Welcome to The Satyr, an e-magazine with a long, sometimes sordid history. And by “long,” I mean “14 years.” And by “sordid,” I mean, “There was a lot of hookers and blow involved.”
This is a magazine, not a blog, and so I won’t be boring you with my life story, but by way of introduction to The Satyr, its fetal era goes way back to 1998, when I was a month or two shy of graduating Indiana University with a degree in folklore. Like most college graduates, I was faced with the eternal question: “OK. Now what the hell do I do?” A standard 9:00 to 5:00 was not at that time an attractive option—although I would, years later, resort to one in desperation. However, there was a job I’d had in college which I adored: Opinion columnist and reporter for the Indiana Daily Student. In addition to the opportunity it gave me to write and be read by real people who sent real feedback, it also put me in contact with other writers, artists, cartoonists, photographers and editors, some of whom were quite talented. Much as I enjoy writing on my own, I have always preferred collaboration even more.
With my May graduation date looming, I hit upon a plan both to do what I loved and to keep my talented friends and collaborators both employed and close to me. The print magazine was to be entitled IMP. It was to be to the then double-plus-subculture of geekdom what Rolling Stone had been to rock ‘n’ roll in the ’70s; what Playboy had been to swinging single guys who wanted to see tits in the ’50s and ’60s; what The Saturday Evening Post had been to your grandma in the ’40s. There would be news, original fiction, features, columns, interviews, all of it aimed at geeks. I enlisted the aid of about a dozen friends, and together, we set out, rallying like villagers storming Frankenstein’s castle, behind a banner reading IMP.
It was a failure.
There were two main reasons for its stillborn demise. First, as it turns out, of all the many skills with which a folklore degree arms one, “running a successful business” isn’t among them. It was by experience that I had to learn that business management does not involve drinking oneself into a stupor, flying all across the country for no discernible reason and hitting on Vampirella models at comics conventions. At some point, this thing called a “business plan” had to be written, and while I checked that book out from the IU library, I also did with it what I had done with 90% of my textbooks: I put it on my coffee table, where it made a nice beer coaster for the next eight months. (The one important business lesson it did teach me was about saving money by not racking up seven months’ worth of library fines.)
The second reason IMP failed was because it was print, and print involves capital. Print involves a lot of capital. In fact, in many cases, print involves a metric shit-ton of capital. I had a trust-fund baby friend who was still at the time on his first wife and first child, but to run a whole business of laying out, editing and printing up a few hundred thousand copies of a glossy magazine, the reality was I would be looking at a few million dollars more than even he could afford. And what’s more, even if I had as well-known a name as John F. Kennedy, Jr. when he started his print magazine, I could expect to lose money for months, perhaps even years, before the money earned outdid the money spent. Charles Foster Kane could afford to do that for 60 years. My friend could go, with careful investing, maybe 60 days, and I was kinda hoping for more than two issues.
To be sure, investors were out there who could afford that for longer, and perhaps would have, but again, they weren’t in the folklore department, and wherever they were, they were unlikely to have faith in a drunken drifter hitting on a Vampirella model.
By the autumn of 1998, nervous breakdowns had been had, hairlines receded, divorce papers served, friendships lost, cops called, credit scores pinged, hospitals visited (after an unfortunate incident at our July 4th barbecue—although in retrospect, not as many hospital visits as there should have been, given the free availability of booze and incendiary devices). What had not been done was the writing of a single solitary goddamn magazine article. Nor even a column. Nor even a blurb. My trust-fund baby friend moved to San Francisco with a would-be contributor whom, in retrospect, he and I probably should have avoided. My other friends slowly drifted off to North Carolina, Chicago, Austin or Missouri, or they returned to Indianapolis to settle down and have spouses and babies and “real jobs.” For nine months, I drank, watched baseball and did stand-up comedy. In May of 1999, I myself drifted off to Los Angeles, where I would drink, watch baseball and do stand-up comedy, but in the sunshine.
IMP was dead, and only a handful of memorable mass emails saved by one of my would-be contributors (and recently forwarded to me) marked its passing. In time, even the wounds healed, such that I was able to laugh in 2006, when I glanced at a newsstand to see a new publication named Geek Monthly—a dead ringer for the IMP that never was. (Geek enjoyed a nominal success from 2006 until 2009. Not a bad run, really.) I even grew back most of the hair. Over the next sesquidecade, I would lose track (and good riddance) to some would-be contributors, be roommates with others, reconnect with still others through LiveJournal, Friendster and eventually Facebook. I would lose my father to an aortic aneurysm, gain a new one in Kenneth M. Elliott—the dashing, cantankerous, beautiful, insane gent whose final photograph is the current avatar of this blog—only to lose a father a second time (this time to a stroke) the day after my sister’s birthday in 2010. I would gain and lose money, jobs, girlfriends and friends. I would twice be homeless. I would thrice be stalked or e-stalked by a former lover, an Internet community and a former roommate, in that order.
