To appear as: Knobel, M. and Lankshear, C. (2001). Cut, paste, publish: The production and consumption of zines. In D. Alvermann (Ed.), New Literacies and Digital Technologies: A Focus on Adolescent Learners. New York: Peter Lang (forthcoming).
"Zine culture hit its stride in the mid-'80s with the mushrooming of thousands of tiny-edition photocopied publications distributed by mail, usually to other zine publishers. Many of these small, idiosyncratic hand-crafted publications no longer emphasized the idolized object of "fan action," but rather the zine creators themselves. They were proud amateurs-they loved what they did, even if few other readers (ranging from a couple of dozen to a couple of thousand) would ever appreciate their obsessive devotion to, for example, the respective subjects of Eraser Carver's Quarterly or Thrift Shop News" (Daly and Wice 1995: 280).
Despite their direct relevance to studies of literacy practices, zines (pronounced 'zeens') have scarcely featured in the literature of educational research. Where zines have been taken seriously as a focus of inquiry it has mainly been within studies of popular/youth culture (cf. Chu 1997; Duncombe 1997; Williamson 1994). This chapter is intended to provide a modest redress of the silence with respect to zines within literacy studies generally and the New Literacy Studies in particular. We believe anyone interested in the nature, role and significance of literacy practices under contemporary conditions has much of value to learn from zines and, especially, from thinking about them from a sociocultural perspective. Indeed, we think their significance extends beyond a focus on literacy per se to pedagogy at large. For immediate purposes we begin from the premise that zines are an important but under-researched dimension of adolescent cultural practices and provide fertile ground for extending our understanding of new literacies and digital technologies.
We want to make one point as clear as possible from the outset. In what follows we do not want to be seen as advocating any attempt to 'school' zines: to try and make the production and consumption of zines part of routine language and literacy education in the classroom in the kinds of ways that have befallen so many organic everyday literacy practices. The last thing we would want to see is a zines component within, say, a genre-based English syllabus, or a temporary 'zines publication center' in the corner of the classroom. The best of zines are altogether too vital and interesting to be tamed and timetabled. After all, they are a DIY countercultural form systematically opposed to conventional norms and values associated with publishing, establishment views, and 'schoolish' reading and writing. Rather, we think that many learners and teachers might benefit greatly simply from becoming more aware of zine culture. Beyond that, they can participate in zine culture in their own ways and to the extent of their interest (which may be zero) as they would engage with other learning resources and cultural practices in their lives outside school. Our aim here is simply to introduce zines to readers who may not be familiar with them, and to advance a point of view about their significance as literate cultural practice. Our view is that zines exemplify some important dispositions and qualities that young and not-so-young people may find helpful as they negotiate jungle-like social conditions lying foreseeably ahead of us (cf. Gee, this volume; Friedman 1999; Goldhaber 1997).
Specifically, zines exemplify in varying degrees diverse forms of spiritedness (gutsiness), a 'do it yourself' (DIY) mindset, ability to seek, gain and build attention, alternative (often in-your-face anti-establishment, although not always nice) perspectives, street smarts, originality and off-beatness, acute appreciation of subjectivity, tactical sense, self-belief, enterprise, and a will to build and sustain communities of shared interest and solidarity. These are the kinds of themes that will arise in our account of zines as a characteristically contemporary literacy. In what follows we will provide a general account of zines as a cultural phenomenon, using brief illustrations of their two main forms: hard copy and electronic zines. After that we will look at some zines we consider exemplary in relation to three main themes relevant to educational work. These concern the ideas of a pedagogy of tactics, a pedagogy of subjectivity, and a pedagogy of civic and political commitment.
zines and zine-ing:
As distinctive forms of publication, zines openly defy longstanding conventions. They often employ handwritten text. They very often subvert the cash nexus: zine purchasing currency is frequently a zine in trade or postage stamps. Among hard copy zines, smudgy photocopied products are common. Zines rarely break even financially on a print run, often running at a permanent loss (sometimes a mark of pride) and which borne by the self-publisher. Zines are usually accessed via networks of friends, reviews, or other zinesters without recourse to advertising budgets or distributors. It is typical for a zine to be written, illustrated, designed, published and posted by one person.
