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Bad Taste - A Public Forum Isn't Always Comfortable
Tina Brown, the trailblazing editor of Vanity Fair, the New Yorker, and Talk, once famously remarked that, “An act of bad taste in every magazine is very important on a regular basis.” I’ve been thinking about that recently.
Occasionally, Alternatives gets accused of bad taste re: articles we publish. In keeping with editorial integrity, I generally print these dissenting voices, often with accompanying response from either the author or me, the editor.
A recent letter has arrived that falls into the category. “I am disappointed” she begins, “in what I’ve read in the Spring 2007 issue of Alternatives. I did not read the previous issue, but I know from looking at the letters in the Spring issue that you published something very sleazy.” She goes on, “Your publication should be positive. It should promote healthy choices, encouraging people to be safe, and to protect their bodies. It should be conducive to people’s spirituality unfoldingto them becoming calm, promoting peace, and feeling love in the world.” And on, “When you show a blatant disregard for the law, and you encourage the exploitation of women, you have become something that I do NOT want to read.” And on: “I think that you should be ashamed of yourselves because you let people pick up your publications for free in locations that children have ready access to, they might be choosing to read this, and I very much feel that they are impressionable and that you are not being educational for them. Ill people are also impressionable, and I notice that you include a directory which largely focuses on people becoming well.” And on, “You need to think about what your long-term impact on the community will be. Will you be promoting insanity? Please change the way that you interact with the community so that you promote the health and spirituality of everyone.” And finally: “Thank you for reading my letter. I do not want to hear from that deluded whore, so don’t have her write me a letter. Sincerely, . . .”
This letter raises a number of points. The first one, totally unexpected, is that letters to the editor about a previously printed article can be as effective in generating reader response as the article itself. But more to the heart of the matter is the notion that there is a right way to be a spiritual magazine, and Alternatives Magazine has failed that test.
What did we do? From where I sit, we stayed true to the mission of the magazine, to publish local/regional writers whose ideas and voices might otherwise never find their way into print. One of those voices was Wahkeena Sitka Tidepool Ripple, author of the article in question. We stayed true to our commitment to provide a social forum, to examine subjects, even taboo subjects, even “blatant disregard for the law” subjects at times. And why shouldn’t we? After all, one generation’s law may become a later generation’s liberation frontier, one century’s prohibition may be the next century’s progressive personal choice prerogative. Who knows? There are a few laws out there that I actively advocate breaking, sometimes it’s the only way to call out and clean up the institutionalized hubris or fundamentalist buffoonery that occasionally get enshrined into public policy. Sometimes it’s skillful to do so.
Did we fail in our responsibility to encourage healthy choices, personal safety, and people’s unfolding spirituality? What about the promotion of peace and feeling love in the world? What about the children?
Upon reflection, I don’t think we failed in any of these responsibilities. The fact is that we live in a world replete with every kind of activity that the esoteric laws of duality and manifestationas evidenced by the doings of humansallow. War & peace, love & hate, spiritual & materialist, monogamy & promiscuity, sex-positive & sex-negative, prohibition & personal choice, lightworkers & psychoshadowsit’s all there, all around us, all the time, and it’s all interesting. I don’t see a single taboo subject in the mix. Moreover, as souls inhabiting bodies in this world, it is dangerous to direct our awareness solely toward the pleasing side of the above apparent dualities, lest we let the shadow (personal or social) grow un-monitored. The law of attraction works both ways: we draw to ourselves what we pay attention to and what we try to avoid.
We NEED to be discussing the whole range of these things, to find the nuances of truth that reside in every subject, and to wrestle with the apparent contradictions. If we don’t do this work, we slide toward living in a world of one-size-fits-all law enforcement, or some culturally dictated straight-jacket where to be spiritually correct we must be some kind of nicey-nice affirmations mumbler, or become the sheep whose shepherd-minister-mediator interprets God’s Word for us, that we may all become humble and obey. Who needs these as our only options? Many, apparently, judging by the state of humanity in the world today. We owe it to ourselves and our children to be open, to discuss what is, and to allow public discourse on all these subjects. Denial is not a spiritual value. Not in this magazine.
To the writer of the above letter, I would ask why you never even read the article you criticize, but rather base your opinion completely on hearsay. Read it, develop your own well-founded opinions, then offer your critique. If you slam this author for what she describes as her own spiritual path, that’s OK, but notice what you’re doing. There are a lot of paths to the top of the mountain.
Tim Leary once remarked, “I’d just like to see thinking come back in style. I haven’t heard a new idea in eight years. Let’s get ordinary people arguing and talking again. I want to trigger new circuits in their nervous systems. That’s the philosopher’s job.” I kind of agree with Tim on this one. That’s the magazine’s job.
Bad taste in a magazine is a tricky business because it is so subjective. I think that what Tina Brown really had in mind was not so much “taste” as relevance, and the social controversy that follows. To those offended by some of what we publish, please know that we do not intend to offend. But to be relevant means taking chances and letting a lot of different ideas and voices into the conversation. In the end, I can simply point at our masthead, “Alternatives.” We didn’t choose that title by accident.
Peter Moore is editor of Alternatives Magazine, also Business Director of Breitenbush Hot Springs Retreat & Conference Center. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Site updated Fall 09