Soft spot

Is going with popular opinion always the way to go? Our editor isn't so sure

Image of The Thinker statue at the Rodin Museum
After giving it some serious thought, this week our editor opines on Feb. 6 controversial cover story, “Think You’re Punk.” | Image: Jason Smith.com/Visit Philadelphia

I wasn’t going to address the elephant in the room this week but I feel like I need to. 

Last week’s cover caused a lot of ire between members of Philadelphia’s punk community and this publication. We contracted a writer who pitched us an opinion piece in which he called out things – but more importantly a person – he didn’t feel was very “punk.”

We later found out, long after the piece went to press, that in reference to this person, the author’s neighbor, who is transgender, it’s believed the author used our platform to bully this person. 

From our point of view, let me be clear: There was no way of knowing that the author’s neighbor was transgender and, if our pages were used in degradation of this person’s lifestyle, then this author  is a piece of shit. 

The bigger issue to me, honestly (and I’ll tell you why it’s bigger than the issue above) is because this one could’ve actually stood to mess up someone’s livelihood. This was the outing of underground punk clubs in Philadelphia. In this case, know that again, PW had no idea that these venues operated under the surface and had we’d known, they would’ve never made it into publication. 

We respect the integrity that these places need to be kept on the DL. Should the owners or operators of those venues read this, know that we didn’t know, but we wholly apologize for putting your spot out there in print. 

Now back to the first point. 

In the aftermath of the week that has been a digital firestorm of emails, texts and tweets, I have read (and re-read) this piece again. Honestly, I’ll state what I stated in the first line of my column from last week entitled “We’re all a  Little Punk,” where I noted that I’m not sure I agree with the author’s points. I still don’t, but it’s in my opinion that he, just like anyone else, is allowed to have an opinion.  

The calls have been to take it down, and as editor, but as a cultural organization that runs a publication, we won’t be doing that, and here’s why. 

The first is the reminder that this piece is clearly one person’s opinion. It’s labeled OPINION in both print and online. Whether people feel that we shouldn’t have run it as a cover or at all is up for debate, but we ran it. There are points in this piece that I’m not sure again would be overtly construed as bullying if it wasn’t viewed as an attack on this particular neighbor. 

“If I take this down, we set a precedent as a cultural organization that if enough people get mad then, sorry [insert writer here], our hand is forced. We also set a precedent that “hey, sure you can write for us, but if people don’t like your take we’re just gonna remove it and shit on you.”

Apparently a well-known neighbor submerged in the punk scene since everyone who sent us letters knew readily knew, unlike us, who the author was referring to. I’m not going to speculate because I don’t know and to be honest, if this was truly this author’s method of venting cisgender transphobia in our pages then I share everyone’s disdain – and frankly he can go fuck himself. 

But I’m not sure if that’s the case and have no way of knowing the truth, which forces our decision to keep it up. It’s one person’s opinion, which they’re allowed to have. Opinion will upset sensibilities by nature because we all don’t share the same beliefs. He believes that having your food delivered by Whole Foods and having pocket dogs isn’t punk. That’s his opinion. The same way people have had multiple opinions of me “not being Black enough” because I didn’t dress a certain way or talk a certain way or my choices in whom I dated. 

I never took it as bullying, I took it as their opinion. Their decisions didn’t affect the outcome of my life, so why take to social media to voice my disdain?

The second reason is if I take this down, we set a precedent as a cultural vanguard that if enough people get mad then, sorry [insert writer here], our hand is forced. We also set a precedent that “hey, sure you can write for us, but if people don’t like your take we’re just gonna remove it and shit on you.”

So, I’ll take the heat for this one, Philadelphia. Why? Because I can. I was born here, grew up here and know that when shit gets tough you take it on the fucking chin and deal with it. Yeah, I’m pissed at how this all went down, but despite people salivating for a response, I’m not taking this reaction to Twitter or any other platform. 

For all the messages that assume because I’m a cisgender male I wouldn’t understand, or that I’m siding with a bully, that this response from me is tone deaf or that we as a publication knowingly tried to destroy cultural punk institutions, know you couldn’t be more wrong.

Thankfully, I was given this role to ensure Philadelphia Weekly remains a voice for the city. It’s been a tough task and shit like this doesn’t help, but we’re wholly committed to that. A voice for all – even if that voice upsets sensibilities at times, as it should.

  • Kerith Gabriel's Headshot

    Kerith Gabriel is the editor-in-chief at Philadelphia Weekly but somehow hasn’t figured out that means he doesn’t have to write nearly as much. Journalism has been in his blood since his beginnings as a sports writer over a decade ago for the Philadelphia Daily News.