Local Syndrome: Where It All Begins

By on August 1, 2018

In his final column, the author makes the case for community authenticity and activism

(Ryan Stolp)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – The first draft of this column was fairly incensed, its contents fueled by the knowledge that this would be the final entry of Local Syndrome and the final issue of Planet Jackson Hole.

I have a tendency to keep the floodgates open and offer my unabashed opinions without worry of consequence. That courage is both a blessing and a curse. Having one last opportunity to use this platform to express all the ways Jackson Hole has let me down was admittedly appealing. However, as tempting as it is, I don’t believe lobbing a final grenade in this moment of closure is a good use of the precious space allotted to me.

This final issue deserves more than a bitter, ranting conclusion from Andrew Munz. Instead, I look towards the horizon with gratitude and with optimism, recognizing the power of not only the free press, but also the power of community.

I have been involved with this paper on and off for 13 years. My first published piece lambasted then-editor Richard Anderson for spoiling the ending of the film Batman Begins. I was only 18—a firebrand in the making. Since then, I have written feature stories, movie reviews, cover stories and two weekly columns: Well, That Happened and Local Syndrome.

Over the years PJH has had its ups and downs, but I strongly believe it has outshined other local news outlets with its unapologetic, trendsetting reporting and bombastic opinion pieces. We have not played it safe. We have not approached issues underhandedly. We pushed and prodded at social norms, angering more than a few people in the process.

This town needs a good prodding every once in a while. But PJH was never a destructive wildfire; we were a controlled burn.

Under editor Robyn Vincent, I’ve had free rein to write about the issues and topics that speak truth to me (while having some ridiculous fun along the way). Were I a contributor elsewhere, I guarantee I would not have been able to deliver drunken movie reviews, dispatches from my travels, a guide for heterosexual allies of the LGBTQ community, anonymous interviews, a cover story about an Icelandic drag queen, Jackson criticism, etc. I must have written at least two novels-worth of copy for this publication and couldn’t be more proud of every word that I published.

Eventually, the words within this issue and those previous will vanish and all the hard work this paper has done to combat the too-oft uninformed minds of Jackson Hole will disappear. Readers have thanked me for offering unremorseful critique of Jackson, and I can only wonder if, in our absence, another publication has the gall to be as bold and challenge the minds of our community. Perhaps the embers we leave in our wake will reignite to form another alternative press, something unique and unexpected, ready to stand proudly in the shadow of the Tetons and not worry about sullying some predisposed image of Jackson Hole.

Because writing a column like Local Syndrome is a lonesome ordeal, encountering those who read these words and igniting discussions with them has been incredibly rewarding. I’ve had plenty of critics over the years and I have welcomed their feedback. Our readers have made me a better writer, yes, but also a better citizen, one that is eager to pay more attention to the town he writes about and comment on issues that need to be commented upon. And, within the current of their encouragement, I’ve had the honor of being steered by Robyn Vincent, undoubtedly the hardest-working, most insightful editor this paper has seen. I have operated under her scrupulous eye for the past few years, and this town is in debt of her journalistic efforts, often invisible behind each published article.

I reflect on all of the incredible reporting done by Robyn, Sarah Ross, Meg Daly and Natosha Hoduski, among many others, and am so proud to have been offered a station on a ship primarily crewed by such diligent and inspiring women. Those who fall under the mantle of the free press, especially those within small communities like Jackson Hole, are often not given the credit due to them. So if you happen to come across them in the upcoming absence of their PJH articles, please thank them for their work.

We are wiser because of them.

And so I offer not a conclusion to Local Syndrome (a cure to such an affliction doesn’t exist), but rather an introduction to what lies ahead.

I say with much regret that Jackson Hole may never live up to our hopes. I would love this town to become everything we want it to be, and more. I want the housing crisis to magically dissolve and for us to do more to respect and recognize our Latino neighbors. I want our J-1 workers to feel welcome among us and feel as though they could start new lives in the valley. I want the income inequality to work for this town rather than against it, and have Jackson be a trendsetting community rather than one that constantly trips over its feet. I want us to truly be here for one another and be leaders in suicide prevention efforts in the state. I want us to put a cap on monopolies and mitigations and allow the most ambitious among us to be granted equal opportunities across all vocations.

While these wants might seem noble, albeit unrealistic, I don’t want us to stop wanting them. And I want us to be aggressively vocal about everything. We have to do more as a community to combat the greed and corruption that so clearly transpires in this humble hamlet. And in an era where free press is being threatened, much of that vocalization will rely on you, dear reader. This community is innocent. We must be stewards not only of the land, but of one another.

Ignoring our local syndrome will only make our symptoms worse.

Let this ending be where we begin to mend.

About Andrew Munz

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