It’s still strange to me to google my name and see “Jeff Mach Allegations” come up as a predictive option. There was a time when the first thing you’d see would be, say, Jeff Mach Events, or something else I had done or created. It’s fascinating to watch that Daily Beast article come up, remembering the author’s specific breech of what we had in writing in service to her very clear agenda. And to be honest, I don’t exactly fault her for having an agenda; I’m pretty sure she went in believing she was fighting Evil, with a capital E. What keeps striking me isn’t the one-sided narrative; it’s that there’s less than one side here. There are tiny fragments, and we’re supposed to make a story out of them.
Human brains are good for that – filling in empty gaps. There are so many examples of how we’ll take a piece of something and fill in gaps (this article from Scientific American is one of my favorites on the subject). What we’re not good at is filling them in accurately when we don’t have enough of the picture. (How many people see a face on Mars? How many people can picture the beings in constellations when they look at the sky? For me, I’ve always been able to “see” that face in pictures, and never really seen the constellations.)
When I think about the allegations which now follow the name “Jeff Mach” (and I have thought about them every single day since they’ve happened)–that’s what I think about: all the gaps.
I’m not even talking about gaps that make stories untrue (that’s a subject for another time) – or which leave out critical and pertinent data. I’m not talking about “proving people wrong”; I’m talking about understanding the stories themselves.
Sometimes, I get frustrated by how monolithic the narrative is, how much it consciously wants to hear one side and rejects hearing the other side. How my own desire to speak “my side” seems to get characterized as some selfish act. (And to be honest, I believed that myself, for a long time. I had long been infused with the idea that there are no false accusation, and that to question any of them is to disrespect someone’s pain. I pretty much considered my own pain to be collateral damage. It took me a long time to find out that I’m not the only person–especially not the only man–to do so.)
But then I go back and I re-read what’s been put up. (It’s easy enough, after all; just as the allegations were simultaneous and multi-platform, there was also a website that started covering them, literally faster than one could read them; whatever else you can say about the allegations, you can’t say that there wasn’t planning behind them.) And what keeps striking me, time after time:
These are not stories. These are pieces of stories.
The idea is that it’s necessary for stories to be fairly fragmentary, because we need to protect the anonymity of accusers. And that’s a valid point. The problem is, what can we do with story fragments?
In a world where we know people have serious problems going to legal authorities about sexual crimes, we recognize that crimes go unreported. But in a world where we also recognize that people tell a whole lot of lies and distorted stories on the internet, stories that never get vetted at all, we also need to recognize that we begin to lose the ability to figure out what happened.
There are a lot of very loaded conversations about what we believe in allegations of sexual misconduct. It’s a long and difficult subject, and I will probably address it in a different post. But I’m going to use some more specific ground right now.
The aforementioned theories of protecting the anonymity of people involved in alleged sexual misconduct–simply do not apply to straight-up business dealings. “This person abused me” is an emotionally and criminally complex question; “This person was supposed to pay me $250; here is the agreement to do so; they did not do so” – is not.
I’m not afraid to address the sexual allegations. I’m not afraid to speak the truth, which is to say that I am innocent: not a rapist, not a predator. I am just seeking a solid place for comparison.
For example, there’s a pervasive narrative that I defrauded vendors and/or performers. How? If my company promised a vendor a space, and that vendor didn’t get that space, then we’d both have records. And, indeed, in places where we made mistakes (or where vendors made mistakes) – we have whole conversations via email. Because conventions will make a few mistakes in the span of 20 years; that’s extremely different from going around defrauding people.
Those things don’t come up specifically because those mistakes are rare, and we have simple records on file. “We’re sorry you didn’t get the right-sized space; here’s a refund”, or “Oh, you’re right, I thought I’d applied for X size, but my application does say Y size. I apologize.”
Likewise, with performers–if I had a habit of not paying performers, I wouldn’t be able to get performers. Jeff Mach Events wouldn’t have had massive amounts of programming. We sure wouldn’t have had a great deal of professional sound and light. If the company promised things in writing, we’d have them in writing–which we do. If we made handshake deals (which we avoided, in general; it’s easy to lose a friendship over the sorts of things that ARE covered in a written agreement, but may not come up in an oral deal) – and didn’t follow through, people would have stopped performing.
But not only have those allegations continued, without people being able to back them up–they’ve gotten farther and farther afield. I’m accused of running all manner of events in secret; I’m accused of somehow having secret deals with all the hotels in New Jersey to keep out competitors (there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of hotels in New Jersey, and I literally can’t conceive of how you would even make that kind of deal with even a few hotels; a convention is worth tens of thousands of dollars to a hotel venue. How would you somehow conspire with ONE hotel where you aren’t even running events or booking rooms? – much less hundreds?)
That’s exactly the nature of how narratives work, though. They spiral.
Recently, I was issued an incredibly illegitimate cease and desist order relating to my putting on events, and attempting to censor a book I’ve written. I was asked if I’d abide by it; I responded that my side had answered the letter. Someone maintained that the order said I had to do certain things; I said it did not; they persisted, I said, we’ll let the law decide. They said, they weren’t surprised that my attitude was “If you don’t like it, sue me.” I said: I have been in business for over 20 years. Can you name even one instance where that’s happened? They said they couldn’t, but that it “didn’t matter”; it was just clearly “how I do business”.
(I have, in fact, questioned at least a few contracts. Everyone in legitimate business has times when there are contractual questions. I’ve also abided by my contracts–literally hundreds. It’s a matter of clear, visible, legal record, which I can document. But that doesn’t matter.)
That’s how far narratives can spin on something that isn’t as loaded, as complex, as challenging, as what an ex-lover says you did or didn’t do five or eight or ten years ago. Those are with things that are written, visible, documentable.
There is a basic concept here, one I think we need to apply: If we’re going to believe in someone’s guilt and innocence, we need to see at least two sides of a story. Even more: If we’re going to believe in taking drastic action because we believe in someone’s guilt or innocence, we need to see more than part of a story.