It was on Easter Sunday of this year that I began writing “Hearing the Lambs: Ayn Rand, William E. Hickman and Hannibal Lecter.” The Facebook Note began simply, evaluating Ayn Rand’s youthful admiration of the sadistic child murderer William E. Hickman, and comparing it to the postmodern realism of Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs. It was to be—will be—a holistic examination not just of objectivism and libertarianism, but of American narcissism. In the wee small hours of the morning on Easter Saturday, I realized the review would be longer than I could possibly hope to finish in one sitting, and I saved what I had in a Facebook Note, tagging those I thought might be interested. That morning, I awoke to find more friend requests than I could accept before leaving for Mass and brunch with a friend, including one from Roger Ebert himself. It was a week later that I learned Ebert had called it on his Twitter page, “The best vivisection of Ayn Rand I’ve ever read,” and it wasn’t even finished. Encouraged, I continued “Hearing the Lambs,” and in the meanwhile, when news of Osama bin Laden’s death came out, began a review of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs entitled “Acting Like a Professional: What George W. Bush Could Have Learned from Reservoir Dogs.” That was intended to be shorter, an analogy of what the film would say on torture if it were a parable, but when I watched the first scene and realized it was a parable, it grew longer and longer still.
As April turned into May, encouraged by comments from Ebert and other fans, I realized there are people in the world—including but not limited to Ebert—who make a living by writing what they think about things. And as arguably the world’s most renowned professional writer-of-what-he-thinks-of-films, if Ebert seemed to think I wasn’t half bad at it, myself, who was I to argue? If most people tell me I shoot a pretty good hoop, I appreciate it, but if Ebert’s fellow Chicagoan Michael Jordan says it, I may have to accept there are much worse than me in the hoops-shooting arena.*
*Note: There are not much worse than me in the hoops-shooting arena.
As I tried to find a way to monetize my ability to and love for writing my opinions on things, particularly the arts, I realized some people who do that do so through the Internet. Indeed, the Internet makes publishing, promoting and marketing easier than ever before. Facebook tags and Twitter hashmarks get the word out to people who might be interested, absolutely free. With print, the audience must be quite large merely to break even; but only a few tens of thousands of people out of several millions can make a website solvent. What’s more, compared to print, the Internet opens up a nearly infinite world of possibilities: Writing and fiction, yes, but also audio, video, photographs, artwork. In the ’70s, Rolling Stone could tell its readers about music, but to listen for themselves, they had to go buy a record. On the Internet, I can embed clips, stills, sound files and hyperlinks, all with an overhead of perhaps a few hundred bucks in my first year. If a website does such that it requires the more costly dedicated servers and full-time staff, that would also indicate it’s doing the kind of traffic (with the associated revenue) to justify those costs. Christ, if I’d had all this stuff in 1998, maybe you’d have imp.com in your bookmarks right now, and it wouldn’t be a defunct Swiss broadband company.
When considering names for this new magazine, my first thought was “Logos/Eros/Mythos,” referring to psychologist Carl Jung’s names, respectively, for the logical (masculine) conscious, the intuitive (feminine) conscious and the unconscious/subconscious. That remains the slogan, but as a title, it was too esoteric and pretentious for my test audience of whichever friends were online and on chat at the time. As a trained folklorist, I liked mythological references, so I suggested to my friend (and I sincerely hope contributor) Aaron Korn-Warner the name The Appollonian. As a joke, he suggested I call it The Dionysian on April Fool’s Day, and he made a reference to the “damn Satyrnines.” That word, “Satyr,” immediately struck me both as a mythological creature and as a near-homophone for “satire,” of which Wikipedia says:
Although satire is usually meant to be funny, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit as a weapon.
The title The Satyr flew well with the test audience, and thus was she born. It was only after a few hours that I made the connection to the less mature, less self-aware IMP.
So this is The Satyr. It is my most fervent wish that you find it interesting, provocative, entertaining and unique, enough that you will make reading it a regular habit. Aaron also suggested a logo, and there will be a logo soon. I have another contributor pondering “hooks,” and others offering possible regular features. I would also like there to be forums, spin-off merchandise and tie-in marketing, but I have a crazy vision of a website which succeeds on the merits of its original content first and foremost. On that note, there will be original content from talented contributors from across America and around the world. Rolling Stone had music reviews, The Saturday Evening Post had Norman Rockwell covers, and Playboy had tits. The Satyr will have arts crit, but we will place no strict limitations on what type of content there might be. It will be a magazine for people who not only enjoy watching movies, reading books, experiencing art and listening to music, but who enjoy thinking about what they watch, read, experience and hear, and who like interacting with others who enjoy that, as well. It will be Logos, Eros and Mythos. It will be intelligent, artsy and witty. Its greater purpose will be constructive social criticism, using wit as a weapon. It will be a holistic examination of the world as it was, could be and is, May 15, 2011 through its end. May that be a long time coming.
We welcome discussion, but we do not permit trolling or abuse. To those who are painfully undereducated but with the unfortunately common tendency of the undereducated to shoot their mouths off, we will tolerate you only as long as you amuse us and no further. We encourage disagreement, but we forbid disagreeability. We look forward to open conversation, but we reserve the right to end it when it becomes uncivil. For my part, I will miss print and its implacable forever-ness, but I embrace the world of cyberspace and its ever-evolving now-ness. Hell, who knows? Maybe print will come into this eventually, too.
This is the world of The Satyr, and welcome to it. The rest of what I have to say is perhaps best summed up by one of my favorite directors, Terry Gilliam, in the DVD intro to one of his most unfairly maligned films, Tideland:
I was 34 years old when I made this magazine. I think I finally discovered the child within me. It turned out to be an imp. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
(And special thanks to hookers Venus Demilo and Sappho Trung Day and blow dealer Chance Magee, whose roles in this story were omitted on advice of my counsel and threats from Chance.)