Interview with Unabomer for President Political Action Committee NYC

(#26, 1996)

Joey Manley: Today it's Bill Brown, who is the publisher of NOT BORED! a long-time zine and also the director of the Unabomber for President presidential campaign. How are you doing today?

Bill Brown: I'm fine, thanks. And hello to our listeners.

JM: First, tell me about your zine.

BB: Your readers, your listeners -- your readers and listeners -- who're interested in what I have to say should check out the current Factsheet Five [#60], which is a very large, thick review that covers all kinds of different fanzines, or zines for short, and it contains a review of the most recent NOT BORED! and one of our ancillary publications [editor's note: film script of Debord's Society of the Spectacle]. Ah, so they'd find a lot of information there as well.

NOT BORED! was founded in 1983, mostly as an outlet for articles I couldn't publish in The Ann Arbor News, mostly because I was becoming more political in my reading and in my thinking habits, and started publishing this zine to give me an avenue. I was a pop music critic at the time. About a year after the zine had been published, I got a chance to read an article by Greil Marcus, who's also a pop music critic, and he was reviewing The Situationist International Anthology, which was a collection of writings of mostly French political extremists in the 1950s and '60s. Greil pointed out that these situationists had a very big influence on the Sex Pistols and the Gang of Four, and, liking those groups, I wanted to find out more about the situationists. So what happened was I started out as a music critic and found out about a political group through their influence on a musical group, and then ultimately the purpose of the magazine switched from a music-based magazine to a kind of situationist fanzine.

We are now celebrating our thirteenth year of publishing, which is difficult in the world of publishing. I think a cliche is that most magazines go out of business after the third issue or so. I'm hoping to get workshops here in the New York City area on just how you continue a zine -- I guess it's the tactics of how to continue publishing a fanzine in the absence of money, in the absence of any sort of popular response -- really, acting as if you're working in a vacuum and how to sustain that.

JM: Creating one's own media or creating one's own medium is kind of a political issue, isn't it. [Rest of question inaudible.]

BB: I think so. I mean, obviously the struggle we hope to win is very large, but if you look at the fact that zines and websites are really direct communication, or, rather, they are more direct communication than you could possibly hope for if you sent a manuscript to a big publisher, and they had to consider it, edit it and distribute it according to their financial needs. . . . The web and zines -- which really go together quite nicely -- are very direct and any given writer can express what he or she thinks and get it right to his or her intended readers with very little, if any editorial changes. That's a major step. Anyone who has tried to freelance articles -- anyone who's tried to publish anything whatsoever in the for-profit press -- will know that getting it out unaltered is a major victory. So, yes, I would say that the direct communication possibilities of these websites will indeed allow us -- is indeed already a victory.

JM: So, uh, let's talk about the Unabomber for President campaign.

BB: Perhaps I should begin by describing how I came to it. Earlier you mentioned that I was the chairman or the leader of the campaign. I'm only the campaign -- I only lead the New York City office.

JM: Uh, OK.

BB: The campaign began on April 3rd, I believe, when UNAPACK -- that's the Unabomber for President Political Action Committee -- was formed in Boston. [Editor's note: this is incorrect. UNAPACK was formed in September 1995, and became a national news item on April 3, 1996, when Theodore Kaczinski was arrested as a suspect in the Unabomber attacks.] That's where the major office is. I became aware of UNAPACK through a mutual friend and as soon as I heard about it, I could tell that the people who were involved in it knew about the situationists and really were prepared to do a prank. Quite obviously, the idea of voting for the Unabomber for President is irrational, right on the face of it, and that's what I liked about it. There was room for playfulness, uh, room for provocation, evocation, a lot of play.

And I got involved in it by just basically sending an e-mail to UNAPACK in Boston saying, "I very much like this idea," and, without any need for approval on their part, started the New York City office, which has largely consisted of the statement that we exist, why we exist [editor's note: "CRASH THE PARTIES," reproduced elsewhere in this section], and I've mailed out fliers, put up posters, inserted the fliers into newspapers that hopefully people will be able to see. So that anybody -- my point here is that anybody in the United States who wanted to form a Unabomber for President office can do so right away and without any clearance, without any sort of central group of conspirators. It's very much a project designed to be invented by each person. There is no real ideological unity between New York and Boston. We have some disagreements, but I think that's part of what the campaign is about.

JM: What kind of response are you getting from the public and from the media?

BB: The media response has been very interesting. UNAPACK documented it on the website. To summarize it, most of the media are unable to deal with the campaign. This is in some ways a measure of the value of the campaign is that it can't be packaged. I believe that Boston's intention has been to make a campaign that can't be packaged. Their point in this is to show that the media are very much part of the industrial society condemned by the Unabomber and that the media won't allow us or conditions us to think in certain ways. So that the Unabomber campaign has elicited very irrational responses from the media. One of the most glaring examples was when UNAPACK did a call into CNN Live and I believe the fellow's name was [Jonathan] Alter, senior editor at Newsweek, [he] simply refused to speak to them at all. And I think that when you get someone whose ideology is "communication," and "democracy," and listening to "the People" -- when you get someone like that, who simply refuses to talk to someone on the 'phone, you know that you've managed to shut them down and to indicate that their role is to keep people's thought patterns limited. But that's what I'd say the media response has been. Today's Sunday New York Times [15 September 1996] is another good indication. There is no way for people to understand why you would say "Unabomber for President" and that gives us a tactical opportunity to explain ourselves.

