilt that automatically alienates much of its audience. Its film critic, David T. Lindsey, routinely and happily goes into homophobic / angry-white-man territory. I read Lindsey’s stuff knowing it’ll often test my gag reflex.
But politics is only a subtext. As a music magazine, S&S has thrived because it’s smart and clever. It’s mostly well-written. It’s exceptionally well edited — you never see a typo or mangled prose in its copy. And it’s fun — even when it’s infuriating.
It’s also overwhelmingly positive. I don’t know of a piece of local media that promotes Atlanta and Georgia music as singlemindedly as S&S.
One of S&S’s virtues has been its willingness to piss people off. As editor of the magazine, Clark wrote critically about Atlanta music institutions like the Star Bar, the (defunct) Echo Lounge and Criminal Records. They all advertised in S&S.
Clark’s editorial decisions to take on his own advertisers took guts and gave S&S journalistic credibility. (I’m not here to fact-check those pieces.) Niche magazines struggling to survive typically find a way to sidestep such conflicts – by shading the truth or ignoring important subjects. Clark deserves credit for his willingness to occasionally risk his own advertising revenue in pursuit of the truth.
Some folks have suggested that if S&S disappeared, a replacement magazine or site would fill the void. But it’s unlikely a startup would take the journalistic risks that Clark is willing to take.
Clark also writes brief yet hilarious critiques of (what he considers to be) crappy music and musicians. In the context of each issue of S&S, they are isolated bits of vinegar in an otherwise upbeat salad of music news. He has clobbered friends of mine, and perhaps yours too. Yet these vignettes are the guilty pleasure that often drive his readers to pick up the magazine.
They also built years of individual resentments, which coalesced last week.
S&S is a free magazine. The two things that made S&S financially viable — adequate advertising and low-cost distribution — are now under attack. It only takes a few determined individuals to make the magazine disappear from the coffee shops, bars and record stores that distribute it. If the magazine can’t be found, then there is no magazine.
The same day the shitstorm started, Clark wrote an apology on his Facebook page. It appeared heartfelt. It also appeared to driven to save his magazine. I see no dishonor in that; clearly, the angry mob got his attention. The apology blunted some of the the anger, but much of it remains. That, too, is understandable.
On the anti-S&S Facebook group, there were ‘way too many people who posted stuff about physically harming Clark. Like Clark’s post, those comments were (at best) crude and insensitive.
To their credit, the administrators of the FB group deleted those comments and booted those people. Presumably, those commenters went away quietly, without any threat to their freedom (like a felony charge of making terroristic threats) or their livelihood, which is what Clark faces now.
I’d like to be able to write a rousing defense of Clark, but I can’t. (Clark is a friend of mine, but not a close friend. Likewise, my wife and I have many friends who are members of the Boycott Stomp and Stammer FB group.) His insensitive remark is indefensible. It wasn’t homophobic, but it was too close for comfort.
However, I would argue that S&S makes Atlanta a more interesting place. If it goes away, let it go away because the free market deems it unworthy.
In the February issue of S&S, I’m guessing that Clark will elaborate on the apology. He will probably give ample space to his detractors.
Here’s my respectfully-submitted suggestion to Clark’s critics: Let the February issue of S&S get distributed unfettered. That means, don’t swipe piles of it from distribution sites. Read what he has to say. Let the rest of us read it. See how respectful he is of his critics. Observe how much / how little advertising there is in it, the direct result of your campaign.
Then put it all in context by asking
- Has S&S been a credible, interesting and entertaining publication for 17 years?
- Does the anti-S&S Facebook group prove that some of Clark’s critics are equally capable of writing isolated idiotic crap?
- Does Clark deserve any measure of credit for apologizing for what he called his “crude, hurtful, disrespectful and insensitive” piece?
- Did any of the people threatening him apologize?
- Has Clark given the shitstorm he caused appropriately respectful treatment?
- Is the Ria Pell post, and other assorted gripes, worth the continued effort to extinguish S&S?
- Is Atlanta better off with S&S, or without it?
Weigh all that. Then make an intelligent decision — and not just an emotional one — on how much continued effort to put into the destruction of Stomp and Stammer.