“I Don’t Regret My Past but I Do Regret That There is Proof of It...”
Here at The Ape, we’re relatively new to the issues of publishing content. Sure, David was an editor of a health rag and I’ve been publishing blog posts since before some of you were born (I believe my first piece was all about Hoovervilles and “a chicken in every pot”), but this is a different kind of animal.
We had a bit of a conundrum to solve when we committed to publish an anonymous piece in January of last year (Hey, Second City, Maybe Hire Some Actual Professional Comedians?) and took some heat for it. We tried to be as fair as we could — that piece was pitched by an employee of Second City with a request of anonymity and was heavily edited from the moment it was sent to us and even following its publication.
Just recently, we encountered another dilemma:
The photo in question was one used by regular contributor Joe Janes in his weekly parody column, “The Minutes Of Our Last Meeting” and featured an open source photograph of a Neo-Nazi rally. In the forefront was a young woman, wearing a red t-shirt bearing a huge swastika, her hand in the Heil Hitler mode.
How is it ruining your life?
In order to remove the photo, we’ll just need proof you are actually in the photo.
Her response was to first call me and leave a voicemail.
“Would it be ruining your life if someone were trying to use these photographs in the negative manner to take your child away because that is what my son’s father is trying to do. I don't regret my past but I can't have my past showing up when I am in a court battle over keeping my son.
I don't regret my past but I do regret that there is proof of it.”
Then another email:
“You supplied a phone number. I just called. "Ruining my life" is a mild over statement.. But if something posed a threat about taking your child away, wouldnt that ruin your life?
I was terrified. Angry. Scared when I sent that email below. As i still am. My ex is abusive. Mentally and was physically to my son while we We're together. He's stalking me and runnjng my name in the mid and found my photo on this page..
My names [redacted.] Where the photograph originally came from was a [redacted] paper showing my name as [redacted.] I only went to that rally for the person I was with at the time. I didn't go because I held the same beliefs. I went because surprise, it was a bad relationship and I didn't want to make them cross..
I don't regret my past.. I hate it is going to cause trouble in a custody case in keeping my son SAFE with me. My reputation is all i have. I have no criminal record. But being involved with Nazis would cause too many questions.
I'm a good 100pouds heavier. Having a child, 2 miscarriages and currently pregnant will do that to a woman.. I enclosed photos.
Please. Use a different woman. Please don't use that photo. I'm a mutt anyways. My mothee is 1/4 Cherokee. And my great great grandfather immigrated from Germany, so not only American Indian, I am of Jewish decent..
My fiancee is trying to send me the Facebook post of my ex sharing the page of the photo and what he's said. Its all a joke to him. He doesn't care about my son. He only wants to make me miserable. All he wants to do is hurt and control me. I'm out of his grasp, so he's trying anything to make me look bad.
My fiancee is a good man. A hard working blue collar man. This doesn't only effect me. It could blow back on his too, and our kids. And makes my reputation dirty.
And then three more emails like it.
I went into the InterTubez and vetted the photo. Everything she said was on the up and up, so I found a different Neo-Nazi rally shot (sadly, there are far too many) and changed it out.
She expressed gratitude, there were screenshots of her ex online, and she used the phrase “not all heroes have capes.”
I’m not so sure I feel heroic but I feel ethical and I suppose that’s a decent way to feel. I can’t, however, get past the fact that, in my gut, I feel like this woman deserves to be terrified of her past. The initial photo was taken in 2015, leading up to the election of Our Reality Star President, at a Neo-Nazi rally.
“I don’t regret my past but I do regret that there is proof it.”
That statement says an awful lot about where we are in the ongoing evolution of modern society. I can hear Weinstein, Spacey and even Trump saying the same thing. I can imagine certain police officers saying it. Politicians saying it. Internet trolls saying it.
Christ, that statement could be the lasting meme that defines this particular era of social media, call out culture and unrelenting intolerance for disagreement on moralistic grounds.
I wonder about the kid in question and the horrifying circumstances, far beyond his control, that will shape who he becomes. Who will he be in 10 years — a Neo-Nazi? A misogynist? Even worse, a Republican? Will he learn to regret his youthful indiscretion or just the proof of its existence?
I used to believe that I could (and should) live without regret. As I grow older, that belief is shifting into a one that knows I will regret some things but will not endure shame for them as long as I have truly changed for the better.
To be completely forthcoming, when I received her initial takedown request and saw the photo, I didn’t want to help her. At all. In the same vein as the Nazi-punching memes of last year, the idea of being kind to a Neo-Nazi whose life was being ruined by a past she does not regret left me conflicted.
I wanted to fuck with her, to make her twist in her own pictorial legacy, to pay for the crime of being at a Neo-Nazi rally, wearing a huge swastika on her chest and saluting an ideology I find to be reprehensible in every way imaginable. Judgment is the national past time these days and using the internet as a means to vigilantism has become commonplace. We don’t even wait until accusations or context has been vetted by journalists anymore — the appearance of either acting like or simply not condemning the enemy is enough for a solid, full-throated trolling.
Once I told a friend that I believed all white people in the United States are racists because they all benefit from a racist paradigm. This friend later turned enemy and used this as my admission that I was racist. “He said he was a racist!” she wrote. “I have the receipts!” This quickly flashed through my mind as I read the Neo-Nazi mom’s plea that she only attended the rally to appease an abusive man.
“I believe her.”
“Punch a Nazi.”
“But I believe her.”
“But she’s a fucking Nazi!”
So, yes. We took the photo down and replaced it with something else but I don’t feel good about it.
Why did we take it down? Because no one appointed us the punisher of those who do not regret their past but do regret that there is proof of it. No one made us the internet Batman, doling out our version of punishment to those who offend us or disagree with us. The low road is filled with vengeful, gleeful monsters, thrilled to destroy anyone they deem the Moral Enemy. The high road is harder emotionally and so there are fewer taking it.
The new activism is to react to hatred and ignorance and perhaps a lifetime of shitty patriarchal indoctrination with nothing less than complete destruction. That those afflicted by bullies and toxicity are using bullying and toxicity to fight back is the irony of our times.
I want this woman in the photo to regret her past and not only the proof of it. I want to see her have to bathe in the consequences of a sick and putrid worldview so willingly displayed.
It is not, however, my place to play executioner. Vengeance against someone I don’t know for things I find morally bankrupt is petty and self-righteous and I can’t allow myself to sink to that status. My personal feelings cannot be the guide to my conscience. More importantly, as The Ape continues to become something bigger and more culturally significant as a publication, it is our place to be ethical.
I still really hope the kid comes out a thinking, caring human being. I hope I never see a photo featuring him saluting hate like his mother.