New Found Fame
April 3, 2020 (3,956 words)
Today’s story concerns the new found fame being enjoyed by one E. Michael Jones, PhD. He was born in Philadelphia in 1948, and has been toiling in relative obscurity as an author and journalist since starting his first magazine on a shoe-string budget in 1980.
Jones graduated Temple University with his doctoral degree in 1979, and promptly moved his wife and then two children to South Bend, Indiana, to take a job as an assistant professor of American Literature at Saint Mary’s College.
When he managed to get himself fired in that first year for being against abortion – a stance one would not consider controversial at a Catholic institution – he abruptly left academe for his magazine start-up. At least that’s how the tale has come down to us. I’m guessing it may have been a little more complicated than that, since things are usually not as simple as they appear on the surface.
Looking back this early episode clearly established what has proven to be his MO. E. Michael Jones was born to take on the establishment, any establishment. Speaking truth to power has long been his middle name, a trait we his loyal readers find endearing.
His magazine was originally called Fidelity before being re-christened Culture Wars in the mid-1990s. I have been keeping up with it, and with the extended non-fiction work of its irascible editor, since the mid-1990s name change.
As with most everything else of value in my adult life, I was turned on to Mike Jones and his notorious rag by my late father.
To elaborate on that personal note for a moment, I only became receptive to me Da’s influence once I made peace with him, which happened after I stopped considering him a failure for always being financially strapped, for not turning his 1949 college degree (B.A. in English) into a lucrative career.
This snippet of my biography is a variation on that famous quip of Mark Twain’s. You know the one: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
In my case I was eighteen or so when I formally disowned my father and about thirty-five when I came to my senses. This more-or-less coincided with my abandoning the Catholic faith at age twenty for a variety of New Age pursuits, and officially returning to the fold at the age of forty.
But let’s not lose track of my intended theme, which is Culture Wars magazine. The incisive cultural anthropology of E. Michael Jones was not the first thing I encountered in my reconsideration of belief and practice, though it certainly represented an important strain that shed lots of light as I made my way back.
providing an important affirmation…
EMJ has also been instrumental in kick-starting my late-in-life amateur writing career. When my father died on December 1, 2012, I wrote Mike a short note. It extolled the role his magazine had played in my eventual reconciliation with my old man.
Next thing I knew, it ran as the lead letter-to-the-editor in the January 2013 issue of Culture Wars.
After that I started sending him other things, a few of which he saw fit to print in the magazine. Trying to get stuff published over the years in venues like The Philadelphia Inquirer, with strict rules about limiting one’s word count, it was an important affirmation when Mike told me to please submit longer pieces because, he said, “I have a magazine to fill each month.”
Everything I tried to write from that point forward was geared towards qualifying for a spot in Culture Wars. It was a fun few years, downright thrilling whenever I saw something I wrote appear in print.
my efforts no longer “fit” my favorite magazine…
The thrill began to fade, though, when Mike took to editing my submissions. He had a pretty heavy hand, as I recall, often gutting a given piece and leaving it bereft of meaning. It wasn’t long before I came to realize he was only looking to a non-credentialed contributor like me for two things: be a complimentary voice, and help fill out his magazine in any given month.
It was time for me to move on, so to speak. Not everything I wrote was going to be grist for the Culture Wars mill.
Even in making this decision to break-away, Mike played a pivotal role. It happened serendipitously, without his direct knowledge, in the fall of 2017. He was in Philadelphia to give a talk, an annual ritual he had maintained for as long as I had been a subscriber. Those visits had always been hosted by the same leader of a very active local pro-life movement, until she aged out of the role.
On this particular evening he told the small gathering how he had started to gain some traction with simple YouTube videos. People, he told us, were discovering him on the internet, “and buying a book.”
In hindsight I guess this explains why he hasn’t been back since. He went and found a new business model.
Sitting there that night it occurred to me that I, too, could join the 21st century. I needn’t appease an editor for my writing to see the light of day. It took me a little while to get it going, but my web site/blog started in February 2018, and so far I haven’t run out of things to talk about.
A GREAT WRITER IN FULL
Most of us have our favorite authors, and E. Michael Jones has certainly been one of mine. But there are so many good ones, past and present. As the frequency of my own scribbling has increased, it has enhanced my appreciation of others’ work. By the same token, I’ve concluded no one writer, no matter how skilled, has the last word on anything – though Mike Jones does come pretty close.
Mike’s specialty, of course, is the “big book,” meticulously researched and annotated out the wazoo. The About page on the Culture Wars web site refers to his “archival research,” and man, nobody does it better.