Some writers date zines as an identifiable cultural form back to the 1940s (Duncombe 1997, 1999). The kinds of zines we are concerned with here--perzines--date more recently, achieving 'critical mass' from the mid 1980s. These zines grew out of the 1970s punk rock scene as fans put together 'fanzines' about their favourite band--biographical details, appearance dates and venues, album reviews, and the like. These small-run magazines, 'zines' for short, were originally typed texts that were cut and pasted by hand into booklet form and mimeographed. They were distributed during concerts or via networks of friends and fans. Gradually, these zines evolved into more personalised locations of expression--and their topics and themes ranged far beyond the punk rock scene. Nowadays zines come in all shapes and sizes, forms and media:
Some are just a page or two, others much longer. They can be photocopied or finely printed, done on the backs of discarded office papers or on pricey card stock, handwritten with collages or designed on a computer using different fonts. They can be purchased for anywhere from ten cents to ten dollars; some are free, or just the cost of a stamp (Block and Carlip 1998: 4).
Increasingly, zines are now being published on the internet, and conventional paper zine production often involves computers. With respect to the latter, most zinesters retain the DIY ethos and the look and feel of original zines. So today, even when zine producers key and mark-up their texts using a computer they will still cut and paste texts and images onto each page after it has been printed, and then scan or copy these pages as they are.
Young people, who are the majority of zine producers, become involved in zine-ing for all sorts of reasons, and their zines take diverse forms. For example, Daddy's Girl, by nine-year-old Veronica (a.k.a. Nikki) grew out of the death of her father when she was six, and was inspired by her older sister's zine making (Taryn Hipp, discussed later in this paper). Veronica writes about herself, her family and her friends. The first issue of her zine is 16 pages long and measures 4.5 inches by 5.5 inches (11cm by 14cm). She includes photos of her family and of herself, and lists her favourite things and what she would wish for if she had three wishes.
In his first issue of archáologie francaise, Caleb (19 at the time) wrote about the death of his grandfather. This issue is a series of photocopied and stapled pages of a size that reminds you of small religious tracts. Inside are copies of the death announcement of his grandfather, images of medicines and surgical tools and the zine is bound down one side with a supermarket "special" label. His second issue contains soul-searching poems apparently inspired by images found in a medical school resource catalogue and included in the zine ("Budget Hands-On Eyeball-give your students an in depth look into the organ of vision"). This issue is covered in thin, flesh-pink cardboard with a hand-printed three-colour caduceus medical symbol. The cutout texts and pictures in this zine have been attached to the pages by means of old photo corners and then photocopied. His third issue is a set of reflections on his relationships with girls, his friends, and himself. It comprises a burgundy cardboard, handsewn envelop containing two small booklets (approximately 2 inches by 2.5 inches, or 4cm by 5cm): Part One and Part Two.
Fifteen year-old Athena, a Filipino-Chinese living in Lungsod ng Makati, Manila, began producing her online zine, Bombs for Breakfast, in 2000 (Athena 2000). Her white text on a red background is stark and provocative, and her website includes articles from her hardcopy zine, Framing Historical Theft, as well as journal entries, a well-used message board, a guest book for visitors to 'sign', and a set of pages on the defunct sub-pop band, Hazel. The website also includes lists of books she's reading for pleasure (e.g., Hannah Arendt's On Violence) and for English classes at the international school she attends (e.g., Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness), and her comments on these books, along with a collection of texts she has published in school magazines and so on. Her hardcopy zine is a vehicle for exploring and discussing "Flipino Chineseness," food, travel, and language. Her writing includes themes such as homophobia, racism, classism, imperialism, student-friendly teaching, the politics of golf, and the like.
Carla De Santis's ROCKRGRL began as a disgusted response to the ways her fellow women musicians were portrayed in the rock media. ROCKRGRL is a zine about and for women in the rock industry (DeSantis 1997: xi).
Ciara (20 years) publishes a 'queer/bisexual' online zine (Ciara 2000a) and publishes writing from her website in a hardcopy format (Ciara 2000b). The main page of her website has an aqua blue background with the text set onto a white inset column, that is studded with pink stars. Her pages are devoted to the personal and political: she critiques rap music and racist lyrics, writes about identity and ex-lovers, and posts "confessionals'" about her enemies, likes, dislikes and wrongdoings. Her webpage contains an archive of previous postings, and an interactive message board where Ciara and readers of both the online and offline zines she produces can leave messages and comments. Her page also links to a large number of other online zines.
