Occupy Modern Love

Dozens of protesters gathered outside The New York Times building on Eighth Avenue last night to protest the no-comment policy of the newspaper’s weekly Modern Love column.

“The Times is suppressing free speech,” said Jax123, who, like many of the protesters, prefers to be called by his screen name. “And since we aren’t allowed to express ourselves in Modern Love, we’re here to make ourselves heard tonight.”

“It’s a monstrous policy,” said Titsrkul from Staten Island, who was holding a placard that read, ‘Stop Internet Abuse. Let Us Comment.’ “If it were another section of the Times that was off-limits, we wouldn’t be so offended. But this is Modern Love. Women are writing about heartbreak and loss, dating and divorce and sometimes even death. This is exactly when our comments are at their most vibrant.”

“There was this column about a woman who was training her husband as if he were a dolphin.” said Drangrrry, who was picketing with his inflatable girlfriend Missy. “A dolphin! And I couldn’t say a thing about her, her husband or the likelihood of her having a sexual relationship with the dolphin. You can’t imagine how disorienting it is not to be able to respond — it’s like they’re ringing the bell but then there are no biscuits.”

“Anyone can comment on my Facebook page,” said Lol James, the founder of the ‘Yoko Ono Should Have Died Instead of John Lennon’ Facebook group. “I’m a citizen of the Internet! Why shouldn’t I enjoy those same rights?”

“Right on!” shouted a fellow protester.

“You tell it!” yelled a second.

“Your mom is a crack ho!”

One picketer mentioned that he tried to compensate for the void by commenting on an essay that appeared on ModernLoveRejects.com. The piece he selected was written by a woman who found love only to lose the man to cancer.

“It was just okay,” Ninjizz said of the experience, in which he proposed that the man was killed by the writer’s ugliness rather than by illness alone. “But you know, probably no one saw the comment.”

“The woman who wrote the column did,” Titsrkul pointed out. “And she was rejected by Modern Love, right? So in a way she’s even more vulnerable than a regular Modern Love columnist, right?”

Ninjizz’s eyes lit up. “I hadn’t thought of it that way.”

“Look,” said a middle-aged father of four who requested to remain anonymous. “A woman who claims to be sexually attracted to her husband should be challenged on that. At the very least, she should be called a lesbian.”

“I mean, aren’t there laws about this kind of thing?” said Man614street, a newcomer who’d come all the way from Dayton to join the protest. “Gay marriage is legal, but we’re not allowed to go on Modern Love and tell a woman in her 30s trying to date that she’s going to dry up and never find love?”

An attractive young woman walking her Shih Tzu passed by and stopped to ask what the demonstration was about. After hearing the stories of some of the protesters, the woman was sympathetic.

“Which are the hardest columns not to comment on?” she asked.

“The ones written by lesbians,” said Titsrkul.

“Lesbians,” Ninjizz agreed.

“Definitely lesbians,” said Jax123, “but also women who are struggling with infertility or who find out their spouse is cheating on them.”

As protesters talked about the devastation wrought by infidelity, the mood turned lighter. The men traded ideas of what they might say to various Modern Love columnists, and the atmosphere was almost celebratory until a taxi pulled up to the curb and a man stepped out.

“It’s Daniel Jones!” shouted Ninjizz at the editor of the column.

“Coward!” yelled Man614street.

“Ovaries Lover!” shouted Lol James.

“Actually,” said Titsrkul as Jones ducked into the building, “it’s not technically his fault. It’s the policy of the newspaper.”

“Well that just makes it even worse,” Jax123 complained. “First they fire Jill Abramson, and now this.”

A confused silence fell on the crowd.

“You know,” a man who comments as Dickyfartz said, breaking the lull, “I feel kind of violated by this whole thing.”

Others murmured their agreement, and the grim feeling among the protesters returned.

“And you know what the sad thing is?” Titsrkul said as he handed out free cans of Red Bulls donated by a nearby bodega owner. “No one seems to care.”

“I heard that some writers actually get a book deal just from writing a Modern Love column,” said Drangrrry. “What gives the Times the right to prevent us from trying to erode the self-esteem of a previously unknown writer who just got their first book contract? It’s sick.”

The picketers lifted their placards and continued circling outside the storefront. A light rain began to fall that soon turned into a steady torrent.

“It’s cold and everyone wants to go home,” said Dickyfartz. “But this is important. I know this might sound weird, but writers who lay all their emotions bare are a dream come true for us. These people have the potential to fulfill us completely. When you look at it that way, the Times is standing between us and our soul mates.”

Read more essays and, yes, humor from Devorah Blachor at DevorahBlachor.com.