Someone once wrote in to the magazine to say if there was any justice in the world, Jones would be ensconced at a prestigious university somewhere, as a Dean of this-or-that school of study. Pick from any number of fields he has developed expertise in: maybe History, or Political Science, or possibly Economics.
Come to think of it, Mike’s work is so exhaustive it’s worthy of having its own dedicated school of study. One could say each of his “big books” amount to a comprehensive curriculum in its given subject matter.
Precisely because they contain so much information, spread out over so many pages (and with such small type-face), Mike’s books are really meant to be taught, rather than read.
That one man has generated so much detailed scholarship is incredible. That he expects any of us mere mortals to actually read it all from cover-to-cover is completely unrealistic.
Though we know academia was not the path he chose, and who are any of us to suggest a different destiny for such a gifted writer, one can’t help but think Mike’s work would be better served by being presented to wave after wave of bright, perceptive students coming through the doors year after year, who would imbibe his ideas, and help decipher and disseminate his message to a wider audience.
But such speculation is pointless, isn’t it? Mike’s work no doubt owes a great deal to the unique set of circumstances he has lived through. So we should probably just content ourselves with what his talent has produced, and not indulge a frivolous game of what might have been.
have economic imperatives hurt the work?…
Even so, what if Mike didn’t need to sing for his supper by working on the magazine? Being financially forced to come out with a new issue every month has slowed the writing of his books. And it’s limited the time he spends on editing and shaping his own work.
Now it’s certainly possible Mike would vehemently disagree with this assessment. He may not have felt the least bit hampered all these years. He may in fact feel he long ago found his sweet spot, his groove, what works best for him. But looking at this from the outside, much of his output – as spectacular as it undeniably is – could stand a little condensing, a little streamlining.
While his long magazine articles have always served as previews of what would end up in his next opus, that’s also where one can readily spot the need for some selective editing. There is often some very obvious redundancy, some obvious repetition. Mike is like a master storyteller who has a tendency to repeat his favorite stories.
Having to write on a deadline, and “having to fill a magazine every month,” has created a perfect storm that may inspire and fuel a white-hot stream of consciousness technique, but doesn’t lend itself to going back over and cleaning things up a bit.
Of course this might just be a matter of my own personal preference. And despite my contrary opinion on this aspect of his writing, I readily admit what Mike does on even his worst day far exceeds my capability.
LOTS OF NEW FRIENDS
And what he is does has always warranted a much wider audience than he has been able to attract on his own, as a one-man band, with no academic affiliation, no wealthy patron, and no real support system to speak of.
The good news along these lines is that something unprecedented in the history of Culture Wars took place just twelve months ago, in the spring of 2019, and has increased the E. Michael Jones audience dramatically. I learned about this development via a letter he snail-mailed out to all his subscribers last fall.
In Mike’s letter dated September 21, 2019, he tells us:
“Beginning March of this year, we have received unprecedented exposure on the internet and on YouTube in particular. After hovering at around 8,000 subscribers the numbers of both our subscribers and views took off to the point where we now have over 40,000 subscribers and over three million total views. Our recent video on Pewdieple and the ADL got over 133,000 views in less than a week.”
I have never been much of a YouTube person (though with the COVID-19 outbreak and the shelter in place order, that is starting to change), but three million total views sounds pretty good, even to an uninitiated individual such as myself.
And while 8,000 subscribers is nothing to sneeze at, being able to see that number increase five-fold is pretty amazing.
Of course Culture Wars still doesn’t come close to The Atlantic (480,000 subscribers), or Harper’s (105,000 subscribers), or The National Review (90,000 subscribers). But for an opinion journal started on a wing and a prayer to hit 40,000 subscribers is quite the achievement.
(In comparison, the high-tone First Things, with its stable of notable contributors and financial backers, only distributes in the range of 30,000 copies each month.)
Keep in mind this is a guy who used to drive to Philadelphia once a year with his wife, Ruth, who doubles as his office manager, in a beat-up old minivan that was donated by a subscriber.
I would help them cart the heavy boxes of his books into the empty family restaurants where he used to give his early Saturday morning talks. The objective was to sell a few books, and maybe sign up a new subscriber or two, in hopes of generating gas money back to Indiana.
So for all these many years this man has been running the quintessential hand-to-mouth operation. Then suddenly at age 70 (he turned 71 last May), Mike Jones was given the gift of internet popularity. And scored the financial windfall we the great unwashed are always hearing such popularity can result in.
