The editor in chief of the defunct but highly influential magazine Big Brother Skateboarding talks about abusing his penis, the Jackass guys, and his first book, Boob.
How much thought do you give to the quality of your manhood—the ripple effect of your daily actions as a dude?
I’ll heat up a pan on the stove for breakfast, and once I get it smoking white hot, I’ll place my penis on the kitchen counter and smack it around with the hot pan for a little while. Then I’ll go flex in front of a mirror.
Ah. Big Brother adopted the editorial stance of the older sibling who teaches you all the naughty stuff you’re not supposed to know yet growing up. Did you feel like that was a genuine thing with the magazine—that you were mentoring a bunch of aimless kids?
In hindsight I can say a lot about Big Brother’s “philosophy,” but at the time, we didn’t think about it at all. We just did what we thought was funny. As Sean once said, a lot of what we did was just to see what it would look like in a magazine. Like, what if we just put a pair of tits in a frame in the middle of this sequence? That would look funny, right? And it did. Although not to [professional skateboarder] Ronnie Creager, who was very upset about it. He destroyed a small tree in front of World Industries after he saw the tits in his sequence.
As for our readers, I like to believe that we attracted the smarter, more sophisticated skateboarders. But then I don’t know because we never heard from them. I mean, who writes to skateboard magazines? Dummies, that’s who. Or “aimless kids,” as you put it.
Lad mags like Maxim and FHM famously ripped ideas straight from Big Brother in the ’90s. This is funny to me because those magazines took manliness so seriously—laying out all the stock things you were supposed to cherish as a real man: hot chicks, stupid gadgets, and beer—while the thrust of BB was that nothing was taken seriously. You are defined by your actions, not by the dumb shit you catalog.
Chris Pontius [Big Brother writer; also of Jackass and Wildboyz] and I used to go into frat parties and take a shower together just to piss off all the men in attendance. And then we’d fight our way out. (We actually only did that once … and then performed it again for video later.) Yeah, as [Johnny] Knoxville always says in response to the many variations to the question of why—as in, why do we do this shit?—“It’s just for shits and giggles.”
I don’t really think about what I’m doing in that regard, and I definitely don’t compare myself to other men whenever I do anything—this is, in fact, a really weird subject to me, and might be the problem with those magazines: there seems to be a lot of comparing and contrasting going on in those contexts. Whereas I think we were primarily documenting ourselves having fun. We were cataloging our experience. We intentionally put ourselves in weird and fucked-up situations just so we could take pictures, video, and write about it. And, obviously, you know there’s a rush that’s associated with the kind of shit we were doing. And as such we were cataloging way dumber shit than the stuff they had in Maxim.
As you were rereading all of your writing from Big Brother for Boob, did you find things you wish you’d done differently?
Almost everything. Well, that’s not true. I was pleasantly impressed on a couple of occasions. Wow, I wrote that? But a lot of the writing is unedited and unpolished and raw. Which makes the writer in me now cringe, but at the same time I think that’s the beauty of it. When I first started gathering all the material, I was considering “fixing” the texts—but ultimately I decided to just leave them alone and allow the book to also function as a historical document. This is what was going on in my life, in Big Brother magazine, and in skateboarding as a whole between 1991 and 2004. At least from my perspective.
What do you think about skateboarding as a maker of men? I mean, I wouldn’t be who I am today without it, would you?
These are unusual questions to me because I’m realizing that I don’t think about this stuff at all and I’m having a hard time coming up with a response. Skateboarding did a lot of things to me. I don’t know if it turned me into a man. If you eliminate the children’s-toy aspect of it, I would agree that skateboarding made me a stronger and tougher person. Which is an attribute I associate with men. Skateboarding is dangerous, and facing that danger, and learning to handle the fear, and dealing with the consequences are all things I learned through skateboarding.
Physically, skateboarding made me much stronger and I think I gained a higher tolerance for pain because of it. But mentally it also helped me grow. Besides dealing with fear, skateboarding took me around the world and I met a lot of people and saw a lot of different places and cultures because of it, and I think it that allowed me to become a much wiser and more open-minded person.
Well as obnoxious that “foodie culture” is at the moment, it’s a very rich and diverse subculture, much like skateboarding. But while not everyone rides a skateboard, everyone eats. And thus it’s a more common and relatable backdrop for shits and giggles. I kind of look at writing about food the same way I wrote about skateboarding: I don’t. Writing about food and/or skateboarding is kind of like trying to describe the color red to somebody. But the experiences that surround the scene are really fun to write about.
It’s not much different from what I do in skateboarding. It’s just the background scenery has changed a little. I really want to do more of it. I’m currently trying to help SWALLOW magazine, a new food magazine out of NYC, get off the ground. There will be some elements to it that will make it “the Big Brother of food magazines.” At the same time, it will be a little more mature … just a little.
You studied photography in school. Was writing not something you were interested in as a profession at the time?
