Some years back an acquaintance who I guess is about eight years younger than I am (I’m thirty-seven now, so at the time I was probably thirty-two and she twenty-four), sent out an email telling people about her “zine.” In the text, she said something like, “don’t know what a zine is?” and then included a link to a Wikipedia article … on zines.[i]
I smiled a bit haughtily; this somehow brought me back to my teens and early twenties, when I never quite fully understood why my mother was so tickled by my recycling of fashions she knew from her younger years. I would dig through her archival closets and extract dashikis from the sixties and wide-lapelled pleather trench coats from the seventies and wear them just that moment in the nineties when they made sense again. Seeing me off to school she would shriek or furrow her brow or laugh and shake her head.
Since I had never lived through the first iteration of such fashions, it didn’t occur to me why my wearing such things would be humorous-but-kind-of-sad to her. But now, living in the Never-Never Land of contemporary Cultural-Capital-Capital Berlin, where no one grows up and leisure and industry are incestuous canoodlers – if not out and out indistinguishable – I get a front seat to the latest trends. These are of course also recycled similarly to the abovementioned interval – and now the nineties are back in a big way. And it’s pretty funny-sad to me, too.
It’s a bizarre parade of much younger and skinnier women (close to those described in the nightmare in Part I of this article) all with the accessories and accoutrements that had the jocks taunting me in my early nineties cafeteria: Doc Martens, piercings, flannel, head-to-toe black – grunge with a dash of Goth and rave. And in the midst of all this, as appendages to the art fairs and galleries these PYTs frequent, zines, in the tradition of the now canonized Riot Grrrrls (about whom, by the way, there is a touring exhibition called “Alien She”), are "back".
Installation shot: A sampling of zines and distribution catalogues (1991-2013) primarily from the original Riot Grrrl movement. The zines cover a range of topics such as sexism, empowerment, fat activism, mental illness, gender identity, violence, racism, homophobia and sex work; Courtesy Miller Gallery.
Nowadays there are zine fairs,[ii] book fairs crowded with neo-zinesters, pop-up “reading rooms” in major museums filled with independent publications, mobile zine libraries and twenty-somethings everywhere, advertising their zines using social media. Though, children, believe it or not, back in the day we used to trudge ten miles through the snow, barefoot, to sneak into the Language Arts classroom when it was empty during study hall to run off Xerox copies of our adolescent concrete poetry, collages of personal photos developed at the Thrift Drug, and hand-typed album reviews … we would then walk them over to the record store to leave them in the windowsill or put an ad with an address with a P.O. box number in the back of another zine…
But it’s not with one-upmanship or bitterness that I tell these things; I know that most young people engaging in zine-making in the twenty-teens are generally pretty savvy as to their place in history. It’s just that they’ve been dealt the shitty hand. We got to slack – and now they gotta pick it up. Perhaps those of us who came of age in the nineties are to the Millennials – that’s what they’re calling the twenty-five-year-olds of today, right? – like the Boomers were to us: this sort of impenetrable resource-sucking generation with fascinating clothes and music and sometimes arrogant aesthetic habits that seem in retrospect so very authentic, if such a term has any currency anymore.
Yet it’s not that it’s just a haircut, or a re-warming of old habits without the strength of content (most of the time). Sure, there’s not the same urgency to zine-making today as there was in the DIY nineties, just as the zines of the nineties themselves could be seen as only a pale imitation of the Mimeo Revolution, punk rock or the samizdat of the sixties and seventies. But that’s only if you must compare them all on similar terms.
The zines of today are just working on a different logic altogether. They’re still signifiers of an “alternative” club, but this concept has morphed with the times. I mean, it’s difficult to really be “alternative” in the Age of Technology. On the internet accessibility and speed are king, and it’s also the cheapest way to find and communicate to potential peers, but in the ephemeral, amorphous morass of cyberspace anyone can see anything, and there’s not really any filter.
Disseminating something on finite paper may no longer be the least expensive option to get stuff out there, but it does in a sense put limits on who reads and sees what you’ve got to say. It’s authentic, too – just a different kind of authentic, for a different time.
[i] My memory gets foggy when it comes to electronic speech-acts, but I can wager that I probably did not click through. I could include the link here but just, you know, google it.
(Image on top: Poster for expozine in Montreal.)