Sunday, January 18, 2004


Attempts to get Newbury Comics to stop selling “Bumfights” videos are going nowhere, Spare Change News reports. Serious opponents of the videos -- which film the homeless performing degrading acts -- may want to switch tactics.

For instance, they could eat a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich before entering a Newbury Comics, or a jelly doughnut, then handle the “Bumfights” DVDs and videos, smearing jelly over them.

They could drop a case to the ground and step on it. Oops.

They could bring a razor blade and slash the cases.

If this is done enough, and it would have to be done in all Newbury Comics selling “Bumfights” repeatedly, eventually the videos will either be put behind sales counters for protection or not sold at all, because the stores will be taking a loss on them. If the videos are kept behind the counter, shoppers will have to know they’re there; they’ll no longer stumble across them in the stacks between “Bulworth” and “Bundle of Joy.” It may also add a sense of stigma to buying the product -- but don’t count on it.

These actions are over the line, possibly immoral and one is inarguably illegal, but the politeness of the Homeless Empowerment Project against Newbury Comics is bound for failure. There’s been only one mention of their anti-“Bumfights” efforts in the mainstream media, in The Boston Globe in December, in which Newbury Comics co-owner Mike Dreese blithely notes that his stores include something to offend everyone and draw frequent requests to drop products that “we tend to ignore ... because pretty soon you don't have a store left.”

This is glib, of course, as someone in the chain of command made a conscious decision to buy “Bumfights” and keep stocking it, obviously because it makes money. The project’s mistake comes in thinking that Newbury Comics will make a moral choice because the chain is hip and because it’s the right thing to do, or that kids will resist the lure of Newbury Comics in such numbers that the chain will react as the project wants it to.

The stores show good taste in what they stock (otherwise than “Bumfights,” anyway) and are relatively inexpensive, and the media has been kind in portraying its owners, two guys from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who started with $2,000 and a comic book collection at the height of the punk era. Dreese’s “computer sits atop a $30 metal desk,” the Globe noted in 1997, and in 2001 he described his Hootenanny clothing stores as being “for people that hate the Gap.”

But these men (John Brusger is the silent partner) are not hippies, and whatever punk ethic they retain is mixed in with whatever drives owners of businesses that do $75 million in business a year (a figure from 2002, the most recent year for which information is available). Newbury Comics is run by capitalists who happen to sell cool stuff. But, as everyone learns at some point, just because someone has cool stuff doesn’t mean that person is cool.

If the project intends to accomplish its goals, it may as well take off the gloves and fight down and dirty -- like a bum in a video. It shouldn’t. But Newbury Comics isn’t going to get the point otherwise.

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