Yeah, I have a degree in photography and a minor in philosophy. I almost minored in literature, but it would have required another year of school and I was over it. I don’t know if I was thinking about it as a career, but reading/writing/literature was very much a part of my life then, as now. I made a zine in junior high and high school (Surreal). While it’s more embarrassing to me now than anything, you can kind of see the beginnings of a writing style.
Besides the usual subversive literature that fuels a teenager’s mind, I was really impressed with the stuff Gary Scott Davis and [Neil] Blender were doing in Transworld Skateboarding, and I was swapping zines with Andy Jenkins, Swank, O, Chris Johanson, etc.; writing was a big part of that scene. Seems like ancient times now, but we were actually writing letters to each other and there was a high value put on being creative in one’s correspondence. How embarrassing: I can’t remember the last time I wrote a proper letter.
Has technology—the Internet mostly—made this a more exciting or a more frustrating time to be working as a writer and editor?
I think we’re in a period where everyone is excited about their new toys. The printed word, magazines, books, they’ll never go away, but they’ve currently fallen from favor because of the shiny technology. But I think a lot of people agree with me: reading words on a screen sucks. And I think we’ll sober up and realize that print is a better way of delivering words, language, stories, etc.
At the same time, I’m not a Luddite and I do think that text in the digital mediums has its advantages. It’s great for transmitting short bursts of information. And you can reach a larger audience. I also find it interesting that more people are reading and writing than ever before: they’re texting. I find it very exciting that everyone in some way is involved with language and words because of texting. Even the stupid kids are reading and writing. Granted they’re not doing it very well, or really saying anything of interest to each other (“I know I fucking hate bagels. LOL ;-)”), but it’s encouraging. Which I suppose is equally frustrating: being a SNOOT I can’t handle watching these retards abuse and mishandle the language. Still, it’s a good thing.
I can’t remember the last proper letter I wrote either. I do think its interesting that at the same time that we’re all being dazzled and molded by new technology, there’s a growing interest in pastoral approaches to existence: urban chickens, local produce, DIY ethos. Do you see these two things moving away from one another or intersecting at some point?
If I was in the business of predictions I’d pick the right line at the grocery store for once. Maybe I’d win the lottery? I don’t know if those things will intersect. But for me, yeah, I can see those sorts of things coming together. I’d put my urban chickens to sleep, put corpse paint on them, take pictures, and then make videos for my internet TV station. I wish I could grow my own food. I’ve tried, but I suck at gardening. And I’ve tried. It’s become a joke. My wife and I look at a plant in a nursery and then look at each other and say, “Hey, you wanna take that home and kill it?” I think I’ve got one more serious attempt at gardening in me, but I really don’t like not being good at something. And it’s even more infuriating because gardening is so attractive to me. As you know I still don’t have a cell phone, but if there was a gardening app that could garden for me from a cell phone, I’d probably get one.
Do think your ideals about what it means to be a man come more from your father or from your own experiences?
I find this whole man subject/questioning interesting. I don’t think about it at all, so it’s kind of like wondering about “sex in 17th-century French literature.” Which is also surely an interesting subject, but I don’t really have an opinion about it.
I hope I’m contributing to the dialogue in some way by being absent from it. As in, “Raise your hand if you don’t care about man issues?” (I’m raising my hand.)
But, uh, I think some of my core ideas about being a man come from my father, sure: he was in the military, he played hockey, he sells tools, he drinks, strong work ethic, honor, etc. Pretty stereotypical dude. But we’re very different in how we execute. My dad is a product of the ’50s and that traditional East Coast ethos, while I grew up in California within the ideals of punk rock and skateboarding. He’s also very conservative, whereas I’ve done a lot of acid.
Big Brother was the first—and still only—skateboarding magazine to interview an openly gay professional skater. As I remember, that issue had a great editor’s note that made many salient points about people’s childish reactions to homosexuality. Do you think it’s true that everyone is a little gay?
No, I don’t. But I wish we were. Being gay looks fun. Although I think some gays are only a little gay but act super gay. I think there are a number of gays who are just going through a phase because they enjoy the gay scene and the attention. I don’t mean that in a Christian-deprogramming way—the majority of gay people are gay and they should be proud of it. I’m proud for them. But don’t you think some of them are spreading it on a little thick? In that sense, I think that some gays are acting more gay than they really are. If there are indeed degrees of gay? What a strange question. And I don’t even know what I’m talking about because the gays that spread it on extra thick are the most fabulous gays of the gays.
Again, I wish we were all a little gay because then that would mean wonderful people like Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney are gay. If anyone were a candidate for being “a little gay,” it would be me. But I’m pretty sure I’m not. Can you be sure you’re not gay? Another queer question. Seems like a subject that Wittgenstein would have a grand time with. He being gay and all, as well. I even went on a date with a gay fellow back when I lived in San Francisco just to see what all the hullabaloo was about. We didn’t, you know, gay off or anything, and frankly it was kind of boring. I should have at least had a little kiss, then there might have been something to write about.