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EW YORK — So, yeah, it started with my decision to watch Chopping Mall in the middle of the afternoon. I wish I could say I was dissecting the lesser works of Jacques Tourneur with an eye toward curating an RKO Pictures retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, but no, I was just munching on a box of Oreo Golden Thins and watching Chopping Mall. I actually own the Blu-ray.  

Suzee Slater’s head had just exploded and I was into the part where they sit around the stock room talking about what to do next, but I don’t particularly care for the scene where the girls crawl through the air-conditioning ducts, so I made the fateful decision to check my phone.  

I should set this up by explaining that the main reason I was watching Chopping Mall in the first place is that I was following up an email conversation with Jim Wynorski, the director, during which we reminisced about the '80s. We talked about his guesting on The Last Drive-In, my streaming show on Shudder, where presumably he would talk candidly about the hundred movies he’s made; the glory days of SyFy Channel mutant monsters; the decline of the erotic thriller and what that means for Shannon Tweed’s residuals; and, of course, the aerodynamic subtleties of blowing up Suzee Slater’s head.  

So, as I said, I’m scarfing a few Oreos and checking my phone while the three guys are breaking into Peckinpah’s Sporting Goods and loading up on firearms so they can face down some laser-weaponized robots in the mall, and an article pops up with the following headline: 

‘Black Christmas’ Director Sophia Takal on Bringing New Perspective to a Slasher Classic. 

 The reason Black Christmas would show up in my feed is that internet gremlins spy on everything you say and do and I had exchanged approximately 9,000 emails and texts and other messages with my director, Austin Jennings, about our decision to lead off our Christmas special with the original 1974 Black Christmas. Austin loves it, I think it’s got problems, we’ve debated the ending ad infinitum, so if somebody publishing a flea-market flyer in Missoula, Mont., had written, “The Christmas season starts with Black Friday,” it would have shown up in my feed. Any combination of the word “black” and the word “Christmas,” including goth Santa costumes, would have shown up in my feed. 

 So there wasn’t that much to the article, just Bloody Disgusting founder Brad Miska ruminating about how he likes it when remakes go in new directions, and the director of the Black Christmas remake talking about how she doesn’t really care so much about the original plot of the original movie as she cares about using the idea of a sorority house as a way to create a “feeling” that she thinks many women have in 2019, a feeling she’s taken from recent headlines about woman-haters in positions of power. 

 And as I’m reading it, I’m thinking, “Did Jim Wynorski ever give an interview like this, where you kind of go into the political subtext of the movie? Did Bob Clark when he made the original? Did Roger Corman?” 

 And the answer, in most cases, is, no, not really. In fact, Roger used to tell the story of his movie about southern racism, The Intruder, which starred William Shatner but lost money because, in Roger’s view, putting anything political, any kind of social commentary, into the plot of a film is box-office poison. From 1962 on, he always told his directors, “Keep the politics in the subtext.”  

A corollary of what I was thinking was, “What is the political message of Chopping Mall?”  

“Don’t trust robots?” “Technology will always turn evil?” “Airheads trespassing in a mall deserve to die?” “Only nerd love is true love?”  

Whatever it is, I know Jim Wynorski would never actually state it in an interview. For Jim, a former publicist for Corman, it was all about the poster art and the title. (The original title of Chopping Mall was Killbots, but nobody bought tickets until they switched it out.)  

So anyway, with all these random and somewhat shallow thoughts floating through my Oreo-infused cerebellum, I did what I always do — threw a random opinion into the Twitterverse.  

Wait a minute, let me make sure I quote exactly what I wrote because we’re about to enter shark-infested waters.  

I wrote:  

What I love about directors from the 70s and 80s is that they had no political ax to grind, no message, no social justification for horror. It was just “get a load of this great story.” I don’t wanna be told how to watch a movie.  

And I attached the brief article on the upcoming Black Christmas remake. (It’s actually the second remake of a movie that never had a sequel, even though the ending begged for one.)  

What I didn’t understand was a) why my transgression, however badly stated, was so important to so many people, and b) how a thought that started with Chopping Mall ended up as the target of a massive effort to pummel the Old White Male.

