Arthur Magazine: An Appreciation

In Memoriam: Arthur Magazine 2002-2011

(Written for the upcoming issue of SWOON.)

I suspect that nobody except those who consciously lived through them will fully understand the deep psychological scarring of the Bush Jr. years. Here we were, fresh into the world, riding high on the utopian promises of the 1990s, only to be spat out into a brave new millennium apparently constructed by the type of people who tortured animals as children not just for kicks but as a resume builder.

That’s a hell of a comedown: to suddenly be confronted by a “free world” whose moral compass pointed directly to mass murder, biological warfare, wide-scale terrorism, spent uranium bullets, phosphorous bombs, secret torture prisons, political policy based on expedient lies which went unchallenged even when uncovered, the systematic stripping of American constitutional freedom (in the name of Freedom, of course)… and, worst of all, the slow, sick realization that all of this was pretty much OK with everybody.

To be a voice of dissent not just against bad policy decisions but against the attempted snuffing out of the human spirit is a noble, doomed, crucially important task. It is The Task.

Bear in mind where mass culture’s head was at: while bags went over heads in Guantanamo, the populace-at-large narcotized themselves on Internet humiliation porn, the “Saw” movies and the sadism of “reality” television focused on the systematic breaking of the contestants’ spirits. This was the new game: complicity in war crimes, not just for those signing the orders in the cool, detached comfort of their offices, but for the entire culture.

Those of us who attempted to huddle in the warmth of the last, decaying remains of the counterculture lived these years like hunted animals, a Gnostic sect hiding in the shadow of the Megaton Moloch Machine, masking ourselves in public and identifying each other only with secret signs, gestures and references. (And when I say counterculture, I don’t mean the empty posturing of the various youth tribes, I mean those who found themselves in the role of dissident because they actually Cared—that most dangerous posture of all.)

We began the decade expecting to be the dominant creative class, and by the end of it, those of us who were even left standing were busted beyond all reasonable hope of repair. War takes its toll, and our war extracted its price in full. Of course, by the end of the decade, America itself was on its last legs, too. Nobody won. Everybody lost.

Well, as Julian Cope so aptly put it, “All the Blowing-Themselves-Up-Motherfuckers (Will Realize the Minute They Die That They Themselves Were Suckers)”—but in the meantime, that doesn’t prevent them from wrecking the scene for everybody else. In such a climate, art and journalism—true art and journalism, that concerned with the defense and, if need be, resuscitation of the human spirit—becomes a sacred duty. It becomes, in many ways, the line held against tyranny.

Jay Babcock flew the freak flag high throughout our Dismal Decade—at incalculable personal cost to himself—and for that he and the storied cast of Arthur Magazine deserve more than our thanks; they deserve our highest accolades. Who else held the banner that Arthur did? Nobody. The rest of our so-called underground were all too busy reading VICE, doing cocaine and numbing themselves against the horrors of our brave new world in a Nathan Barley-esque clusterfuck of bad sex and bad memes.

Giving a fuck is hard. You can gauge how hard it is by the number of people who do it. Jay Babcock and the collected cast of Arthur gave a fuck—and now that time is over, and now, my friends, the fuck is yours to give. The world demands it.

One Response to “Arthur Magazine: An Appreciation”
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  1. […] caught up in other people’s stale ego games instead of connected with the present. I wonder what’s happened to the counterculture and what’s happened to people actually caring, and making meaning for themselves instead of […]

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