Zines use a range of textual forms including straight prose, poems (e.g., Paul's Above Ground Testing), literary and film narratives (e.g., Deeply Shallow edited by Jason Gurley), cartoons and comic strips (e.g., Jeff Kelly's Temp Slave!), clipart (e.g., Sean Tejaratchi's Crap Hound), collages and so on. They are thematically diverse. A sample of zines we have surveyed deal with the following kinds of themes: personal tough times and lows (e.g., Steve Gevurtz in Journal Song #1); being bisexual or queer (e.g., Ciara 2000a, Abraham Katzman's Flaming Jewboy and I'm Over Being Dead); dishwashing in restaurants and diners in the U.S. (e.g., Dishwasher Pete's Dishwasher); fine arts (e.g., Cyberstudio); thrift shop shopping (e.g., Al Hoff's Thrift SCORE); being fat (e.g., FAT girl, Marilyn Wann's Fat!So?); paganism (e.g., Madelaine Ray's The Abyss); the 1970s (e.g., Candi Strecker's It's a Wonderful Lifestyle); collecting things (e.g., Otto van Stroheim's Tiki News, Thrift SCORE); being temp workers or work in general (e.g., Jeff Kelly's Temp Slave, Julie Peasley's McJob, various issues of Cometbus); true crimes and murder stories (e.g., John Marr's Murder Can Be Fun); feminism (e.g., Riot Grrrl, Mimi Nguyen's Aim Your Dick and Slant, Toad's I'm Not Shy…I Just Hate People); music, especially punk music (e.g., Riot Grrrl, Losergurrl, gutterbunny et al.'s Bondage Girl); popular media images (e.g., Betty Boob and Celina Hex's Bust); the 'secret history' of wars, global companies and so on (e.g., Iggy in Scam); movies and/or movie making (e.g., Russ Forster's 8-Track Mind); death (e.g., Caleb 2000, Kimberley in the speak easy); other zines (e.g., Angel 1999, Factsheet 5); skateboarding/snowboarding; visiting restricted- or no-access areas; UFOs; conspiracy theories; fetishes, and music.
A zine may specialize in a single theme across all its issues, or cover diverse themes within single issues or across issues. In all instances, the writer-producers are passionate-at times to the point of obsession-about their subject matter and want to share ideas, experiences, values, analyses, comments and critiques with kindred spirits. Despite widespread claims that contemporary young people are apolitical or apathetically political (e.g., Craig and Bennett 1997; Halstead 1999), many zinesters write intensely and with a great deal of caring about the politics of alternative cultures and the politics of the everyday-race-ethnicity, class, sex, gender, work, identity, the body, eating, etc. They voice their opinions loud and clear in their textual productions.
According to Stephen Duncombe (1997: 2), zinesters are busy creating culture more than consuming readymade 'culture', and many are interested in rewriting what counts as 'success'.
They celebrate the everyperson in a world of celebrity, losers in a society that rewards the best and the brightest. Rejecting the corporate dream of an atomized population broken down into discrete and instrumental target markets, zine writers form networks and forge communities around diverse identities and interests. Employed within the grim new economy of service, temporary, and 'flexible' work, they redefine work, setting out their creative labor done on zines as a protest against the drudgery of working for another's profit. And defining themselves against a society predicated on consumption, zinesters privilege the ethic of DIY, do-it-yourself: make your own culture and stop consuming that which is made for you. Refusing to believe the pundits and politicians who assure us that the laws of the market are synonymous with the laws of nature, the zine community is busy creating a culture whose value isn't calculated as profit and loss on ruled ledger pages, but is assembled in the margins, using criteria like control, connection, and authenticity (ibid.).
To some extent Business (corporate media) has muscled in on zines, as they have on 'alternative cultures' more generally. Occasional television shows or books for young people feature a zinester as the main protagonist (CBC Television 2000; Wittlinger 1999). Other approaches include cajoling young people to produce their work as mainstream compilations or how-to-do-it books (e.g., Block and Carlip 1998; Carlip 1995), or by posting websites touted as 'online zines' but that are really for selling products (e.g., Abbey Records 2000; Duff 2000). Many 'faux zines' now exist on the market. Slant, produced by the Urban Outfitters clothing chain includes a 'punk rock' issue, and the Body Shop's Full Voice praises those who are 'rebelling against a system that just won't listen' (Duncombe 1999: n.p.).