That was late afternoon on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. By the time the Bills kicked off to the Cowboys the next day, I had been attacked on Twitter as a misogynist, an out-of-touch Boomer, a racist, a closet white supremacist, a secret plotter against Blumhouse Pictures, and perhaps the most ignorant film critic in the history of the profession — certainly the most illiterate horror host to ever don a cape.  

Meanwhile people are calling and texting. “I think you oughtta take a look at Twitter.” “What you posted is a bad look.” “Why did you say that?” “What are you talking about?” “You’re an idiot for saying that.”  

And these are my friends.  

So, I look back at the post and I say, “Okay, they’re upset because the tweet implies I’m talking about all horror films, when actually I’m just talking about some of them. I’m surprised I have to explain this, but I’ll correct the clumsy wording.”  

So I corrected the clumsy wording.  

Oh wow, Joe Bob, you’re doubling down????? I expected better of you.  

By this time, the Bills are leading 23-7 and it’s not that great a game and so I post yet a third time, basically saying, “Hey, people, we’re talking about movies. Of course you can have political themes in a movie, I’m just saying I prefer it in the subtext.”  

It’s not even a novel idea. Wasn’t it Samuel Goldwyn who said, “If you want to send a message, call Western Union”?  

I was agreeing with Samuel Goldwyn!  

What I didn’t understand was a) why my transgression, however badly stated, was so important to so many people, and b) how a thought that started with Chopping Mall ended up as the target of a massive effort to pummel the Old White Male. (That would be me.) There were several people who kept bombing me with the “Okay, Boomer” meme, and one guy who just wrote the single word “Nazi” whenever I posted. I think the OWM and the Nazi thing were related, but I can’t be sure.  

But now I’m gonna do the thing that every well-meaning friend told me not to do.  

“Don’t feed the trolls, Joe Bob.”  

“It will go away if you just ignore it, Joe Bob.”  

“These people thrive on attention, they’ll just come back in greater numbers.”  

But these advisors are millennials who weren’t around at the beginning of my career, when the price of annoying someone in print might be a beatdown, a lawsuit, death threats, or, in the case of one of my investigations, a brief residence on an Italian hit list.  

In other words, I can take a little verbal heat on the Internet.  

So let’s start with Old White Male. When used as an epithet it’s obviously ageist, racist, and sexist, so I wouldn’t expect it from anyone who advocates diversity and inclusion. But due to the twisted logic of the Internet, this is exactly where it comes from. In places that are truly diverse and inclusive, like the self-identified “Mutant Family” of the horror community that has sprung up around The Last Drive-In, the Old White Males co-exist happily alongside the Young Hispanic Females as well as the transgender community, which I’ve championed since 1978, when I was censored for “going too far” with reporting on their lives. As recently as 2017, I was brutally attacked by the readers of Taki’s Magazine for my take on the transgender bathroom controversy in North Carolina, but then that’s nothing new. I’ve been attacked for a whole decade by the Taki trolls who put double asterisks around my name as some kind of alt-right secret code that I’m probably a Jew and certainly not to be trusted. Before they started moderating the comments section, my column on Taki was attracting anywhere from 50 to 300 ad hominem attacks per week as the undercover liberal who refuses to leave.  

At any rate, the Taki trolls are a topic for another day, because on Twitter the opposite was occurring. A two-man podcast, to use one example, posted a whole series of tweets about my being a “misogynist dinosaur” who was on a mission to destroy women, movies about women, movies directed by women, anything involving the trans community, and — I’m trying to find the rest of the allegations but apparently the tweets have been deleted. I’ll quote what remains:  

“Joe Bob going out of his way to single out a film crafted by women ahead of its release with a stated their intent to create more interest in horror among young women and girls is another example of his misogyny. He knows what he’s doing & he knows his influence among his considerable fan base is enough where it can help make or break the fortunes of the film. That it’s the first Blumhouse wide release with women at the helm isn’t an accident. This is just gross, dodge behavior from a tired old man who uses his platform to safeguard himself From a world where viewpoints look different from his own. He uses his platform, including a column on a far right leaning site to make casual transphobic & misogynistic statements all the damn time.”  

