Harper’s Scary

Long Live Bad Puns!

harpersI’m afraid to open this month’s Harper’s magazine, which our mail carrier crammed into my mailbox a week ago, over the objections of a squirrel-deformed jack-o-lantern, a Día de los Muertos calavera, and the dog.

I’ve subscribed to Harper’s continually for nearly a decade, and periodically before that. It was a primary source when I was writing about forgotten female horror writers of the early 20th century in grad school. The Guy & I have a monthly ritual of quizzing each other on the Harper’s Index at breakfast, and the Readings section has provided some of my favorite hilarious lists, bizarre transcripts, and brief personal narratives of all time.

But the last year has made me question my loyalty. It started with the rambling, pathetic, not-mea-culpa by John Hockenberry, entitled My Life in Exile. The publication of the 7,000 word article by a man multiply accused of inappropriate and abusive conduct with women subordinate to him, while curious, seemed at first not entirely unreasonable. He hadn’t been accused of rape or blackmail. He hadn’t even been fired, his contract instead allowed to expire. However, the truly atrocious quality of the piece was frankly shocking for a long-term reader of the magazine. This might seem like an issue independent of appropriateness of paying for the self-promotion of a harasser, but I really don’t think it is. I think the inadequate editing demonstrated both an overzealous desire to give this man not only a voice, but a megaphone, and an obsequiousness to his journalistic career and his disability. I didn’t make this up in my own evil head. When the magazine’s publisher and president John (Rick) MacArthur was asked to defend the publication of this bloated pity piece, he used Hockenberry’s disability as an excuse. “It’s hard to get out of a wheelchair and attack somebody,” he chortled, as if physical assault is the only way a man in a position of authority can do harm to a subordinate female. I don’t know if it’s better or worse that Hockenberry also uses his paraplegia as a defense. I don’t have a physical disability, but I imagine someone in a wheelchair might take issue with the idea that they are rendered powerless as a result of their need for it. But worse than his defense of that article (to my current point), the publisher described the memoir as a “kind of sequel to the Katie Roiphe piece,” which undercuts the validity of that work more than I’d like.

Some people would have seen the Katie Roiphe piece as a red flag, but I didn’t. There was a lot of presumptuous anger thrown around before the publication of The Other Whisper Network – how Twitter feminism is bad for women, a Harper’s article from March 2018, because rumors had spread that the author, Katie Roiphe, was going to release the name of the anonymous originator of The Shitty Media Men list (which she didn’t) and a lot of anger thrown around afterwards because she highlighted the online abuse and silencing of women who questioned the excesses that were growing out of the #metoo movement. I thought it was a good article, and was saying a lot of things that needed to be and hadn’t been said, as a result of some of the very practices she exposes in the article. But when you layer this on top of the Exile piece, and then sprinkle in the following, a pretty ugly picture starts to emerge:

  • The Easy Chair piece (the opening feature of the magazine), dominated for several years by Rebecca Solnit, an outspoken feminist and activist, is now often penned by Lionel Shriver (female, btw), who has used the space to criticize the NY Times’ decision to implement gender equity in publishing Letters to the Editor, and to complain about the erasing of rapists’ and harassers’ pre-exposure art from the public sphere. Solnit has disappeared from its pages.
  • Donald Trump is a Good President – one foreigner’s perspective
  • Hurrah for the Public Plaza: a puff piece by Garrison Keillor

Any of these would be fine, perhaps even important, as an individual work. I am in fact happy to see my presumptions challenged by a publication I trust, because I wouldn’t be willing (or, truly, able) to watch it on Fox News. I think is is essential, as a wannabe mindful and compassionate person, to hear perspectives other than my own. But article after article either in opposition to movements for women’s equality or written by or in favor of sexual harassers have made me wary to the point that I have yet to open this month’s Harper’s – not even for breakfast with the index – because the cover story is MANHOOD IN THE AGE OF #METOO, and I am afraid of what will be written therein.  

Horror doesn’t end at Halloween, but my relationship with Harper’s just might.


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