Friday, September 22, 2006

Zeen Corner

(Art by Yul Tolbert.)

Roads into the mainstream for writers and artists without proper credentials, connections, or wealth are being closed. The need for strong Do-It-Yourself organizations like the Underground Literary Alliance has become greater.

The need for a revived zine scene becomes greater. Until lately the once-vibrant zine movement has been comatose-- at best, in a holding pattern going no place. The new ZineWiki project is a sign of new life.

Among zinedom's problems:


Too many zine people think they can remain in a steadily narrowing niche and survive. They're like Yahtzee players, pursuing an activity which long-since peaked. Their numbers dwindling, they're on a road toward becoming quaintly archaic. (If they're not soon outlawed altogether by the mainstream.) In a constantly changing world; as part of an ever-expanding media universe; creative people have to adapt or die. This was the impetus behind the ULA; taking the zine movement to the next stage.


"Zine" has always been a flawed name for a cultural movement, not least because it looks stodgy. When I stop by this weekend's Philly ZineFest I expect to cringe, again and again, as I did last year, at the word's mispronounciation. It's time for an improved name plate if the movement is to revive itself. I've made this argument before, unsuccessfully-- which doesn't mean the argument isn't right.


I receive each rare issue of Zine World now with disappointment. In ten years it hasn't changed, and reeks of staleness. The pandering to high school students who've all fled to Rupert Murdoch's MySpace is goofy. The cannibalization of fellow zinesters in the body of the pages is misguided. Such behavior was necessary in the '90s when zinedom was riding a wave. Then, it served to prove diversity and democracy. When you bring out one issue every two years it's self-defeating. The scorn shown by ZW reviewers for the literary activism of folks like G. Tod Slone or myself is without sense. At the present time we ARE the literary underground; its leading edge; its demonstration of fight and life.

Zine World appears dysfunctional. Going after one's own in a beaten-down niche is ghetto behavior; piranhas devouring one another in a fish tank. A publication like ZW should have two purposes:

1.) to encourage zinesters.

2.) to announce them to the world.

Find something good to say? Why not? It might be the only time anyone says anything good about these people and their efforts-- ever. (But this would go against the reviewers' "code" as "objective" journalists. Blind mice living without context; who don't notice their own marginalization. There's nothing objective about this society. In a skewed world of uneven playing fields, of Randian individualism gone haywire, "objectivity" becomes another word for self-importance.)


This was the promise given by Factsheet 5 and others in the 1990s. A few of us took the mantra seriously. Now: A revolution? Where?

Where's the noise, the success, the offensive, the strategy?

The only way to change the culture isn't through incrementalism without momentum. One will incrementalize oneself into nothing. Instead, one has to strike at the heart of the beast.

(More print publications, total pages, print ads, noise, buzz, influence, come out of the tiny island of Manhattan than the rest of America combined. This is reality. As we're seeing with the CLMP story, this power is becoming more concentrated.)



Study history and you'll see that movements which survive are those which can adapt to the always-changing world; who are always moving, never static.

"Static" defines zinedom and is why it's destined for extinction unless it changes (its main energies now involved in compiling and feeding off its memories).


The Underground Literary Alliance was formed because we saw zines/zeens as literature; as an important part of American literature-- as the one piece of literature best able to save it. I hope we still believe this. I welcome alliances with all zinesters who believe this; who believe in their talent and are eager to make real noise and change.


Joe Smith said...

Although I certainly have my differences with the ULA, I couldn't agree more with the intent of this post. The only way to "save" zinedom (and the jury is still out on whether it should be saved or left to wither away and be replaced by something new) is to move beyond the traditional territory that zines have previously occupied and push them into places that they have not.

I'm actively trying to do this where I live (College Park, MD) by publishing a local newspaper that both features zines and zine writers and spreading it (free of charge) around town. I think we need more of this kind of activity (I applaud the ULA's efforts in its own backyard of Philly), but all too often, zinesters seem content to stay within the niche that was created from them long ago by people who have since moved on. That niche has since become a rut. It's time to break out of it.

Emerson Dameron said...

ZW never billed itself a zinedom's "flagship" publication. It began as an opinionated alternative to Factsheet 5's tepid boosterism, and is now the big dog by default - no one else has stepped into the significant void left by F5. I still think that thoughtful, honest criticism is part of taking an artform seriously, and I wouldn't trust anyone who clearly struggled for something nice to say about everything. I don't think you would, either. You and G. Tod both seem committed to straight talk.

I absolutely agree that, in terms of relevance outside the treehouse, zines have stagnated. A lot of the holdovers aren't hustling for mainstream recognition. If anyone wants to keep their activities on a arts-and-crafts pen-pal level, that's A-OK with me - I don't go where I'm not invited, and when I do, I rarely find anything interesting.

I wish you success in building bridges with the ones who are interested. And I'm glad that some people (in and out of the ULA) are still hungry for more. Self-promotion can be a lot of fun, if you've got the stomach for it and you believe in your work.

King said...

But the ULA isn't about self-promotion, Emerson. It's about promoting the ULA, an umbrella name open to all unconnected writers.

Emerson Dameron said...

I meant "self-promotion" in a more general way. Basically "promotion" outside the mercenary, professional realm. I don't think it's a bad thing.

To clarify, I don't think there's anything wrong with "going where you're not wanted," I just don't want to read some LiveJournaler's zine if they've set it to "private."