By Ellen Eldridge
More and more people are wondering what members of the media think about expressing their personal opinions in print—and, well, anything they want from the mildly offensive to the outrageously inflammatory.
Facebook posts arguing the right to post whatever the author wants and as often as the author wants exist in surplus in my newsfeed—and I keep scrolling because I agree. To each his own and I’d rather just stay out of it.
I’ve been quite content to keep the bulk of my political and religious feelings to my close friends and family—the writer and journalist I want to be centers on building people and their art up, not tearing it or them down. I firmly believe if one has nothing constructive to say, stay silent.
But “The Ria Wars,” as I’m dubbing the public shaming of Jeff Clark, editor for Stomp and Stammer Magazine, go further than that “Duck Dynasty” character Phil Robertson’s statements earlier this year to the Chik-Fil-A publicity nightmare (or was it a campaign?) and even further back.
I read most of what I know about the original Clark statements in the article, “Stomp and Stammer’s Jeff Clark may be Atlanta’s most hated man,” written by Richard Eldredge in Atlanta Magazine. I purposefully have not clicked onto the Stomp and Stammer website.
I’ll be the first to admit publicly that I live under a rock. I only knew about Chik-Fil-A (the fast food place that later experienced controversy when its CEO said something about his personal views on marriage) because we had one on campus at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, where I earned the bulk of my bachelor’s in psychology, and because we have one in the Student Center at Kennesaw State University, where I am currently finishing bachelor’s in communication.
I also didn’t know who Phil Robertson was when his statements won him about 15 minutes of fame; I had only casually wondered what was “Duck Dynasty” when I saw its merchandise in my local Kroger. I just haven’t had time outside of the circle of things I specialize in to get interested or sidetracked by this crap.
The only things I knew about Ria Pell came from mournful rumblings from my friends—one of whom happens to be one of my closest friends in Atlanta, Rose Riot.
When Ria passed and my friends on Facebook mourned, I sympathized for their loss, but didn’t express public opinion because it’s sad anytime anyone dies–and I honestly didn’t know much about the woman. Death should never preclude dignity. I have the same sort of disgust for those who protest soldier funerals as I do those who say nasty things about people once they pass. I put dramatic people in a special pile of disregard in my mind—and I never feed their desires. This includes my toddler daughter who torments me as I type this.
I have a very low threshold for drama; I actively seek friendships with people who more or less have their shit together. I’m just too old for life-draining negativity.
So, naturally, when I watched how the Chik-Fil-A thing hurt many of my friends on a personal level, I felt for them, but I also sensed a publicity stunt. I’m not saying that incident was planned, but when I heard about the Robertson comment, my first thought was an attempt to cash in on controversy in a predominantly Republican state.
One of the very few things I am openly political about is my belief that every man and every woman should have the right to marry any man or any woman. I wish we had a better way to prevent divorce or to ensure two people fully understood what marriage means rather than quibble over the right to marry. Too many heads get heated about things that simply don’t apply to them (I’m talking here about people arguing about the right to marry in a strictly legal sense, not about people fighting for their right to marry—that right should be a given).
My wish for more love in the world fits perfectly with my low threshold for drama. In an attempt to stay under my rock and not feed anyone’s fury I just ignored the whole Duck DyNASTY debacle. It went away, but what came in its wake hit much closer to home.
Because of the goings on about Jeff Clark, I fielded a phone call from my best friend. Rose Riot just asked, in the most earnest manner, what I as a member of the media thought about Clark’s statements. I said that I honestly didn’t know much about Ria, but that I have always felt compelled to be constructive and avoid controversy in order to build up a community and an artist. That’s what Target Audience Magazine is about, and that is my mission with my freelance work.
Among other things, Riot told me about what Ria Pell meant to her personally. She and I had spoken about her photographing the memorial and I just genuinely felt sorry for my friend’s loss.
“Ria was part of the first alternative or creative people I knew to be taken seriously as a business person,” Riot said. “She was a leader in my generation. She deserves to be remembered for paving all the paths that she did, and that is why I think a street should be named after her.”
From one member of the media to another: Jeff Clark, you have every right to feel however you feel and you have every right to speak whatever truth you want to say. But in choosing to alienate and deconstruct others, you dissect artistic spirit and dissipate community. May you learn the lesson that making something is better than tearing something apart because this time, it tore back.