Undercover: What I learnt writing stupid articles


Words || Max Lewis

Initially, this article was going to be about A Voice in the Desert, a weird group that has been handing out flyers near Macquarie Uni that direct people to their Youtube channel full of preachy God videos. Naturally I wanted to join this cult for shits and giggles, but twenty Google Chrome tabs deep something occurred to me. I had already written an article about a cult almost two years ago. It was my first proper article for Grapeshot in what would become the Undercover series, and to be honest it’s probably where I peaked. It had the best jokes and was pretty much the only article that actually fulfilled the premise of being Undercover – something Facebook comment geniuses (cough MEN cough) love to point out. Since I finish my degree after this semester, I realised that this was to be my last article for Grapeshot. So rather than beat a dead cult horse, I decided to part the kimono and share a few little juicy nuggets of truth about writing stupid pseudo-journalistic articles for a magazine nobody really reads.

Getting Too Big For Your Britches

The second ever Undercover article I wrote almost got Grapeshot shut down. It was about a volunteer group with strands at Macquarie and other Unis that turned out to have some weird religious dogmas and questionable practices. Following the article, they complained to the Uni, and it’s now a collector’s item that you can only get in print because they didn’t even want it to go online. The whole debacle is a fun uh-oh to look back on now, but at the time I fully believed I was going to have the pants sued right off my ass, all because I pretended to be somebody I wasn’t to get an interview. Turns out there might be laws about that? I don’t know because I didn’t pay attention in my three terms of legal studies (sorry Ms. Jones!). If you’re wondering why none of my other articles really lived up to the premise of actually going Undercover, it’s because because I didn’t want to give the Vice Chancellor another excuse to squash us like a cockroach.

How to Make Friends and Influence People (When Your Brain Hates You)

One thing that didn’t occur to me because I’m a moron, is that Journalism – in particular investigative journalism and ESPECIALLY undercover journalism – requires you to talk to people. A lot. You even have to make phone calls sometimes, like a real job. I have pretty bad social anxiety that makes interacting with strangers a nightmare, and I began to use my Undercover articles as self-imposed exposure therapy to get me out of my comfort zone. Unfortunately, There’s a few times where my illness got in the way. Like when I attended a School of Attraction pick-up artistry class, I stopped myself from putting what I had learnt to the test on unsuspecting women because the idea of doing that terrified me (and also because I thought it was wrong to harass women). Easily the most nerve-wracking article I did was the one where I went to a nude beach, mostly because I don’t think I actually learned anything from getting my dick and balls out in public. C’Est la vie, I guess. That being said, Undercover was instrumental in training myself to not give a shit about approach anxiety and just do the ding dang thing, even though there were a few humps on the way.

Nobody Really Cares

There’s a few times where I thought I was spilling some particularly scalding tea, only to be met with silence. My Critical Thinking Society article (where I sort of insinuated the group was an alt-right honey-pot), while getting some minor heat from Facebook comments, didn’t stir as much shit as I expected. Although, the head of the CTS did corner me at Uni eight months after it was published telling me to take it down because it was “A pretty bad article.” I just laughed and said I didn’t have the authority to do that. The other time this struck me was when I wrote the article on infiltrating the Antipodean Resistance, the Australian neo-nazi organisation I jokingly referred to as the ‘National Doo-Doo Heads’. Stories about people being harassed for daring to challenge neo-nazis swam through my head as I wrote that article, wigging me out to the point I attributed the article to a fictional video game character rather than my own human self. I still feel kind of weird about doing that, because absolutely nothing happened as a result of that article and it was ultimately pointless I don’t mean to say that there’s no point in challenging something because nobody will see it. What this taught me is that holding back because you think people might get mad is pointless – within reason, of course. At best they won’t see it, or will just ignore it. At worst they might kick up a fuss, but if you’re lucky they’ll just prove whatever point you were making better than you ever could. Just do it and worry about the consequences later, preferably when you have a lawyer.

Impostor Syndrome

One thing that plagues me through all my creative pursuits is that everything I make stinks and people just say it’s good because they feel bad for me. At least, that’s what my brain tells me. I think the most important thing Undercover taught me is actively go against that voice in my head at every turn. There were so many times I would write something firmly believing it was garbage from a toilet, only for my fellow editors to message me that it made them cry with laughter. I still struggle with this but what I’ve learnt is just to write and write and not give a single shit. If it sucks, it sucks – what’s important is how you move on from it. Nobody makes something perfect on the first try, and everyone makes absolute trash sometimes. Think of everything as a learning experience, and tell the little negativity goblin in your brain to fuck right off.

The End – or is it?

Undercover has been my awful little baby and it feels weird to let it go. Along with the rest of my time at Grapeshot it’s been the most buckwild thing I’ve ever done, but it’s also been the most fulfilling and rewarding. It’s taught me a lot about myself and the world, about writing, and so much more. I can’t imagine my life without having joined Grapeshot and done Undercover, but now it’s time for me to go. I’m putting Undercover in a little wicker basket and sending it down the river. Will it return with a new coat of paint and hopefully someone who is funnier and less of a coward? Will it be cast to the depths of Grapeshot history like so many other beloved columns? I don’t really give a shit, because I’m FREE, BABEY!!!