Interview with ANSWER Me!'s Jim Goad
The world of 'zines (self-published, often amateurishly produced enthusiast magazines) has generated a lot of controversial literature. Few 'zines, however, can match Jim and Debbie Goad's ANSWER Me! for notoriety. ANSWER Me!, published in Portland, is intentionally shocking, sour and contemptuous of humanity, offering unflinching examinations of some of the most horrible manifestations of human barbarism. The second issue of ANSWER Me!, published in 1992, provides a meticulous listing of serial killers and mass-murderers, penned in a breezy, irreverent tone. Francisco Duran quoted this issue in a would-be suicide note he left in his van before firing 29 shots at the White House in October 1994. In 1993, the Goads' third issue contained an equally studious and morbidly humorous view of 100 remarkable suicides. An anthologized reprint of that issue notes that "a certain blond junkie Northwestern superstar rocker [was spotted] reading this 'suicide' issue backstage at a show in Seattle only months before creaming his sensitive brains with a shotgun." But whatever the controversies of the first issues of ANSWER Me!, they have paled in comparison to that generated by Issue 4, the notorious "Rape Issue." From the front cover depicting a black-eyed, bloody-nosed waitress wearing a name tag proclaiming "Hi! I asked for it!," to grainy medical and police photos of rape and murder victims, to an enclosed board game called "The Rape Game," the Goads present what Jim calls satire, "a wholesale attack on the hysteria and illogic of the "hard-core feminist critique." Bellingham, Washington prosecutor David McEachran, however, calls it obscenity, and he's pressing a case against the owners of a magazine store in that city for refusing to remove the issue from its shelves. The case has drawn national attention. If convicted of the felony charges, the store's owner and manager each face five years in prison and $10,000 fines. The American Civil Liberties Union is aiding in their defense in the case. Having grown up in an appallingly abusive family, self-proclaimed "white trash with a brain" Jim Goad went on to graduate summa cum laude from the journalism school at Temple University in Philadelphia. His antisocial attitudes have resulted in, among other manifestations, arrest records for assault in three states. Sick of living in the midst of so many worthless humans, the Goads moved to Portland from Southern California in October 1994. Contributor William Abernathy sat down recently with Jim to find out about the most recent individuals to incur the wrath of Goad. WA -- Tell me about the case that you're dealing with right now. JG -- Well, it all started when a confused, young, well-intentioned female college student objected to the Newstand [magazine store] carrying ANSWER Me! She apparently went into the Newstand [and] complained that they shouldn't be carrying such a vile publication. They said "Well, we're glad you can express yourself and voice your opinions to us, but we're not going to yank it just because you don't like it." So, not satisfied, she showed it to her roommate, who showed it to her boyfriend, who put on his Birkenstocks and took it over to the rape crisis center, where they were understandably appalled. The entire issue was targeted at their mentality, and although she won't admit it, Katy Casey from the Whatcom County [Women's] Crisis Center [anonymously] filed a complaint with the police. Kristena [Hjelsand] and Ira [Stohl, the store's manager and owner, respectively] are facing felony "distribution of lewd material for profit" charges, and the entire case is wrapped up as to whether this is "lewd material." WA -- How do you respond to criticism that you've "allowed the booksellers to take the heat" for you? JG -- Did I orchestrate the arrest? Should I go up and turn myself in to the prosecutor so he prosecutes me, too? It's amazing the things we get accused of. On the one hand, we got lambasted for not talking to the press, and when we do talk to the press, we get criticized for exploiting it for our own material gain. There's no way you really can win in a situation like this. I mean, they're good people up there, and I told them before charges were filed, when he had threatened them with charges, "Don't take the heat for me. If they want you to move it, move it. I'm not worth it." But they believed strongly enough in free speech that didn't really matter to them. They didn't feel like they should have to screen everything for a prosecutor who actually believes Jesus rose from the dead. WA -- How is the ACLU involved? JG -- The ACLU is funding the defense up there. They tend to be in practice as libertarian as they proclaim to be ideologically, which is admirable. I do think it's admirable that they defend Nazis in Skokie, Ill., and people who paint peace signs on nuclear bombs. There's a consistency to whom they defend, which runs counter to how most people operate. Nadine Strossen, the national president, was up in Bellingham speaking on our behalf. WA -- I saw a speech she gave at the City Club in which her key phrase was "I believe in the First Amendment, but" JG -- The 19-year-old who wrote the letter to us started one paragraph off, "I do not believe in censorship, but" and I think that she followed with "this is not free speech. This is carefully calculated violence against women, children, and the developmentally disabled." She kept focusing on the developmentally disabled, when it wasn't really one of our prime targets. Just like The Bellingham Herald will say that "ANSWER Me! #4 features the rape of clergy members." Well, they neglect to mention it also mentions rape by clergy members. The prosecutors jump all over the sections where we're addressing the reader as a rapist. There were 18 or so sections in [the] "Rapeworld" [section of the 'zine]. Five of them address the reader as the rapist. Thirteen of them address the reader as a rape victim. They conveniently overlook that when they're launching their assaults against it. WA -- The passages that address the reader as a victim weren't exactly sympathetic toward the rape victims, though, were they? JG --That was just addressing them, I think, with dispassion, pretty much [the