I don’t condemn or condone. I’m not running a political campaign. I’m not in the business of telling some other writer what to write. I’ve never done that and I’m not doing it now.

“What’s more insidious to me is him singling out a movie due for wide release soon and challenging the idea that genre films need new and different perspectives. He could have made his statement without doing that, and instead he chose to pick on this particular film.”  

“And to counter your point he’s not reviewing or critiquing the content of the film. He’s challenging the very idea that movies need perspectives outside his own cis-White-straight worldview. My own belief is this is wrong and damaging in so many ways.”  

Okay, so, I don’t know how much money Blumhouse Productions has (I would have to guess we’re into the nine-figure arena, if not 10, just based on Paranormal Activity and Halloween by themselves), but at any rate, my billfold has nine figures less for propaganda, even if I was a propagandist, and besides, I would never set out to sabotage the release of any movie. The idea is so foreign to me that it smacks of those theories about the Illuminati who are secretly meeting in an isolated Bavarian alehouse in order to plan the future of the world. Believe me, no critic has a “fan base” that can be mobilized to stay out of the theater. But putting aside that ridiculous premise, the charge is easily disproven, since I’ve starred in two movies directed by women and I was the first person to interview and champion Doris Wishman when Jimmy Maslon and I brought her out of obscurity in the '80s. (I still remember coaxing her out of her Coconut Grove apartment — she didn’t want me to meet her sister — and especially the moment she finally emerged, swathed in silk scarves and sporting enormous saucer-like sunglasses that made her look like a silent film star from the 1920s. Her first comment was, “Why would you want to re-release Nude on the Moon? Those actors are ugly!”)  

There were other posts by the same podcast, talking about how they were gleeful when my one-man show, How Rednecks Saved Hollywood, failed to sell out the Sheridan Opera House in Telluride, Colo., when another show hosted by one of the podcasters did sell out, and promising the public that they would be enhancing their attacks on me in an upcoming podcast. (This post actually alarmed me, because my experience at the Telluride Horror Show had been so joyful that I was stricken with the idea that the actual organizers of it were secretly hating me. I contacted Ted Wilson, head of the festival, and he assuaged my fears.) The upshot of all these posts — and I’m only using these two guys as an example — is that everyone piled on.  

“It’s like he’s an out of touch old man whose sole pleasure is belittling other people.”  

“That tweet was serious? I figured he was joking. That’s upsetting.”  

“Yeah, no. Briggs was saying he missed when the story had a message instead of the message having a story. If you think the guy who wrote this is as inclusive as they say, you fell for it.”  

“I knew that was coming sooner or later. I stopped listening to that fool when I found out he was right wing.”  

“I thought it was a joke of the character. Now I know that’s how he more than likely how he feels.”  

“That was unfortunately along the lines of my first thoughts too. Someone like him stoking something like this is a time-tested way to incite unending harassment towards women in the community.”  

“His gotdamn back peddling tho when he’s being called out on being demonstrably wrong. ‘ooooh no I meant it should be SUBtext!’”  

“I never liked him back in the day, and was baffled by all the love he’s getting now. Glad to see my instincts were right.”  

“I’ve only watched one episode of his show, but the way he talked about scream queens was so creepy and lecherous I turned off after ten minutes.”  

And then, of course, talking about The Guy We Have Now Deemed An Asshole eventually morphs into, not just personal attacks on me, but personal attacks among the various posters.  

“You’re a clown that thinks the Trump as Rocky poster is a good idea. Go find the biggest bag of shit and eat all of it.”  

That last one is from the podcasters who started the various threads in the first place.  

So let me try to sort all this out, issue by issue, and hopefully be done with it. (I apologize in advance to those who know me, because I’m going to repeat two or three things that I’ve been saying for four decades.)  

Numero Uno: My theory of satire.  

Satire is a machine gun on a swivel. You hit targets at random. You make sure the first target is yourself but then you make fun of everyone. About one in 20 targets will scream. So you hit them 50 more times. That’s how you identify the sacred cow, and destroy the sacred cow.  

