(this is a portion of the cover to the first issue of Our Town I picked up at ShopRite)
Many people that happen to read this blog may have no idea what the magazine Our Town Jersey is, but for those that do I’d certainly like to hear from you.
Before I get started on Our Town Jersey I’d like to ask everyone reading this that is against hate and intolerance if you have a similar publication in your area. The internet is full of terrible jokes, racism, prejudice, and intolerance which is something I’d like to see diminish, but freedom is freedom. However, to see this in a printed publication freely available to anyone in some New Jersey grocery stores, diners, and other small businesses is quite sickening. Although we have come a long way to fight various prejudices and maintain some level of common decency there are apparently still some places where making fun of women, Muslims, migrants and infidelity are considered quality humor.
Basically Our Town is a business and the Our Town I find in my area, Our Town Jersey – West Morris Edition, is just one of seven similar magazines. The idea is that you can buy into the Our Town franchise and have businesses pay for ads in hopes that you’ll make a profit. It’s like any other business I suppose. I’m not sure where all the other Our Towns are located, but I believe they originated in Pennsylvania so there must be some there and some in New Jersey. The only Our Town that seems to have a web presence is the one I pick up. The other seven Our Towns apparently exist only in print.
Our Town convinces local markets and stores to place the magazine in the free periodicals section generally reserved for house and car buying magazines. Some Our Towns are actually placed in a small custom built stand with two stacked rows for the magazine – one near the ground and one about three feet from the ground. Some places you might find an Our Town are: the supermarkets, drug stores, diners, and other local businesses.
To call Our Town a magazine is using the term loosely. It’s actually just printed on a coarse paper stock slightly thicker than regular 20lb paper and is folded and stapled as an 8-1/2 x 11 booklet. It appears to be printed on a somewhat antiquated 4 color press at a printer called Creative Insight in Philadelphia. This company is owned by Bob Beierle who writes all the commentary and original content for Our Town. The layout of the magazine (pictures, fonts, graphics, etc.) is reminiscent of a low budget newsletter. However, the fact that some pages and the cover are printed in color gives it more of a legitimate look. Most of the fonts and clip art appear to have been pulled from a Broderbund software package.
Well the gist of Our Towns everywhere is that advertisers will pay for the magazine to be printed so that it can carry community events which will be published for free. Great idea, but theory and practice are far too often very different things. In practice Our Town Jersey – West Morris Edition (the only Our Town I’ve every seen) is basically 24 pages mostly full of ads and jokes. Given the fact that this Morris Edition of the magazine claims to serve 15 areas you’d think there would be more than 10 items sponsored by the advertisers. In actuality there is almost as much space promoting the magazine itself as there is given to the community and non-profit events. (In the latest issue there are 2 full page ads tauting the success of Our Town and the idea that you should start one too.)
So what’s the big deal and why should I care. Well, I care because the first issue I picked up many months ago used the term “camel jockey” in an editorial by the magazine’s founder, Bob Beierle. Within that first issue I also found many misogynistic jokes as well as jokes about children discovering their parent’s infidelity to other family members. It truly doesn’t take long to realize that both Bob and the people that run Our Town in the Jersey area have an utter distaste for women. In the most recent issue Bob speaks of famous men and asks
“Gee, is there a woman famous for doing anything? If there is, I can’t thing of one.”
There are many more and worse examples of this throughout the many issues I’ve collected. On the cover of Our Town’s Valentine’s Day edition they show clip art images of angry women grimacing and jumping up and down to an accompanying story stating that women are all greedy. In this Valentine’s story Bob writes
“never buy you girlfriend a more expensive gift than you buy for your wife.”
I’ve found that the “jokes” in Our Town, after some research, are essentially the kind of garbage you would normally find in “spam” emails. (see other posts on this blog about Our Town) These jokes can be found posted all over the internet and many of these jokes are years old, but the editors of Our Town claim they are sent in by “faithful Our Town readers.” This is something I do not believe to be true. My first rationale is the fact that this magazine provides no indication as to where you’d send your jokes. So where do they come from? Personally, I believe that Bob Beierle, the magazine’s founder, just pulls these jokes from the internet with no regard as to how offensive they are.
For those of that have compassion for migrants this magazine has included racist terms and jokes toward Muslims along with jokes which imply that we’ll all be speaking Spanish soon. Two issues ago there was a joke stating that since the government did a good job tracking down cows during the madcow scare they should give a cow to each undocumented immigrant. In addition this comment came from the second issue I picked up:
Of course at the beginning (referring to the beginning of the editorial where he states “be an American for a day we don’t care who you killed or raped”) we’re referring to the many illegal immigrants who have tippy toed across the border and have worked their way into our hearts and our homes and our streets where some have raped, murdered and killed. That ain’t being racists, that’s just reporting the facts.