same] as [when] they were addressed as the rapist. I was trying to get the reader from a passive role into actually experiencing the psyche from 360 degrees around. Victim, rapist. The entire issue was an attempt to bring it beyond cheesy, cheap, sanctimonious moralizing, which again, I think, clouds the debate. WA -- You call your readers "death pussies" for reading about violence but not acting on it. Can't that be construed as incitement? JG -- What I was trying to do was get them out of that gray area where a lot of them are mired. And fundamentally, we got some great success, 'zinely speaking, with the issue on serial killers, and the one on suicide. I found there were a lot of people out there who lionize Charles Manson but thought date rape was the most absolute horrifying thing on earth. Which to me was inconsistent. I mean, I wouldn't want to have a choice, but I'd rather be raped than murdered. At least you have something to go on with. I thought that was hypocritical, that these people are collecting Manson cards, and featuring him in their songs, and trying to impress each other with their serial killer knowledge, and yet these are the same people who would sob if they had a finger cut. I was trying to make the horror much more real, and ultimately, as I believe in everything, offering it up as a personal choice to these people. If they're interested in such subject matter, sooner or later they're going to have to come to terms with how those mechanisms of brutality work in their own lives. Either they will go on to be rapists, or they'll find something else. But to reduce it to a level of true-crime ephemera and baseball cards, to me cheapen[s] the entire thing. I mean, brutality, particularly if you're on the receiving end, is not something pleasant, and accordingly, we made the issue as unpleasant as could be. The prosecutor bites his own tongue off when he says it's disgusting, because in court, he's going to have to prove that it's attractive. No one I know is turned on by that issue. It wasn't designed to turn people on. It gave them a palpable sense of brutality and fear, and most of them dropped it like a hot potato and ran. Which was the desired effect. Anyone who thought we were glamorizing rape is so stunted and two-dimensional and uncomprehending, you fear for those people. They're stupid. They probably misinterpret everything else. These are the same type of people who use the Bible as an excuse to kill. WA -- If somebody was that stupid, and did take it as marching orders, would you feel any sort of sense of personal responsibility? JG -- No, because I don't tell them to do anything. I basically try to get them to come face to face with why they're so interested in brutality, and work it out from there. Unless it's a satirical article, like "Let's Hear it for Violence toward Women," I don't think there's anything that could be construed as encouraging people. WA -- Have you been cast by anyone as a free-speech poster boy? JG -- I guess I by necessity somewhat assume the mantle myself. Some people are reticent to support us because they think that by implication they'd be supporting abuse of women, or of children or something. People with just a total lack of irony. The problem I've found with doing satire is that the intended targets never get it. So, satire in that sense is useless, because if they were stupid enough to be objects of satire in the first place, they're not going to get it, no matter how you lay it out. This assertion that we did this issue to incite teen-age boys to go out and rape women is ludicrous. This was a wholesale attack on the hysteria and illogic of the modern-day, unflinching hard-core feminist critique. I don't really think that by demonizing men and reducing the act of intercourse or likening the simple act of intercourse to rape, or likening a sideways glance to rape, is doing anything to foster communication between the sexes. If you look closely at the issue, we tell people, "If you're concerned about rape, understand what the mechanisms are. It's about force. And the only way to stop it is to use more force. You can be stopped by a rapist in a dark alleyway, and you can throw all the Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin books you want at him, and he's still gonna rape you. If you have a gun, your chances are a bit better." We're trying to separate all the self-righteousness, the demonization and the hysteria from actual pragmatic things a person can do to stop themselves from being a victim of sexual assault, and first among those is to understand the mechanisms behind it. It's not about women in underwear on billboards. I think it's a little more biochemical and definitely sexual than the feminists or most anti-rape activists would like you to believe. WA -- Do you care, then? With respect to this debate, is that something that you concern yourself with? JG -- Yeah. Wallowing as I do in 'zinedom, you're just battered, for lack of a better term, with all this just insane sloganeering and silly reductive logic, and, for lack of a better term, sexism. It's only anti-male sexism that you see in most left-wing-oriented feminist critiques of rape. I'm the type of guy who's fundamentally too shy to even come on to a woman in any setting. And I got tired of being painted with this broad brush of "innate sexual aggression" and just I'm not wired that way. And I think it is wiring. The feminists, left and right, will try to discount any notion of hard-wiring or evolution or biology being a factor in rape, when to me, those are the most obvious factors. It's not cultural input. If it was, then dolphins and orangutans and scorpion flies wouldn't rape. It's something deeper than that, and to gain a full understanding of it, you have to consider those things. They just completely sweep logic, biology, genetics, under the carpet. And what is left? The most unquantifiable, primitive concept that there is. There's no such thing as evil. I mean, certainly if you're being raped you're going to consider it to be an unfortunate circumstance. You're gonna depict it as something very close to evil, but there's no universal evil lurking out there. I think just considering it to be evil obfuscates the real mechanisms behind it.