You never punch down. You never kick the guy who’s already getting beaten up by someone else. Several people posted an article I wrote for Taki about white supremacist rallies. The original title was “Let the Bigot Speak.” The point of the article was free speech. You can’t block entry to the park and you can’t turn off the guy’s microphone — the antidote to bad speech is more speech, not suppression. And you have to arrest the people who try to take away anyone’s speech right or beat somebody up for being different. Thirty years ago this would have been recognized as a classically liberal position, the very credo of the ACLU. Today it’s evidence that I’m a Nazi.  

Numero Two-o: People who judge a piece of writing by the piece of writing posted next door to it ... are insane.  

I’ve written for about 100 publications — 500 if you count syndication — and this is the first time I’ve ever been told, “I know what you really believe because look at the people who work at the same place you do.” (There’s actually a Reddit thread devoted to this idea.)  

I’ve worked for Rupert Murdoch four times — a Fox network show called Front Page, the Wall Street Journal, the Village Voice, and a magazine called Maximum Golf — and I doubt that Rupert Murdoch shares any views with me. There was a chain called Freedom Newspapers that espoused political views rarely stated since the presidency of Millard Fillmore, and I freelanced for them while friends of mine were condemned to the full-time trenches of the Orange County Register — none of us were ever accused of being toadies for the ownership. I’ve shared op-ed space with Stokely Carmichael, William F. Buckley Jr., and Frank Zappa — I’m not aware of any thematic comparisons among us.  

And yet educated colleagues, people I have admiration for, have been telling me for a couple years now that “You shouldn’t be working for Takimag.” Guilt by association. 

I first met Pangiotis Theodoracopulos — nobody can pronounce his name so that’s why he’s called “Taki” — at a late-night alcohol-fueled dinner of journalists, most of them from Fleet Street, somewhere around Park Avenue and 23rd Street, about 15 years ago. He’s a charming Greek party animal who likes all-night discos, fancy cocktails, and conversation. He writes about European society topics, most of which I don’t understand. He’s a North American judo champion. When he got caught with cocaine in the Milan airport — this was back in the Studio 54 days — he had enough influence to get a powerful local lawyer and escape punishment, but he took the high road: “I write all these law-and-order columns, so I can’t be a hypocrite. I’ll take my jail time.” And he did. And the day of his release reportedly led to one of the biggest blowout parties in the history of southern Europe.  

So Taki started a magazine in London with the slogan “Cocktails, Countesses and Mental Caviar.” I’m not sure what any of that means, but I know his logo was a cartoon woman wearing a tiara, smoking from a long cigarette holder, Audrey Hepburn-style, holding a martini glass. His motto was, “We believe the best stories are smart, cheeky, and culturally relevant. We take our politics like we take life — lightly.” When I first contributed, in the year 2011, I established a rapport with the editor, Taki’s daughter Mandolyna Theodoracopulos, and over the years she encouraged me to write more and more often. Never once did she suggest what I should write about or how I should frame it. Never once did she discuss with me what other writers she intended to use. Never once did she mention any particular political orientation. Never once did she define what “Cocktails, Countesses and Mental Caviar” means. Takimag was exactly what I look for in any publication — they let the writers write.  

But in recent years people kept writing to me saying, “I think you should condemn this thing in Taki.”  

I don’t condemn or condone. I’m not running a political campaign. I’m not in the business of telling some other writer what to write. I’ve never done that and I’m not doing it now.  

I repeat: The logo of the magazine is a cocktail glass. I’m in favor of cocktail glasses.  

Numero Three-o: “Hey, Briggs, you don’t recognize suffering because you view the world through a privileged narrative.”  

A few quotes from the irritated to illustrate this category:  

“This is something I’ve noticed in the white male outraged at all the politics in art. They don’t consider movies about predatory capitalism, the AIDS panic, the national scars of ‘Nam etc, in classic horror to be politics. It’s only politics when it’s about women or POC.”  

“Also, a guy who used to end his review with a tally of bare breasts may’ve failed to notice the politics in a lot of those ‘80s movies because they matched his own.”  

