Where the shit-kicking gene comes from

Français : Plaquette avec la Palme d'or.
Français : Plaquette avec la Palme d’or. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I got the coolest email this week, from the programmer for the Vancouver Film Festival it’s on today at 12:20 for those of you who live there — asking about my Dad, Ron Kelly, whose early films about that city in the 1960s are being honored. (It’s where I was born.)

One of them, about violent youths, was never broadcast by the CBC because of its content. Here’s his Wikipedia entry. He’s alive and healthy at 83, just back from Turkey and heading off to Chicago then Asia in the next month.

In 1962, he won the Palme D’Or at Cannes for “The Tearaways”, another film about misspent youth, this time British, which the BBC also refused to air. Love it!

So when I spend my career looking for tough topics others shy away from, I have a role model for it in him. (My mother also worked as a radio, TV and print reporter, once smuggling tapes of the Chicago 8 trial north to the CBC.) I grew up watching my parents make a nice living digging under intellectual rocks going “Ooooh, look!

If we have a family motto, it might be epater le bourgeoisie.

It never really occurred to me to think otherwise, that being polite and obedient and deferring to authority was normal behavior, as it is for many people. I’m hardly a 24/7 hellion, and I’m conventional enough to have a mortgage — but I’m usually most attracted to stories that will piss someone off.

My first book is about women and guns in the U.S. , my second, about low-wage labor in the U.S, which so annoyed my former employer, The North Face, that they banned it.

When someone starts yelling “There’s no story here!” as one federal flack did in 2005, I know I’m on the right track; here’s that story, which I broke nationally in the Daily News, about the 6,000 children detained annually by the Department of Homeland Security.

I think far too much “journalism” today is lightweight crap meant to please advertisers and amuse readers, instead of telling truth to power.

I think the world is filled with tough, difficult stories that need to be well-told.

I think many people are too scared to piss off the wealthy who increasingly own our democracies.

My husband, a lovely, gentle man who has worked in the same place for almost 30 years, is pretty much my polar opposite in this regard. He’s a PK, a preacher’s kid, and PKs are typically raised in a bubble of high expectations, docile/polite behavior and the need to get along with everyone. He learned it from his Dad.

But Jose has also has done his share of mixing it up, as a news and sports photographer for The New York Times, telling amazing and difficult stories, like covering the end of the Bosnian War. The way he managed to get a photo of General Manuel Noriega is so insanely inventive it makes me think he missed his calling as a spook. His sangfroid on 9/11 also helped the Times win a Pulizter.

People who go into hard news journalism tend to like poking sharp objects at things. In that respect, it’s a terrific field for a woman like me, who’s nosy, pushy and rarely satisfied with pat answers. It rewards brass-balled women, otherwise generally socialized to “be nice.”

I’d rather have front page above the fold, thanks.

Are you a shit-disturber?

Where did you learn to be one?

18 thoughts on “Where the shit-kicking gene comes from

  1. Nemesis

    Yes, Ms. Malled. I blame it on HighSchoolDebating…. [BC Provincial Champion]. Subsequently, the RCN. A student summer job working the BottlingLine @ LaBatt’s NewWestminster brewery probably didn’t help either.

  2. I come from a long line of passive-aggressive women, so my goal is always to remember that the shortest line between two points is the most direct. Be direct, be honest, be solid with who you are and never stay silent in the face of injustice. I’d like to believe that as I get older, part of my dementia will be shouting random things like “You’re a jackass” when I see people acting like jerks, but I’m not there yet. That seems like a really joyful thing to do.

    1. Go for it!

      Living in/near NYC certainly helps women get a lot tougher and more direct than they/we might otherwise have been. The way women are expected to remain soft-voiced and P/A cam be heavily reinforced by family and regional/national culture. So, for me, NY and journalism are a good fit in this respect. I do VERY poorly in B.C., for example, where the whole thing gets dialed back so far it drives me mad.

  3. I’m the son of 2 rabbis–yes, two–but I’m certainly a shit disturber, possibly thanks to my mother, who goes against many people’s expectations by being a rabbi and a woman and gay all at once. She’s an inspiration to me, which is why I’ve no hesitation about writing some of the things I write, which may offend or disturb others.

  4. holy crap. i love when unexpected learning moments. i’ve heard the phrase “above the fold” a hundred times but never really thought about it or what it meant. after reading this, i now know what it means. that’s so cool.

    yes, and no, i can be a disturber, but sometimes – rarely – i have held back, but it wasn’t easy. last year someone at work was sending me rude, nasty, provoking e-mails, leaving provoking and insulting comments on my blog, leaving objects in my mailbox, etc. it would have been very easy for me to retaliate with some really good stuff – but i knew he was just a loser with too much free time, and i also knew that because he is such a loser, he has nothing to lose, whereas i do.

    1. It’s a phrase that’s losing currency as newspapers, most of them anyway, die a long slow death. But front page above the fold is damn sweet and every ambitious journo’s dream.

      It’s hard not to retaliate to a provocateur. I’ve had to physically restrain myself from answering some “reviews” om amazon.

      1. rich

        i had a co-worker who caused a problem for me at work. i won’t go into detail, boring, but her husband tried to get me fired by lying to the boss, who realized that the husband was a lunatic. a long time later, after he discovered my blog and left calling cards at my home like cigarette burns in deck furniture, he left “messages” in blog comments. note – he lives about 90 minutes from me at least. one night i’m reading a blog about nostalgic toys and left a comment about a slinky. the next day i found a slinky in my mailbox. not a coincidence.

  5. Julia

    You might think it’s genetic because of your heritage, but… For me, kicking the jams came from a few places: going to an all-girls school and rebelling, and coming of age during the counterculture. Question authority? It’s like a fish swimming in water. I don’t even know it’s water. Bravo for channelling it into Journalism and getting the story when “There’s no story here”.

    1. You’re so right. I, and you, were so lucky to attend all-girls schools and camps. It taught me, by osmosis, to be (relatively) fearless about expressing my opinion, especially around men. And we were also products of second-wave feminism in addition to the counter-culture.

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