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Madame John Dodt's Legacy #24
by Jon Newlin, NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana
One of the worst aspects of living in a satellite culture, in a colonial outpost like New Orleans (which is having its originality and uniqueness siphoned off daily like the work of some Anne Rice vampire looming over the city with big, dusty bat-wings flared), is that there are always carpetbaggers waiting to pounce, sink their fangs into what passes for local culture, drain it and disembowel it and leave it to jerk spasmodically and systolically as its pitiful life leaches away. These outside rentiers, who just love New Orleans (y'all hear?) in their vapid and uninformed way, interfere in everything and end up owning and possessing and controlling everything with a Midas touch in reverse-sort of like all they touch turns to corrugated iron. The way our luck is holding out-or better, isn't-we can look forward to a solar system of Planets Hollywood and tracts filled with Houses Of Blues, with the occasional greasy spoon serving a MacEtouffee.
So...when I returned from what I foolishly imagined to be a well-earned vacation up in the frozen, briny deeps of Provincetown, among the first things that assaulted my senses-other than temperatures thirty degrees hotter than Up Above The Cotton Curtain-was The Big Sale. Right there, in black and white, with a tinge of puce and ochre, on the front of the Times-Picayune's Sunday Money section, just below the equally startling tale, "El Nino turns trade mission into long ride," was the news: "Impact Joins Gay Chain." (Newhouse? Hachette-Filipacchi? The New York Times? Mort Zuckerman? Bertlesmann S.A.? You never know nowadays, ladies.) Reading further, I found that the former Gay Paper Of Record had been acquired-for an undisclosed sum, natch-by some outfit called Window Media in Atlanta. "Hmm," sez I, realizing that somehow this news had escaped my notice during oceanside perusal of The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, Standard & Poor's Index, etc. during my vache-cance, "another New Orleans casualty of evil outside influence," just like Schwegmann's and K&B and Maison Blanche and even Popeye's (God knows who owns that, now). Look at what those quondam institutions have become, and look hard-with a steely, Maybelline-lined eye.
What this means is that Limp-Act will lose what character remains to it, which isn't all that much, save for Ed Real (whose tenure precedes even my own, which is to say that he joined the paper roughly about the time of the War of the Roses) and Marilyn McConnell and Ron Williams, since for some time it has been the Fashion Cafe of local papers: an awful lot of tinselly glitz on the facade and nobody at home inside. Through the incalculable courtesy of Ambush publisher and all-round-Beloved-Local-Figure Rip Naquin, I was able to peruse a copy of Southern Voice, one of Window Media's properties, and it was about what you might expect. Lots of adequately written, not terribly engaging 'news', color and glitz-but tasteful, don't y'know, and all terribly polite and correct and responsible.
Some years ago, a Bar Baronet who shall remain happily nameless used to scold me on a regular basis when I delivered Limp-Act to his establishment. He'd grab a paper off the stack (which was always gone in a few hours) and say, "What do you call this? This is shit! You know how to have a real paper? Why don't you do it?"
I didn't answer him, pretending that I had been rendered deaf and dumb by the sight of all those empty stools in his bar during the afternoon, but he paid me back. He started getting the Bay Area Reporter and when I came in with my stacks of papers, he'd brandish one at me and say, "This! This! Is A! Real! Paper!!" (Well, yes, I liked the B.A.R.-especially the hustler ads in the back and the intelligent movie criticism by the late and luscious Warren Sonbert-but it was no more objective than the Weekly World News--to be perfectly objective about it.)
It isn't like Roy Letson didn't, once or twice, try to unload the paper in a fit of mental abstraction; at one point, I remember that Miss Riccardo Peccorini aka Banana Sparrow and I were informed that Henry McClurg of the Montrose Voice & Guest House McClurgs, was itching to buy Limp-Act like he had an elderly case of scabies. What Henry wanted to do was run the New Orleans paper from Houston-a brilliant idea-or, equally luminous, bring in some staff at slave wages from out of town; (like there wasn't a staff of two already) although I confess we were being paid far above slave scale at that particular moment in ancient history. So previous transfers of this August and esteemed organ of news never took place. News of the sale made La Peccorini and I appreciate Miss Letson's utterly unique management style even more, to the extent that soon after we walked out in a body and formed our own short-lived and ill-fated queerzine, but that's another unpleasant story and don't get me started on that.
Now lemme tell ya, Mother's been at this for a long time: writing for her living (and not a good one) since before most of you were born. I've seen some extraordinary Gay papers over the years-even Impact had a few extraordinary periods-among them, Boston's Gay Community News which was doomed from the outset because a) it was all unreconstructed sixties radicals who happened to be queers and dykes and their opinions were, for the most part, delightfully ferocious and Never What Everyone Wanted To Hear, and b) it was run like a sixties commune on a volunteer basis.
The most successful and long-lived Gay papers seem to have modeled themselves not on the alternative weeklies of the Sixties and early Seventies-a glorious period for such things, no matter what cheap billingsgate you've overheard-but on the infinitely slicker and smoother and more easily digestible and respectable Washington Blade. This accounts for the Blade's longevity and high reputation, largely undeserved. It aspires to the condition of an August and widely-believed giant daily, instead of being provocative and engage (in-gah-jay, to you).
