Ask a random sampling of UCSD students for their thoughts on senior Steve York. Some will tell you he's an egotistical jackass. A few will say he's a seriously offensive jackass. Others will acknowledge that they find him to be an entertaining jackass. And some will tell you that, behind the persona he maintains for publicity purposes, he is an intelligent, articulate and politically passionate jackass who is sometimes really worth listening to. York eventually gets around to proving each impression is true.
Seated in one corner of Porter's Pub on the UCSD campus, 22-year-old York could pass for an average student, with his small build, striped polo shirt and short red hair that begs comparisons to fictional Mad magazine cover boy Alfred E. Neuman. That is, of course, if everyone didn't already know exactly who he was. With an hour before show time, York has a beer or three as he and more than 100 other students who've packed the pub keep their eyes glued to the tiny TV on the wall.
This TV was one of many on campus that, on Thursday, Oct. 20, were tuned to UCSD's Student Run Television station (SRTV) at 10:30 p.m. to catch a 30-minute segment of amateur pornography featuring York and an adult-film actress engaging in a variety of sex acts. The segment marked the end of a seven-month hiatus for Koala TV, York's controversial live show that was pulled in March 2005 following the broadcast of his first dabbling in televised sex acts. The Oct. 20 show, York claimed, was in honor of National Free Speech Week.
Despite attempts by UCSD administration to find an illegality in the March broadcast, it concluded that the show did not violate the SRTV charter-which, because the closed-circuit station is not governed by FCC regulations, allows for "indecent" material to be broadcast between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. The Associated Students council was asked to consider legislation that would remove this allowance from the charter. The council is expected to vote to this week whether or not to ban graphic sex acts on SRTV.
"Steven York," a friend at the pub shouts in a reporter-like tone. "What do you think is larger-your corn-dog-sized penis or your ego?"
"I think they're about the same size," York says, laughing. And then, realizing his responses are being noted, he slips into an ironically cool, ladies' man voice he uses on Koala TV: "You see, baby, one is based on the other, and the other is based on the one. The corn dog leads into the ego, and the ego is based on the corn dog."
Less than a week later, with no news cameras around, York is a different person.
"It's a real strong point for me, the issue of adult material," York said, strolling through the Old Student Center, which houses Porter's Pub and the SRTV station. "Aside from being a freedom-of-speech issue, decisions based on pornography have implications for issues surrounding Roe v. Wade, privacy issues [and] Lawrence v. Texas, [which says] you cannot criminalize homosexual sodomy. And I think it's so phenomenally typical of the radical right in America to control the mindset and sexual expression of so many people."
York attributes his underdog status and willingness to stand up for his ideals to his heritage. Born to an Irish-Catholic mother and a half-Native American father, "from the dregs of society, pretty much," York was raised in well-off Orange County but says his father instilled in him a rebellious attitude.
"It's always been odd for me, being this red-headed Native American, but really feeling strongly about, you know, not taking shit sitting down," he said. "I think that really drives me for these issues.... It may be only a quarter of the blood in me, but it's the strongest."
York eagerly directs those curious about what makes him tick (his words) to his current eBay auctions, which include 18 separate mint-condition boxed Star Wars figures. The group is among the last of a vast collection from York's teen years, when the business-savvy high-school student built a considerable reputation in the international Star Wars collectibles trade. York plans to use the money he makes from the auctions to pay for law school.
It's difficult to reconcile the York of Star Wars-figure fame with York, the symbol of sexual degradation and indecency. It takes only one glimpse of his transformation from eloquence to inanity to see that one is in the presence of a true performer. Thursday night, while answering reporters' repeated pleas of "Why?", he made the switch and stayed there.
"Because I love the kids!" he told one, smoking a cigarette outside the SRTV station while coolly eyeing the broadcast of himself having sex on a TV set facing out from the station door. "Look how many kids are down there at Porter's Pub tonight for this. It's entertainment, and it's in demand."
Later that night, after the call-in portion of the show, York was detained for being drunk in public.
It's understandable, then, that the headlines from Friday, Oct. 21, gave no indication that York knows more about the history of intra-campus politics than most administrators, or that he was once endorsed for A.S. president by UCSD's official newspaper, the Guardian. No indication, either, that York will go off on unprovoked tangents about how many kids his age are dying in Iraq, or that he feels so strongly about pushing the First Amendment envelope that he's currently not speaking to his parents because of their embarrassment over his actions.
He also doesn't seem to mind that the jackass image is the one most commonly pinned on him.
"They can call me an egotistical bastard," he said. "But then, step on up, offer something that thousands of kids find interesting. Because hundreds of kids will actually take that one step further and say, "Hey, why is this an issue?'"
Making his way back to the pub, where he receives substantially discounted beers, York seems ambivalent about his personal future. "I was offered a directing job with Hustler," he mentions off-handedly. "I guess I still might take it."He's far more genuine when defending the rights of SRTV. "I think this battle is bigger than anyone on this campus wants to admit," he says. "It's a battle over the First Amendment. And if I wind up dead with a bullet in my head, I'll be satisfied that I fought for what I really feel is right."