When confronted about a terrible joke in the magazine Bob uses the age old technique of putting down the person who complains. The most recent issue includes a “letter to the editor” addressing a joke in the last month’s issue showing a group of nuns holding rifles with a caption reading “Much to their surprise, the Virgins awaiting Muslims in Heaven were not quite what they expected.” When confronted by a reverend about this joke Bob essentially tells the reverend to mind his own business while making many crude veiled references to the recent scandal of Catholic priests molesting children. All the while he attempts to proclaim that he is a true Christian and can essentially do no wrong. In his religious life as with his magazine the theory and the practice do not fall in line. Some of his comments to the Reverend that he proudly prints in this issue are:
Dear Father Joe, Never in my wildest dreams did I realize your importance and high standing with the Catholic Church. I mean, after all, the Holy Father of Rome must have bestowed upon you the awesome responsibility of being the official censor for Catholic humor thereby ordaining you to shut down any publication that you deem to have an unCatholic sense of humor.
What scares me about Our Town is the thought that people seem to be ok with the truly terrible jokes that it contains. My only solace is in the idea that nobody must actually read it though they claim to print 200,000 per month. As with any free publication it is probably taken with good intent and eventually discarded without having been read. While Bob and staff will tout their free community events that, although scarce, are printed in each issue:
With all the ‘Our Towns” we publish we dedicate free advertising and free promotions of church events to all religions. We include scripture in everything we do … whether it is in all of the “Our Towns” or on the place mats that we print. There are literally hundreds upon hundreds of churches with ministers, priests, rabbis, whom we help on a daily basis.
As I stated before, Bob’s idea of providing free community and non-profit events fall well short of anything his publication should be capable of. The West Morris Edition “serves” 15 towns and I’d certainly imagine that 15 towns collectively would have more than 10 events amongst them. If this publication truly wanted to publish these events they’d be actively seeking them. In addition they might include original writing from someone other than Bob himself. I guess it might just be possible that very few people want to have anything to do with Our Town. When they started listing the Mendhams as an area they served I thought there’s no way they will accept this publication and thankfully I’ve been mostly right. They once listed three businesses that carried it and now they only list one. I’ve actually been to this business looking for an Our Town and there was no indication it was available there even though I’d seen it atop a stand (about six feet off the ground) a few months back.
I really think that Our Town has its advertisers fooled into believing that they are actually “serving” these communities or maybe the advertisers don’t care because it’s relatively cheap to advertise in Our Town. How is publishing crude jokes about women, infidelity and mixing in an occasional racist joke promoting a community? Two issues ago they published a picture of a camel sitting in a parking lot with the caption “How to tell there is a terrorist at the airport.” I guess this is what they call “serving” a community.
I could keep giving examples of terrible statements and jokes in Our Town, but there’s just not enough time in the day. What I can’t understand is how this type of terrible publication has not received more back lash from the communities it is planted in. Planted is actually a good metaphor as Our Town claims there magazine will spread like a weed:
You know when you have a ice, big, beautiful, green lawn and all of a sudden a weed poops up…and that weed grows like crazy…and no matter how hard you try to smash it, bash it, crash it…you can’t stop it from growing? Next thing you know it’s weeds are far as the eye can see.”
The weed analogy is good, but what I note more is the violence used in describing a desire to rid oneself of weeds. I believe this is exemplary of the mindset of the people over at Our Town.
I’d also like to note that unlike many printers Bob Beierle’s Creative Insight is apparently unconcerned about the environment (which he attested to by ridiculing the cause of global warming in issue number 22 titled “Mean To Be Green”) as the smell of a freshly printed Our Town makes permanent markers seem like air fresheners. Anyone familiar with today’s printing equipment knows that responsible printers use soy based inks which are much better for the environment and the even the reader. But why should Our Town show concern for its readers?
I’d imagine that the folks over at Our Town really feel they’re doing something worthwhile and maybe even making some money at it too, but it sure seems they have the idea of “serving” there community all twisted. While there are a few community and non-profit events listed in their magazine, along with an animal that needs a home from time to time, there are far more terrible jokes that most people would find offensive. I imagine the humor of the people that bring us Our Town tends to sway towards the more derogatory, nasty and sometimes immoral. Filling the magazine with references to Christianity (there is a Bible passage on the back of each issue) you’d think they would print cleaner and nicer family oriented jokes. I’d imagine many families would look forward to picking up a nice magazine from the grocery store with some clean humor and a reference to their little league’s championship game. Sadly, that is not the reality of what Our Town is.