The Back Page - Rodney O. Lain: Still Knocking 'Em Dead
by - June 16th, 2004
[Author's note: I began this column almost a year ago, but I didn't finish it until today; and I only did that because Tim Robertson of MyMac.com and John Farr (former editor of Applelinks) published excellent memorials to him. Reading those, and rereading the outpouring of grief in the TMO forum threads about Rodney's death, made me A.) cry yet again, and B.) get off my ass and finish this piece. It's high time that I did so. Damnit Rodney, I miss you. In any event, the following was begun a year ago, and finished today. - Bryan]
Rodney O. Lain. Man, do I miss him. It's been two years since he took his own life, and I couldn't bring myself to write a memorial piece when the anniversary of that tragic loss came around last year. I wasn't ready, and I didn't yet know what to say. All that changed one week last year, thanks to, of all things, a white supremacist Web site.
Let me get a warning in at this point: This column doesn't have a whole lot to do with the Mac industry, but as I said in a forum post on this issue, it has almost everything to do with the Mac community. Rodney O. Lain embodied the best of the Mac community, and if you don't want to read my thoughts on community, white supremacists, irony, and Rodney, simply go away.
Back to Rodney.
Rodney was a black man. Astute readers will have noticed that from little hints such as the fact that his column with TMO was titled "iBrotha." He was a Mac-using black man. He wrote inflammatory things such as the column that got him fired from Applelinks, "The Mac is the nigger of the computer industry," and his slightly watered down (at my insistence) follow up at TMO called, "The Mac is still the 'Repressed Minority' of the computer industry." The content wasn't watered down, but I wanted the title sanitized. In hindsight, I wish I had decided otherwise, but that's another issue, too.
In the past two years, I have thought about Rodney often. Someone will mention him, as the good folks at As the Apple Turns did last year (after I started, but before I finished, this column), or as happened much more often, something will happen in the Mac community, and I will say out loud to my girlfriend, "I wish Rodney was here to write about this."
I can't tell you how many times I have thought or said that. As I said, I miss him, and it brings tears to my eye even now to think about how he is gone.
What really galvanized me into writing this column, however, was my daily examination of the TMO logs. I like to know not only what is being read, but where our traffic comes from. For instance, many of you reading this may well have come from Google, or perhaps Macsurfer's, or one of the couple of hundred Mac sites on the Internet. We get traffic from more than 600 domains on a typical day, but it was one particular site that drew my attention.
That site was NationalVanguard.org, and I thought to myself "Hey, what's that? It rings a bell." Most of the sites that send us traffic are Mac and tech sites, many from around the globe, but general interest sites like Fark.com, or TrekWeb.com shows up all the time, too, but NationalVanguard? What the heck is that site?
If you haven't already clicked through, I'll tell you. NationalVanguard is a white supremacist site that is tied in some way to the white supremacist organization "The National Alliance." I am hardly an expert on the white supremacist movement, but feel free to peruse the site. For instance, I found one article decrying a man getting fired from his job for his political beliefs (political beliefs with which NationalVanguard agrees) as an injustice, and another article saying that it's criminal that employers don't have the right to hire and fire anyone they please for any reason they please. Those whacky racists...Consistency is not their strong suit.
But why in the heck did this particular site link to TMO? The link was coming from the main page, and after doing a bit of finding on that page, I found the word "Macintosh" in the following article (the link is to the permanent article off the home page):
I took the above screen shot just in case the article should disappear, but to make sure it can all be read, I'll include the text. The article is titled "Macintosh: The Computer for National Revolutionaries?" The text currently reads as follows:
Users debate whether or not Mac is a Euro-computer
Are independent-minded people more likely to use Macs? The following discussion reveals some very interesting theories on what kind of person is most likely to use a Macintosh computer.
The link to TMO was to an article comment from a libertarian-minded conservative praising the TMO column about which he was writing. And what was that column, I hear you asking? Why, it a was a little piece called "Rush Limbaugh: Future 'Think Different' Poster Boy?" by none other than Rodney O. Lain. That's Rodney O. Lain, the black man. The proud-to-be-black, anti-racist, Rodney O. Lain.
I just about died laughing! How perfect! As I said in the forums: "Oh sweet delicious irony! Oh goddess of Instant Karma, smite thee the silly racists in their ignorant ramblings!" This is the kind of thing that Rodney lived for, at least until he died. Here was a white supremacist site linking to comments praising a column by Rodney Freakin' O. Lain. How rich is that?
It's easy to see where they got confused. Rodney's name conjures up images of an Irishman, even though the punctuation is wrong. And heck, it was a column about Apple needing to think differently about advertising, and take the tremendous marketing opportunity of hiring arch-conservative Rush Limbaugh, a huge Mac fan, as a spokesperson. It could definitely be hard to discern the black man behind that column, especially if you weren't looking.
As I continued to enjoy the incredible irony in this situation, I realized that this was what I wanted to write my memorial to Rodney about. Rodney would have had a field day with this situation.
Wait, that doesn't even come close to accurately describing it. Gales of laughter would have poured forth from Rodney, stoking the creative fires that drove his writing. He would have rolled up this subject, patted it into shape, and baked a big ol' fat loaf of whoopass, laughing with glee all the while.
Man, do I wish he was here to do just that.
He's not, of course, but I can't imagine a more fitting tribute to Rodney than this one small post from a white supremacist.
So, to you, Rodney! Whatever happens to us in death, I hope that somehow you know about this, and are enjoying it even as I finish this column. I miss you, man. We all miss you. To the many, many Rodney fans out there, hoist a drink and offer a laugh to a white supremacist in his memory.
When you are done, stop by MyMac.com and John Farr's blog to read their tributes, and maybe peruse the gut-wrenching posts in the original goodbye to Rodney in our forums. You can also read my original goodbye to Rodney from two years ago.
began using Apple computers in 1983 in a high school BASIC programming class. He started using Macs in 1990 when the Kinko's guy taught him how to use Aldus PageMaker, finally buying a Power Computing Power 100 in 1995. Today, Bryan is the Editor of The Mac Observer, and has contributed to the print versions of MacAddict and MacFormat (UK).
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