EPISODE 10 (2004 – 2007)
The true story behind the most viral Dig cover to date
Sarcasm is fucking awesome, but when you use it all the time, nobody knows when they should take you seriously. So since plenty of mid-aughts arts and news-adjacent media, especially the Dig, leaned way too heavily into snark, it caused a lot of problems.
For one, we accidentally conditioned our audience to interpret a completely sincere reaction to a local tragedy as trolling. While that very same reaction—to this day—stands as the Dig’s most famous cover of all time, it’s kind of a bummer how its intended point got lost somewhere between the seewwwper homophobic backlash and the comparatively righteous backlash to the backlash.
Also, I don’t think we’ve talked enough about Tak Toyoshima in this, so let’s do that now.
SHAULA CLARK (managing editor): Tak is definitely the glue that held that place together, more or less. He was in charge of continuity. And Tak is sort of unflappable. I’ve seen him get irritated, I guess, but I’ve never seen him freak out about anything, which is an important skill to have when you’re dealing with this unruly mess of people.
KELSEY BENNETT (photographer): Tak wanted the covers to be like pieces of art that stand alone; separate from the content of each issue. He had this idea that college kids would want to rip off the covers and hang them on the wall. I think he definitely accomplished that.
TAK TOYOSHIMA (art director): I used more illustrations than photography for covers at first. I’ve grown to really appreciate photography, but originally, the Dig was mostly illustration heavy, because that’s where my head’s at. Because I did illustration, I had a lot of friends who also did that, and it was good to have a stable of people I could ask or call in a favor. After a while, we got known for those kinds of covers. Every now and then, I’d reach for the stars and go after some artist we’d never worked with just to see if they’d do it. After a few years we started working with college students and getting the young guns who were still really good. And then I started really liking photography. But you need to have an eye for it, and know how to art direct it.
BENNETT: Me and my friends in New York City would do these conceptual photos. It was close to Valentine’s Day, and the shoots that we had [recently] done were all unintentionally Valentine’s Day-themed, so my first cover was based off a pin-up illustration—my friend posing with all these men’s names and their phone numbers on the wall behind her.
TOYOSHIMA: When the DNC came to Boston, we did a Run-D.N.C. cover. We had Shepard Fairey do a cover. That was cool. We got James Jean, and that’s the cover on the issue that ended up in one scene in The Departed.
CHRIS ROHLAND (co-publisher): Metro Corp. came in pretty regularly, sometimes with just ribs, like, “You had to go there. You had to take it there, right?” I guess part of that was … Y’know, this is what we do: We educate, inform, entertain, and we challenge people, and we challenge the status quo. That’s part of the definition of what an alt-weekly is.
SCOTT MURRY (art director): Every now and again the Metro Corp. guys would come in to battle over covers, saying things were too eccentric, or a little too crass. Then Keohane and Jeff would talk them off the ledge and say, “You’re being ridiculous. It’s just a nipple. It’s fine.”
TOYOSHIMA: One cover I definitely remember was the one everybody wrote about—the Red Sox/Yankees guys kissing at Fenway. It was kind of a perfect storm moment. Gay marriage was on the ballot. When you get a cover like that, it sticks with you for a while.
BENNETT: Coming from New York, I was very taken by the sports fanaticism in Boston. I feel like you don’t really experience that fanaticism in New York unless you’re around Yankee Stadium. But when I moved to Boston, I felt like the fanaticism is in your face wherever you go. Around that time there was a riot that went on around Yawkey Way that had to do with one of the games, and there was a police officer who shot a rubber bullet and it hit this college student [Emerson journalism major Victoria Snelgrove] and killed her. I was really taken aback and upset by that, and that’s basically what that cover is about.
JOE KEOHANE (EiC): A guy from Southie called me up, and he was just fuckin’ furious; screaming at me that this cover is the worst thing that’s ever happened in Boston. So I’m winding him up, and I say, “Wait, you’re saying this is worse than busing?” He yells, “This is 10 times worse than busing!” and hangs up.
BENNETT: So many people were taken aback, but I feel like the focus was all on the two men kissing. There wasn’t even room to explore the real reason why I took the photo. It became about sexual identity rather than anything else. But, I mean, people have this objection to love between two people of the same gender. Why can’t they just accept love? For that matter, why can’t some people just enjoy themselves and not take this sports rivalry to this next level where violence is incited? It’s a conceptual piece, so there’s no concrete, literal way to explain it. But all that’s tied up in there. It was my way of expressing the sentiment, “Why can’t we all get along?”
ROHLAND: Part of what I dealt with was going between Jeff and [Metro Corp. owner] David Lipson, saying to David, “This is what you bought. Embrace it.” Then going to Jeff and saying, “Pick your battles. If you feel strongly about something, go with it, but if you don’t feel that strongly about it, let it go.” That got a little tiring.
JEFF LAWRENCE (publisher): One of the things that Lipson used to always say was, “You need to send me the cover.” I’d say, “But I have creative control.” He was like, “I know. I just wanna see it. Thank you.” And I said, “Fine, I’ll send it to you.” Then I wouldn’t send it. And I did that for two years. I never sent him a cover before it went to press. When that cover hit the street, he lost his fucking mind. “Worst decision! You’re fucking with us!” It took him about 48 hours once it went literally worldwide before he called us and said, “Eh, maybe I was wrong.”
DAVID LIPSON (Metro Corp. President & CEO): I thought that cover was awesome. Our whole business is creating buzz and conversation, so that was one of the high points.
Coming Up: We’re gonna cover that office romance we mentioned at the end of the previous episode, plus there’s a bit about the time David Bowie gave us an interview, and another bit about Harrison Ford being an asshole.
Barry Thompson lives next to a highway in the Allston/Brighton vicinity. He has written for a whole bunch of places, enjoys caffeine, and appreciates a good, hearty anxiety attack every now and again.