An America Jerk in Belgium
By Rob ReuterHi. My name’s Rob, and my friend Paul and I used to produce a Web magazine called The American Jerk.
September 1, 2002
People sometimes ask me why Paul and I decided to fold up The American Jerk lo, these two-plus years ago. “Rob,” they’ll say, “You had started to develop a cult following, and rumor has it you were giants in Belgium. Why’d you pack it in?” To which I reply: fuck you, and fuck Belgium, too. I want no part of a nation where someone like Jean Claude Van Damme can be allowed to reach adulthood without being euthanized or castrated.
The American Jerk was creatively stimulating, but monumentally timesucking. Night after night after night of writing, editing, and layout really got in the way of my drinking. Besides, Paul has a wife, with another one on the way. He doesn’t have the time to be entertaining Belgians any more than I do.
Plus, we started it up for the same reason everyone else started Web sites in 1999: to get rich, quit our jobs and start having rare art shipped to our New Hampshire headquarters while we looted the pension fund for Percocet money. We weren’t trying to redefine comedy or carve out a hip niche in the cyberscape. We were trying to make a living doing nothing, like all self-respecting Generation Xer’s and INS employees.
I was a stand-up comic at heart, anyway. Beaming written humor pieces into the ether is fine and dandy, but you never get the rush of being in front of a live crowd. A ten-minute set with five applause breaks and a standing ovation is far more viscerally satisfying than saying, “Wow! According to the server log analysis, we got twenty more people looking at the site this month than we did last month!” As an analogy, there’s group sex, and then there’s jacking off. Both get the job done, but nobody gets rabid over the latter.
Then there were the threats. Point of fact: if you mock militant animal rights activists, at least one of them will erroneously decide that being described as “militant” automatically makes him dangerous, no matter how morbidly obese and clinically impotent he may be. Sometimes, this person will take it upon himself to, well, threaten to kill me. I would have been worried except the threat came in from an e-mail address ending in “webtv.com.” If you need Web TV to get on the net, you definitely don’t have the technical smarts to operate a firearm, and there’s nothing scary about you except for the stink.
Another point of fact: if you make fun of a “religion” based on the teachings of a crackpot science fiction writer, and selfsame “religion” has a long record of squelching criticism with lawsuits, you should probably not be too surprised when they threaten to, well, sue you. This “church” sues anyone who uses their name in a piece of satire, so I won’t repeat it here. Let’s just say that the motherfuckers Travoltaed me until my asshole bled.
One more tedious Goddamned point of fact: I don’t envy Wil Forbis’s job for one very important reason: he has to work with John Saleeby even more often than I had to. Don’t get me wrong, John’s great to work with, and he did write a piece for us that got us our first quasi-celebrity attention. One of Nora Ephron’s sisters threatened to sue us for defamation of character because John, in an act of obvious hyperbole, implied that she was involved in the production of Nora’s latest Meg Ryan stinker. Hell, I hate Nora’s movies, too, but I wouldn’t go so far as implying that being a part of one makes me a wretched scum in the eyes of the public. Hey Nora! If you’re reading, your sister’s a real bitch! Keep an eye her; she’ll shiv you in the back given half a chance! And after Lucky Numbers, if she doesn’t, I might.
So, tired of threats, we quit. We went back to our respective lives, and to my surprise, developed a quasi-respectability. We were Ghost Site of the Week about a year ago, and got some glowing word of praise from them. Some guy from England e-mailed me and told me he used one of my pieces as part of his master’s thesis, proving once again that the English are a dangerous, backwards people who shouldn’t be entrusted with nuclear weapons.
Yeah, we forgot all about the ol’ American Jerk, until St. Patrick’s Day, when I opened up one of those annoying joke e-mails that people send to every single person in their mailing list, simultaneously aggravating me and sucking bandwidth I could be using to download pornography. I was presented with a hysterically funny guide to surviving drinking on St. Patrick’s Day, which made me appreciate written humor again. Even though the piece had apparently been around the Internet a dozen times over, it didn’t dilute the humor a single whit, nor change the fact that I wrote it.
That’s right; I’m indirectly responsible for one of those wretched chain letters that most of us hate getting, but some of us with reduced social skills forward in perpetuity. I’m not really responsible; some motherfucker visited The American Jerk, copied, pasted and pressed send… but only after stripping my name and legal copyright notice off of it and chopping it up in ways that would embarrass Jeffrey Dahmer.
At last count, there are at least 40 Web sites with which I have no affiliation which are using my piece for content. At last count, two of them I contacted have added my name and copyright notice. The other 38 seem to figure, quite rightly, that I don’t have the resources to sue them. However, I do have the resources to have them stalked, chainsawed and piked, so please respond to my e-mail of March 18th, you bastards.
Now, one would think that since I use my high-speed Internet connection to download thousands and thousands of dollars of copyrighted material without paying for it, that I would have no right to bitch about having my piece ripped off. To that I can only reply: fuck you. What are you, Belgian?
When I download a song for my personal use, in theory I’m denying the artist who created that song any royalties he might be due for my use of the song. However, that song either stays on my computer or gets burned to a CD for my personal use. I could restate all the arguments about overpriced CDs, fair use statutes and how file sharing causes most people to buy more music, but you don’t care any more than I do. If downloading a song means that Tommy Molotta of Sony Entertainment can only afford to stock his private jet with Dom instead of Cristal, boo fucking hoo. If two million of us download songs and it shifts Britney from the cover of People Magazine to the cover of Juggs, so much the better.
However, what I don’t do with my downloaded songs is strip the band’s name off it and e-mail it to 25 of my friends with no indication of who created it or of where I got it.
Look: if I were to download a Saliva song and send it to ten of my friends, any of them might say, “Huh. Not a bad song. I should pick up their album.” Yeah, I deprived Saliva of royalties for those ten copies (Amounting to roughly 70 cents total, according to the new guidelines slapped on Net radio stations), but at the very least, it exposes ten people to their music. Granted, all ten of them might all be rotten thieves like me and just rip off the whole album, but at least they know whose album to rip off and what concert to sneak into.
God alone knows how many people have ready, laughed over, and then forwarded my St. Patrick’s Day piece. You’ve seen those e-mails and how they go around and around; it’s possible that literally millions of people have read my stuff and loved it. In theory, I could have a bigger fan base than Jeff Foxworthy. Of course, I hope they’re different people entirely than the Jeff Foxworthy fans; I like my readers to be able to, you know, read.
However, no one knows that I wrote it. They don’t know where to find The American Jerk if they want to read more of my stuff. And what if one of those people who read it and then passed it on without a thought was a television producer looking for a writer to the tune of $10,000 per week? Or a venture capitalist who might want to invest in The American Jerk? Or Lars Ulrich, so I could sue him for Internet piracy? See how he likes it, the uppity little bastard.
© Rob Reuter, 2002. Right to publish online in Acid Logic granted to Wil Forbis.
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