A quick review of the math shows that 32,000 new subscribers at $49.99 a head comes to approximately $1,600,000. But even that extreme largesse did not prompt me to give the matter much thought, beyond emailing Mike to offer my congratulations, and tell him I thought this good fortune couldn’t be happening to a better, more deserving person.
the man who helped Mike Jones explode on the internet…
Then a month later I ran into a friend and fellow Culture Wars aficionado who was kind enough to fill in some of the missing details. I learned the guy responsible for spiking E. Michael Jones’s internet popularity is a comedian-actor-musician by the name of Owen Benjamin (b.1980).
While young Mr. Benjamin may not be on my radar, apparently he achieved a measure of commercial success before deciding to walk away from Hollywood and go “off grid,” pursing a healthy lifestyle and a homesteading agenda. He stayed in touch with his fan base through his YouTube channel, which I’m told has scads of followers, some of whom send him monthly membership dues to get “full channel access.”
Through YouTube Mr. Benjamin shared with his many fans how his search for meaning and truth led him to the Catholic faith, and then to the work of E. Michael Jones, who struck Benjamin as having the answers to all the things he’d been discussing on his channel for years.
This attention then set off a wildfire, I am told, with Mike starting to get interviewed by everybody on the internet. As my friend explained, this amounts to “red pilling” the twenty and thirty-somethings on the Catholic worldview of everything, especially contemporary culture.
The phenomenon has even been given a name by its participants: “Logos Rising,” which I note is also the title of Mike’s latest book, due out any time now.
So then, it’s been quite a whirlwind of activity for E. Michael Jones and Culture Wars magazine in just the past year.
LOTS OF NEW ENEMIES, TOO
EMJ has never been shy about tackling difficult subjects, and he’s made his reputation by successfully challenging the accepted narrative of whatever subject he tackles.
The About page of the web site describes it this way: “Culture Wars has become the world’s main resource in understanding how cultural warfare has advanced the interests of the American Empire and its systems of political control.”
Defenders of that empire, and executors of those systems of control, are not happy when someone calls them out. So Mike has always attracted his share of critics. The attacks are often facile, as if those advancing them are confident public opinion can be easily swayed back in favor of conventional wisdom.
This, by the way, is what makes tackling difficult subjects so challenging. It’s not enough to do a thorough job of researching and articulating your position. You are to some extent at the mercy of your audience’s ability to take it all in: their willingness to spend the amount of time needed to properly discern the information you have invested so much energy in assembling.
When Mike’s platform was limited to the printed word, there was only so much trouble he could get himself into, so to speak – only so much controversy he could stir up.
Now that he has recently gone viral, his admittedly challenging message has become click bait for haters. Mike seems unperturbed by the uptick in vitriol being directed his way. Again from his snail-mail letter to subscribers, dated September 21, 2019:
“The unprecedented interest has caused a change in policy in the way our enemies deal with what we have to say. As soon as it became apparent we were making significant inroads with an audience in its twenties, the ADL and other Jewish organizations abandoned their policy of dynamic silence and began attacking us by name.
“…Jewish organizations have a big gun, but that gun has only one bullet, and the name of that bullet is anti-Semitism. Once they fire that gun and miss, there is no second cartridge in the chamber of their cultural weapons.
“They have now reached a point where they have no response when someone responds rationally to their accusations. Their power is on the wane.”
Here our old friend E. Michael Jones seems to be embracing that well known marketing adage, “there is no such thing as bad publicity.”
He may well believe the power of his enemies is on the wane, perhaps because he is confident in the accuracy of his positions, and excited his message is suddenly attracting so much attention from young people.
The ADL and other Jewish organizations, however, will keep repeating their baseless charges, confident public opinion can be easily swayed back in favor of conventional wisdom.
In this instance our intrepid hero may be over-valuing the spike in internet views and magazine subscribers Owen Benjamin is responsible for to mean there’s been some sort of sea change in the perception of the population at large.
thorny subjects can be easily misconstrued…
Make no mistake, though, I am firmly in Mike’s corner on this point. He has clearly explained and documented his position in book after book, and magazine article after magazine article, so that no reasonable person who possesses a smidgen of goodwill could possibly conclude he is an anti-Semite.
Of course, what E. Michael Jones has been doing all these years is much more than merely staking out “his position.” He has courageously addressed the subversive notion the Catholic Church has always been anti-Semitic at its core. That it’s had a serious chip on its shoulder for the last two thousand years, and only just got around to mending the errors if its institutional ways at Vatican II (1962-65).
