The Shadow was an underground paper published in McMurdo in the early
’90s. Big Dead Place conducted this interview with the anonymous editor via email.
How did The Shadow begin?
It was winter of 1990 and the Navy was putting out this dry, no fun, Navy-type paper and we actually just wanted to poke fun at it. Well, as you know, there are many things to poke fun at down here, so it just took off.
How many people were involved?
Twelve core people (American and Kiwi), and about 100 anonymous contributors.
What were some of the reactions when The Shadow was first published?
The Navy went ballistic and the community was belly laughing at brunch. The Navy hated it or, I should say, the Navy Paper Staff hated it, and the rest of the community loved it. We would sneak in just after the Navy Sunday paper was put out in the galley and place ours right next to it. This really pissed off the Navy and added fuel to the paper wars. (Please understand that when I say ‘Navy’ I am only referring to maybe six people. The rest of the Navy personnel loved it and contributed to it.)
How did the Navy try to stop you? Did they say that The Shadow could not be produced with government paper on government machines?
That is exactly how they tried to stop us. So we told them that we had all of the paper airdropped to us that year. They could not prove that we didn’t. When they told us to stop using government copy machines, Scott Base spoke up and said that we were using theirs.
When we placed our Shadow sign on the metaphysical pole at Derelict Junction, the Navy had it taken down, but failed to properly dispose of it, and so it was returned to us by a good Navy SeaBee and then we were able to get the Linemen to place it at the top of the pole where it remained until around 1999/2000.
What’s the “metaphysical pole”?
It is the utility pole at Derelict Junction next to the bus stop. The pole was never supposed to be put there, so it wasn’t there, so to speak. (Sort of like when the big guys correct you on “the galley” saying it is “the dining facility.” Two syllables versus six. If it were an acronym, like DINFAC, that would be different.)
Did the Navy Brass approach you personally?
Tell me that story. What kind of questions did he ask you?
I was approached because I was the most outstanding point of contact for people to contribute their writing to. Everybody knew that I was involved. I was stopped in 155 and asked questions: about who was involved, were they military, and was I aware that some people were hurt by what we wrote. I had to laugh because we did not write about any individuals; we would make jokes of entire departments such as our “make extra money by selling brains to the Navy” ad. It was no big deal. The Navy could not stop us and they knew it.
Once we found out that The Shadow was being faxed to the Navy Brass in the States, we came out with the ‘international issue’ and explained that now we would have to raise subscription rates due the added cost of sending The Shadow overseas. We did not wish to burden the U.S. Taxpayers with a ten-dollar-a-minute INMARSAT phone line transmission so we asked the community to kick in what they could to help offset waste, fraud, and abuse by the Navy.
Did the reception to it change over time?
It grew into a cult following. It just got bigger and funnier. We got so many submissions that we just could not print them all. What got printed was what made us laugh.
Were there any other papers in McMurdo that you knew of before you did The Shadow?
Just the Navy paper, The Antarctic Night Times.
Did The Shadow spark any other people to put out papers afterwards?
Not while I was involved with The Shadow. The original Shadow was in ’90. In ’91 it was there but I was not. In ’92 it came out but that was the year that it used to slam and be a bit on the mean side so I opted out and hooked up with Bob [S.] and put out The Quick Brown. We had no problems with The Shadow staff and they had no problems with us. Actually The Shadow sort of went away that season.
What other papers have you seen over the years, if any?
I am not sure. I have only wintered six times over the last fifteen years so I bet there were some.
Will you explain Marsgrams?
Before telephones we could only contact home by shortwave radio, so we were allowed 50 words in the summer and 100 in the winter. You would write a message and a volunteer would send it via shortwave to the States where it would be printed out and mailed to whomever you were sending it to. The people on the other end that printed and mailed got money from the government to do this for the military. We were all working under Navy orders back then, which was cool because here were all these hippies with earrings and hair to the middle of their backs traveling with Navy order documents.
What was your distribution process?
Getting drunk on Saturday night during the printing, and sleeping in on Sunday. Remember, this was before computers. We asked that everything be typed out before they slipped it under our door, so all we had to do was cut-and-paste it to a piece of paper then run it through a copy machine.
What department’s photocopier did you use?
Mostly Power and Water, seeing how most of us worked there. Even the supervisor was involved.
When you distributed the papers did you do it a certain way so as not to get caught?
We did try to sneak them [into the galley], but the times we were seen nobody said a thing.
What were some of your editorial policies?
No slamming individuals. You could crack jokes all you wanted about any organization, and slam us, but no one by name.
Did some people submit things attacking individuals?
Yes. But that was toward the end of July, when most people get “8 up” or their ice wife leaves them for someone else. It was how we read it. If we thought it was a slam we didn’t go there or we would change it so as not to hurt anyone. Although we did push the envelope at times when it came to supervisors. Like when we cracked jokes about the FEMC supervisor’s hemorrhoid problem. He laughed at it.
There was a cartoon in one issue depicting a plumber’s brain. It showed a neocortex that handled watching TV and drinking (or something like that) with a cigarette poking from the frontal lobe. Did The Shadow ever receive any aggressive response from those it made fun of, like plumbers?
No, but the rebuttals we would get from, say, the plumber shop to the fitters’ shop were great. I really do not remember that one, I’ll have to comb through my collection. I would like to add that my favorite issues were the mini-issue where we shrunk everything down so that it would fit in your pocket, and the sticker issue. That was the most fun issue I think we ever did.