Most zines and zine-related cultural practices remain steadfastly outside the publishing mainstream. They define themselves against conventional publishing culture and poach off it. As we have seen, corporate publishing culture itself has poached more or less successfully in its own terms off zine culture. So the defining and poaching goes two ways. There is, however, an important difference. Business corporate 'faux zine-ing' tends to be highly strategic, in the sense developed by Michel de Certeau (1984), in relation to the everyday practices of consumers. By contrast, the operating logic of zines is often highly tactical--once more in the sense developed by de Certeau. One of our central concerns in this chapter is to explore zines in terms of a concept of tactics, and to suggest how educators and learners might be able to draw insights from zine culture to develop pedagogies of tactics. We are interested in the extent to which pedagogies of tactics might be better adapted to preparing many young people--especially those from non-dominant social groups--for handling the 'fast' world (Freidman 1999) than more conventional pedagogical approaches which by more or less exclusively into a strategic logic of producers.
zines and pedagogies of tactics:
de Certeau is a wonderfully subversive and subtle writer. Perhaps it is on account of this that his work has remained relatively marginal within education. Whatever the reason, it is unfortunate because there is enormous potential in his approach to issues of power and subordination for critically informed educational practice. Two common postures within language and literacy education provide useful starting points for considering zines in relation to some of de Certeau's central ideas in ways that help point us toward potentially fruitful pedagogies of tactics.
The first posture might be summarized like this. We are moving into a postindustrial world in which large sections of the 'middle' have disappeared and work and rewards have become increasingly polarized. For a few there will be high skill, high value-added, well-rewarded work that draws on high order symbolic-analytic knowledge and skills. Even to get lower level work will require higher levels of literate and symbolic competence than in the past. As (literacy) educators we must aim to teach higher order skills to as many as can handle them and make absolutely sure no learners fall through the basic literacy net. Indeed, even basic literacy now needs to be seen in terms of problem solving and trouble-shooting abilities that can be transferred to frontline work, as well as in terms of the traditional 3Rs.
The second posture concerns the study of media. According to this, media shape up individuals's understandings of the world as passive consumers of TV, newspapers, magazines, the Internet and advertising absorb worldviews that at best dumb them down and that at worst undermine their own interests to the benefit of powerful groups. Hence, we need to teach (critical) media studies to help learners decode media messages so they can resist the way these messages position us. Various techniques and procedures are adopted and adapted from fields like discourse analysis, critical language awareness, semiotics, critical literacy, etc., and taught as antidotes to being passive and/or duped.
Without in any way wanting to denigrate such postures, not least because we (have) subscribe(d) to them ourselves, we also sense a need to come up with some new pedagogical crafts and orientations, including some that can be thought of as pedagogies of tactics.
In The Practice of Everyday Life, de Certeau develops a conceptual framework based on distinctions between producers and consumers, and strategies, uses and tactics. Producers (the strong) are those who create and maintain and impose disciplined spaces. They have the position and power to prescribe social orders and syntactical forms (discourses, timetables, procedures, the organization of space and things within it, etc.). Producers include governments, urban planners, corporations, professional associations, legislatures, private utilities companies, scholarly and academic leaders, executives, and so on. Producers, in effect, shape dominant social structures. Consumers, on the other hand, are constrained to operate within these disciplined spaces or structures. (Of course, producers in one context are to some extent consumers in others, albeit typically consumers with greater power to negotiate these spaces than 'everyday people'). Thus, for example, inhabitants of government housing consume what has been produced for them-as do users of public transport and road networks, students, prisoners, and purchasers of diverse goods and services and media available on the market. Consumers are always and inevitably constrained by what producers serve up as disciplined discursive spaces, and the commodities attaching to these.
The distinction between 'strategies' and 'uses and tactics' parallel that between producers and consumers. Strategy, according to de Certeau, is an art of the powerful-producers. These 'subjects of will and power' operate from their own place (a 'proper') which they have defined as their base for controlling and managing relations. This place (or 'proper') is an enclosed institutional space within which producers regulate distributions and procedures, and which has 'an exteriority comprised of targets or threats'(de Certeau 1984: 36). For example, professional scientists define what counts as doing science, build science faculties to police apprenticeships to science, and regulate who can receive qualifications and tickets to practise as scientists. The justice system defines the conditions under which convicted prisoners will live. Education departments regulate what students may and must acquire as formal education and how they must perform in order to be certified as successful, and so on. Strategy operates on a logic of closure and internal administration (Buchanan 1993). 'Strategy equals the institutional', says Ian Buchanan, and is the force 'institutions must exact in order to remain institutions' (1993: n.p.). Hence, the strategic 'can never relax its vigilance, the surveillance of its parameters must be ceaseless. The strong must protect themselves and their institutions from the weak' (ibid.).