“What you love about directors is that they all looked like you and had your concerns and you didn't have to step out of your box at all.”  

"‘What I love about directors for the 70's and 80's was that their politics aligned with mine at the time, so I was blissfully able to ignore the overt political content’."  

“Seriously, what? You're a horror icon, but this is both a bad take and a false one. Horror has always been the most political. You just haven't seen it because it's been your politics.”  

“Almost like someone who has made his name on the horror genre really doesn't understand its history at all.”  

“Unfortunately, one could argue the ‘Blood BREASTS and beasts' oath means Joe Bob’s genre is movies primarily for men because women tend to like more of a story and more story usually involves actually saying something rather than just nonstop blood, gore, sex and women dying.”  

“It’s about time folks see Joe Bob as the old kinda-sorta-racist grandpa of the horror world, as that’s mostly what he is.”  

“White men don’t need to bring a new perspective when their perspective is always at the forefront. This is a bad take, dude. Just admit it.”  

“Man, glad my little horror heart never followed you before because finding out you were so ill informed about literally the beating heart of the genre would be devastating. Instead you’re just an old dude with poorly informed opinions. Thank god.”  

“When people say ‘I don't like things being political’ it usually = ‘I don't like voices that aren't cishet white man’. Horror has ALWAYS been about marginalized groups, since its very roots. As a lifelong horror fan, I am thrilled to have so many diverse creators and stories now.”  

“I haven't kept up with him at all, as I'm not into the whole horror host schtick, but I saw him post a Bloody Disgusting article/interview with the director of Black Christmas. His, ‘Don't tell me how to watch movies’ response was fucking ridiculous and tone deaf.”  

“His Shudder show always did have too many right-wing rants for me to enjoy it. Always thought it was weird that it didn't seem to bother anyone else, but I guess it does now.”  

Okay, so if I had to sum up all these White Male Privilege threads, I would say it boils down to this: Shut up, White Man, you live in a bubble.  

I don’t have a “narrative.” Or if I do have a narrative, it’s this: I started reviewing exploitation films at a time when they were considered disposable trash — most of the time I was the only newspaperman reviewing the flick — and if they reflected “my box,” then my box includes cannibalism, torture, secret research centers where evil men concoct superdrugs that alter the molecular structure of everything from cats to humans, freaks, high school riots, and outer-space mutants. I like to party, but not that hard.  

I was born in Texas and grew up in Arkansas, one of the poorest states in the nation, 49th in all categories (our slogan is “Thank God for Mississippi”), then went back to Texas as a reporter specializing in “marginalized groups” (cops that kill Mexican-Americans, counties that suppress black voter rights, the idiots in organized hate groups), but of course none of that counts because, if I were to be given credit for — to use one example — sending the police chief of Castroville, Texas, to Leavenworth for killing a Mexican-American in his custody, that would be a White Savior Narrative, so I should just keep my mouth shut. They gave me the Robert Kennedy Award because RFK was a privileged white guy like me.  

Okay, so if I had to sum up all these White Male Privilege threads, I would say it boils down to this: Shut up, White Man, you live in a bubble.

Numero Four-o: Yes, I suck. 

If you’ve spent the day reading through 500 or so negative tweets about yourself, complete with out-of-context quotations from 50 years of your own journalism (I started at the Arkansas Democrat at age 13), you eventually descend into “This is not worth it” mode. My dwelling place on Twitter has always been a hopeful positive supportive place, especially for people who feel marginalized, but it seems that this one tweet — a tweet inspired by Chopping Mall! — brought out my nastiest enemies from places I didn’t even know existed. I could show you 2,000 sentences I’ve written that might be controversial, but I would never pick this one.  

So the bottom line is: I’m tough, but I’m not that tough. It wears you down. The storm kept flaring all through Thanksgiving Weekend, mainly because my various defenders kept picking fights. The more sane of my supporters just sent private messages, but even those were cringe-inducing because they had the tone of, “Are you okay?”  