Mike is to be commended for the yeoman work he has done throughout his career in carefully parsing out not only the pertinent documents of Vatican II, but also the historical record of formal Church teaching on this admittedly highly-sensitive issue.
Allow me to insert another personal note here, if I may. During my early life as a cradle Catholic – going to Sunday Mass and hearing a weekly homily from the pulpit, receiving the sacraments, and attending Catholic school for twelve years – never once did I hear even an off-hand remark critical of Jewish people.
Let alone any formal statement blaming the entire race for “killing Christ” – this being the alleged source of Christian society’s so-called inbred animosity toward Jews.
Not one teacher, or fellow student, or nun, or priest ever expressed any such opinion. Not my mother or father, not the parents of my classmates. Nobody. The subject never came up.
In fact, all I ever heard from my elders and betters, year in and year out, was “we all killed Christ.” And “he died for all our sins.”
This is not to suggest the concept of anti-Jewish prejudice does not exist. All sorts of prejudice exists, unfortunately, towards all manner of people. Only that the purported misdeeds of the Jewish segment of the population is not a major pre-occupation, one way or the other, among those who profess to be Catholic.
As for the historical record, and what went down way back when, I dare say most decent Catholics are painfully aware of their own, daily rejection of Christ and his difficult, challenging teaching to worry much about whatever mistakes may have been made by the local populace, or the local religious leaders of the day, some two thousand years ago.
But the quiet testimony of private lives holds no currency. And the YouTube and podcast and social media universe does not lend itself to detailed explanations, or a sober consideration of complicated subjects.
sound bites, sloganeering, and snap judgements…
This new universe strikes me (and many others) as being about sound bites and sloganeering. Frequented by people who like to make snap judgements, and who don’t typically read anything longer than a tweet. Who are most comfortable noisily condemning out of hand any individual or group they are convinced represents evil incarnate.
That makes the recent spike in Mike’s internet presence a double-edged sword.
The combination of his cantankerous public persona and his counter-cultural theory of everything may have an immediate, instinctive appeal to young people. Much like Bernie Sanders’ message does, come to think of it.
And just like the principled Senator Sanders, the equally principled E. Michael Jones could use a dose of whatever interpersonal quality it is that helps win over those who are not already true believers.
I say this knowing full well we are all prisoners of our personality quirks, and it’s hard to control how one initially comes across to perfect strangers.
My sense is Mike justifies his sometimes prickly demeanor as the only worthy approach to take toward those who are actively (and successfully) undermining the integrity of our lives.
While his read of the overall situation is sound, the day-to-day tactics he employs in interviews could use a tweak or two.
In waging his war against legitimate enemies in such a swashbuckling style, he inadvertently attracts a lot of unfocused energy that is not as constructive as his own, is not as purified of unproductive motivations as his has been, by virtue of the years he’s spent in solitary study and contemplation.
I am referring to how he has allowed himself to be interviewed by all sorts on the internet, some of whom have questionable associations themselves. Or who aren’t nearly as articulate and thoughtful as he is.
Mike may think his superb erudition will distinguish him regardless of the circumstance, will help him rise above a less-than-reputable encounter. That the truth will out, as the saying goes.
I only hope the opposite doesn’t prove to be the case, with years of stellar work being irrevocably damaged in a matter of months.
My feeling is this: If your aim is to discuss serious issues of high moral import in the public square, where reaching consensus on anything is a daunting task, it’s important to maintain a certain level of decorum and not indulge in casual asides than can be easily misinterpreted and taken as callous insults.
No matter how true you may understand those asides to be.
If you are trying to communicate “big truths” that run counter to conventional wisdom, you must keep in mind your audience’s limited ability to process big chunks of counter-cultural information at any one time.
In my opinion it would help his cause if E. Michael Jones would be more cognizant of this fact when he steps into the internet spotlight.
OUR CHAMPION, FOR BETTER OR WORSE
But he is unquestionably our champion, a once-in-a-generation spokesperson we should all be glad has been sent our way. We really have no choice but to support him and wish him will. Praying for him wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.
Surely a man of Dr. Jones’ stunning investigative and literary accomplishments can be forgiven a few minor flaws. Considering those accomplishments, how scary-amazing is it that Mike has been able to learn all the things he has learned, and write about them so well?
If he had ever managed to master the polished, public persona component as well, he’d probably be able to walk on water by now, and we might have to lock him up for impersonating a messiah.
As it is, he’s just a surprisingly likeable (once you get to know him) old curmudgeon at heart, with a bad haircut and a bow tie.
Oh yeah, and an encyclopedic knowledge of just-about-everything at his disposal.
Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.
April 3, 2020