JM: In my experience, those kind of pranks allow us to explain ourselves. Although sometimes I wonder if the prank makes it so we can't explain ourselves and be understood.

BB: That's possible. I think the prank has to be very carefully crafted. A great example in gay and lesbian struggles was when the German autonome (they call them "the autonomous"), when the Pope arrived in Germany -- the Pope arrived in Germany a month or two ago -- and the German equivalent of ACT UP appeared dressed as giant condoms. Each person appeared as a condom. It's quite obviously a prank, and it received a great amount of press, and because it was so carefully crafted, no one needed to have it explained to them that it's very important that everybody have free and easy access to condoms, to prevent the spread of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. So, yes, these sorts of tactics are taken up by all sorts of disparate movements such as ACT UP -- I have found all over the world, in the United States -- [which] use pranks very effectively.

JM: So how do you plan a prank?

BB: Um, I must say sometimes it can't be this well considered, but a prank can be conceived of in a moment of a kind of intoxication. For example, I over heard or was watching a news program where one of these pundits was asked what was it going to take for President Clinton to lose the November election, and this woman said, "Well, the only thing that would cause Clinton to lose the election is that if it turns out that he's related to Theodore Kaczinski, the alleged Unabomber," and I thought that was an example of how you could take something that an idiot on TV would say and reverse it into a prank. In other words, issue a pamphlet that had "Conclusive proof that Theodore Kaczinski and Bill Clinton shared relatives," that would be how you'd construct one, by taking the idiocy of you get on mainstream media and taking it literally or reversing it. I find that it's a very good way of conceiving pranks. And then you just toss it out to your friends and say, uh, "Who would we reach with this? What would be accomplished by this?" The moment of conceiving a prank is generally a childish moment of adolescent humor and I think that aspect has to be cherished.

JM: There's a symbolic aspect to the prank as well, isn't there?

BB: Yes, absolutely. In the case of Unabomber for President, I think the symbolism is not that the idea "Unabomber for President" is a joke, but that the election itself has become a joke. So that the symbol here would be, not the Unabomber him or herself, but the joke of what has become of electoral politics.

JM: Pranks can be a way a educating people. How do you move people from being interested in the prank, to getting the joke, and . . . then what?

BB: This is the hardest question and the most fun and challenging. I think that you need to have certain abilities to communicate and, once people's attention has been grabbed by the prank, you have to find another way of sort of continuing to communicate with them. One of the ways we've been trying to do this is when we pull a prank, [we] have a pamphlet that explains, as clearly as possible, the motivations behind the prank. It may be possible that the mainstream media only picks up on the prank, but there is a document for interested parties to find out what really was behind it. So I think every prank has to be accompanied by some kind of statement that shows the context for it. This is a big issue, I must say, in the politics that I'm involved in. A lot of people do pranks, just for their own amusement, and what's missing is a sense of how do all these pranks fit together, how are we building some sort of movement away from the society we're in and toward a new one. And so pranks have to be -- loaded into a prank has to be some way of indicating [that] "this isn't an isolated prank; this is fitting into some sort of current." It's a job that's hard to do, and I must say our own pranks have various degrees of success or failure. And one of the things NOT BORED! does, is allow me to say, with hindsight, "That prank succeeded and that prank was a failure."

JM: And so, what is the solution to the Presidential conundrum? I mean, I'm going to vote for Ralph Nader and I'm not really happy with it. I'm very frustrated with the presidential campaign myself. Do you have any ideas about how we can break away from this double-headed monster?

BB: I only have possible answers. I must say I'm in the middle of trying to figure this out for myself. I would say the simple reality would be to realize that electoral politics has cornered itself, and it most definitely no longer represents the majority of people. Can you unify all the people who have been excluded, completely outside of political system? In other words, I don't think that this is necessarily an opportunity for a third or fourth party. I do think that this is an opportunity for the creation of a truly representative democracy.

Those strategies of what a representative democracy are hard to figure out. If you go towards more European classical Marxism, the answers are some kind of workers' council, where instead of getting involved with representative democracy, you have people represent themselves at their own workplace or some sort of community group, where there are no other structures of representation outside of some kind of a community or neighborhood council. So that this is a very radical form of direct democracy and it also is very autonomous: it isn't interested in national unification; it's unifying people according to where do they spend the most amount of their time. We only spend five minutes every four years in a voting booth, but we spend eight hours a day at our workplaces, or we spend twelve hours a day at the places we live. Those are the centers where people should be unified, and it doesn't need to be any form of representative political structure. These ideas, I know, sound very utopian, but I think it's very important to see the seeds that have been planted out in what's already existing, and continuing to get them to grow, as utopian as it sounds.

JM: Are you guys advocating Kaczinski [appearing] on the Presidential debate panel?

BB: Well, this is a great question, and, again, it shows some of the disagreements within the broader Unabomber for President movement. I think that Boston is actually interested in getting the votes for the Unabomber counted. I think that they [as opposed to UNAPACK New York] might be a little more interested in seeing their viewpoints represented in the debate that would take place. I would say no, I think that Kaczinski obviously may not be -- must be judged to be suspected of being the Unabomber. But we are interested in taking the Presidential debates, the Vice Presidential debates and showing how narrow they are -- that they don't even include Ralph Nader, for example, or any of the socialist candidates, and using it as yet another opportunity for a prank. If they are going to be so narrow as to only have two rich, white men debating with each other on stage, that creates a situation for a prank very nicely, because as we know, there are many more people than white males in this society. Heterosexual, rich white males at that.



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