No, you’re not okay when something like this happens. I was shaken by it. Even in the early years of Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In, when the Baptists and the Catholics and the Citizens for Decency in Tupelo, Miss., were all after me, it was never this vicious.  

But then I noticed a pattern to the fury. If you look at the other tweets of the people chiming in, I’m not the only one under attack. They all have causes that they espouse, targets that they love to pick on. They’re pro-feminist, or they’re part of the “diversity and inclusion” world, or they’re pro-Trump, or they’re dedicated to rooting out what they call fascism wherever they find it. They all belong to some kind of club.  

And what bothers them when they call me out is that I refuse to say whatever bromide would save me. I refuse to join their club.  

I come from an era when journalists lived by the rule that you never tell people how you vote, and you never tell people what church you go to. You keep those things secret for the same reason that a cop or a social worker or a judge does: You want to treat everyone the same and you don’t want to be influenced by your own biases. Today this idea is considered quaint. A reporter at a major eastern newspaper recently confided to me that he was in a staff meeting where seasoned reporters made blatantly political remarks, taking sides on various issues. We now have media outlets that are clearly aligned with certain points of view, and in some cases certain political parties.  

I’m such a throwback that I think George Washington was right when he said he hoped America would be the first nation that would do without political parties, and therefore without partisanship. Hamilton, Jefferson and others disagreed with him, stating that parties were helpful for organizing people around ideals, and that duly elected officials would always be free to vote their conscience even when it conflicted with the party platform. Look at any vote in our Congress today. Both parties have such rigid voting discipline that they line up like members of Stalin’s Politburo in 1936. Conscience — what a stupid idea — you’re so charmingly quaint and outdated.  

Twitter lines up the same way.  

So here’s what I would say, finally, to my Twitter critics.  

I am not a Democrat. I don’t care about that intolerant club.  

I am not a Republican. I don’t care about that intolerant club either.  

I’m not a conservative. A pox on your house.  

I’m not a liberal. A pox on your house, too.  

I’m not a feminist nor an anti-feminist.  

I’m not a lover of films directed by women nor a hater of films directed by women. I have the most lenient rating system of any critic in history because I want every film to succeed and every filmmaker to be encouraged. The news that the new Black Christmas involves a demonic fraternity of killers with supernatural powers sounds right up my exploitation-loving alley. The news that it’s rated PG-13 — not so much.  

And, people, I know film is inherently political, and that horror films like They Live and The Toxic Avenger and Dawn of the Dead and The Stuff all have political themes. I should have said “some films” or “a lot of films” or whatever. But I’m not going to apologize for that one omission in a medium that encourages us all to speak informally. I remember having Karl Hardman, the actor who produced Night of the Living Dead, as a guest on one of my old cable shows, and I was trying to make a political point about the protagonist of the movie being black, and Karl stopped me. “The only reason Duane Jones was cast,” he told me, “was that he gave the best audition. It had nothing to do with him being black.”  

Afterwards I asked Karl about this again, and he reaffirmed his conviction, despite director George Romero implying the intention was otherwise.  

But that’s why we don’t talk about stuff like that. It’s called the Intentional Fallacy — the idea that what an artist says about his work is the same as what is actually in the work.  

So the only club I’m joining right now is the Cinestate club — two publications, Rebeller and FANGORIA — and the reason I’m here is that so far neither of them has joined any clubs. Last week, when we were talking about it, someone threw out the word “libertarian” to describe Rebeller and “woke” to describe FANGORIA, but I hope they were just making vague generalizations, because ... a pox on those houses too. A pox on all your houses.  

I’m gonna do this the old-fashioned way. I’m not gonna label anyone and I’m not gonna be labeled myself. I’m going to be like 90 percent of the population — trying to figure it out, too uncertain and shy about life to believe that any ideology has the answer.  

And as to the idea that we Old White Males should shut up and go play golf in Palm Springs, I expect to be doing this for 30 more years, so you probably need to update your ageist/racist/sexist lexicon:  

Ancient White Geezers?  

Paleolithic Caucasian Rip Van Winkles?  

Go ahead and add your own choices. You’ve got plenty of time. I’m not shutting up.