People who've worked for newspapers for any length of time soon realize that the lofty aspirations of The Objective Press are just mythological. The Objective Press is an idea made up around the turn of the century by press lords like Colonel McCormick and William Randolph Hearst to make it look their incredibly slanted and selective reporting of events represented an advance over the scandal sheets and tattle-tale rags of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries-another glorious period for such things, which were organs of personal and often slanderous opinion that happened to be typeset and appear on newsprint. The idea that, say, The New York Times, Washington Post, or even our boo'ful local T-P is anything approaching Objective in even the loosest sense of the term, is one that will utterly vanish after a careful reading of any one of those big, rancid cheeses.
(There was, by the by, a stunning crocodile-tear-stained story in the latest Advocate about Southern Voice losing its printer in Gainesville, FL; they might have talked to former staff members at Limp-Act which lost printers periodically-occasionally for non-payment and once because some paper in Boutte or somewhere like that decided it was part of the New York Times syndicate and couldn't take outside jobs, but also from Dixie Web Offset because we dared print a portfolio of photographs by George Dureau-that's really a juicy tale right there that could have had the lachrymal ducts of the sob sisters at the Advocate working over time, but so? And then there was News Publishing in Waynesboro, MS-on the Alabama line or close to it-which censored a Herb Ritts picture in an Arthur Roger ad, even though the picture had no male pudenda in it, just because they thought, shucks, it might be nasty. It ended up that the dear-hearts-and-gentle-people at News Pub eventually had their paper and business sold because their owner, a cultured and extremely refined gentleman, thought Limp-Act was a hoot, and told them if they, in their pointy-headed, born-again wisdom, refused to print our paper, he would sell theirs. He actually made good on this, and I hope they've all been eternally sorry. One day I'll spill all the lace-curtain details on these capers, and even talk about poor Rich Magill's paper and its travails, but not today what with poor, poor Southern Voice bumped from enlightened Gainesville, home of the collegiate serial headhunter or whatever that miserable creature was....gee, where will the Window-Washers have Limp-Act printed?)
Now that I've digressed sufficiently and you've gotten my slanted-and-selective version of journalistic history for the past quarter millennium, let me say that while I'm depressed about the implications of the Limp-Act sale, I'm glad that it reveals Little Master Scafide to have gotten his ass caught in the wringer or he wouldn't have had to unload it. Fancying himself some sort of Lafourche Parish Renaissance Man, he has tried to Do It All Himself-and so he has, if not terribly competently. A little schadenfreude-pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others, says my Unabashed Dictionary, is always a warm weather tonic. Like many people from the country, Master Scafide has always lusted for conformist-inoffensive-would-be-a-Gay respectability of any kind and at almost any price and now he can have it, as some sort of Creep Emeritus. (He always seemed dismayed at yours truly, slob and grouch and disreputable vagabond that I am, being highly regarded and even liked by a large cross-section of interesting and intelligent and worthwhile people from all, dare one say, levels of society.) Yes, I happen to regard him as every bit the penny-pinching slave-driver and know-nothing entrepreneur of unhappy cliche, and if that's kicking him when he's down, so be it. Some of his other former employers and I were gabbing and one of them told me he was going to "stay on" and the other cracked, before the rest of us could, "As what? The cleaning lady?" (Cue in peals of girlish laughter on the sound-track.) Scafide probably regards selling-out as some sort of sublime accomplishment, a business coup right up there with those of Michael Milken and other ignominious junk-bond dealers that will frost a little halo of tycoonery over his head, and if these Window-Washers have any sense, they'll ease him out the front door onto the meanest block of Burgundy St. with dizzying rapidity. (Though again, they may wish to retain him as Religious Editor.) Nevertheless, LimpAct has reinvented itself before and may well do so more than once again-reinvention usually had to do with what time Miss Letson had gotten up that particular day, thus the paper had its highbrow periods and its hard news periods and its arts-and-leisure periods and its scandal-sheet-tabloid periods, sometimes more than one at once. So the sale just seems another Silly Season Story, as they're known in the newspaper trade.
The process of homogenization will be complete once these Georgians or Houstonians or whatever they are get their mitts on the paper. This sort of homogenization always has dangerous consequences in New Orleans-just think: the "democratization" of Mardi Gras, the marketing of the French Quarter as a "family attraction", cutting down on seasoning in local restaurants and flattening indigenous food about to the level of what you'd get in a cafeteria in Tulsa or Omaha, turning Decatur St.-once the most deliriously louche and fearsome of Quarter streets-into a vast PG-13-rated mini-mall, etc. etc. (I saw evidence of the same kind of thing in Provincetown. Usually one can buy mildly risque postcards with babes in string bikinis and young men in abbreviated Speedos with inane legends on them like "Boy are we having fun on Cape Cod," etc. An intense search for one-just one!-to send to a co-worker, up and down Commercial St. from the ultra-staid Adams Pharmacy to the queer convenience stores where Honcho and Girlfriends and Black Inches are right on the rack next to the cheap sun-block and chewing gum and Kamel Red displays, yielded nothing. Niente, darling! Another attempt to de-queer and dumb-down minor aspects of local culture, but even if the aspects are minor, the results are still pernicious.) So, yes, I'm sad about it all. And goodnight, Miss Letson, wherever you are.
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