For de Certeau (1984), 'uses' and 'tactics' are arts of the weak, by means of which the weak make disciplined spaces 'smooth' and 'habitable' through forms of occupancy. Through uses and tactics consumers obtain 'wins' within their practices of everyday life. de Certeau illustrates 'uses' by reference to North African migrants being obliged to live in a low-income housing estate in France and to use the French of, say, Paris or Robaix. They may insinuate into the system imposed on them 'the ways of "dwelling" (in a house or in a language) peculiar to [their] native Kabylia' (ibid.: 30). This introduces a degree of plurality into the system. Similarly, the indigenous peoples of Latin America often used
the laws, practices, and representations imposed on them … to ends other than those of their conquerors … subverting them from within … by many different ways of using them in the service of rules, customs or convictions foreign to the colonization which they could not escape (de Certeau 1984: 32).
'Tactics' involve the art of 'pulling tricks' through having a sense of opportunities presented by a particular occasion-possibly only a literal moment-within a repressive context created strategically by the powerful. Through uses and tactics 'the place of the dominant is made available to the dominated' (Buchanan 1993: n.p.). According to de Certeau, a tactic is
a calculated action determined by the absence of a proper locus ...The space of a tactic is the space of the other. Thus it must play on and with a terrain imposed on it and organized by the law of a foreign power. It does not have the means to keep to itself, at a distance, in a position of withdrawal, foresight, and self-collection: it is a maneuver "within the enemy's field of vision,"... and within enemy territory. It does not, therefore, have the option of planning, general strategy ... It operates in isolated actions, blow by blow. It takes advantage of opportunities and depends on them, being without any base where it could stockpile its winnings, build up its own position, and plan raids ... This nowhere gives a tactic mobility, to be sure, but a mobility that must accept the chance offerings of the moment, and seize on the wing the possibilities that offer themselves at any given moment. It must vigilantly make use of the cracks that particular conjunctions open in the surveillance of proprietary powers. It poaches them. It creates surprises in them ... It is a guileful ruse (original emphasis; 1984: 37).
Buchanan helps clarify what is at stake here by distinguishing between 'place' and 'space.' Buchanan construes 'place' as the 'proper' of the strategy of the powerful. Place is 'dominated space' (Lefevbre) or 'disciplined space' (Foucault). Space, on the other hand, is used by Buchanan to refer to appropriated space. Tactics, says Buchanan, are means by which consumers convert places into spaces. In this, consumers employ tactics like 'bricolage' and 'perruque' to 'make do' by 'constantly manipulating events in order to turn them into "opportunities" ' (de Certeau 1984: xviii). Very ordinary examples of tactics include stretching one's pay packet to allow for a few 'luxuries' every now and then, producing a dinner party out of a few simple and available ingredients, inventing words on the spur of the moment, and so on.
de Certeau thinks of consumers's everyday creativity in terms of trajectories that can be mapped as a dynamic tracing of temporal events and acts. (the precise obverse of passive receiving and absorbing). 'In the technocratically constructed, written, and functionalized space in which consumers move about [i.e., the place of producers and their productions], their trajectories form unforeseeable sentences, partly unreadable paths across a space' (1984: xviii). These trajectories, or transcriptions of everyday ways of operating, 'trace out the ruses of other interests and desires that are neither determined nor captured by the systems in which they develop' (ibid.).
Thinking about zines in terms of trajectories adds a dynamic that can move our analyses beyond zines as merely exotic and static artifacts. We look at them, instead, as vibrant, volatile, thriving social practices that describe deep currents and concerns within youth culture. We can explore zines as enactments of tactics on enemy terrain, and on a number of levels. We may begin this kind of exploration by considering how zines often employ tactical maneuvers of bricolage and la perruque (de Certeau 1984).
Bricolage refers to the 'artisan-like inventiveness' of consumers's everyday practices whereby they use whatever comes to hand in carrying out these practices. de Certeau refers to bricolage as 'poetic ways of "making do" ' (ibid: xv, 66), and as 'mixtures of rituals and makeshifts' (ibid: xvi). He celebrates the bricolage-like practices of consumers as they go about their everyday lives. Such bricolages are often extraordinarily ordinary, yet underwrite effective modes of living and being on unfriendly terrain.
The life of a community, for example, is made from the harvest of miniscule observations, a sum of microinformation being compared, verified, and exchanged in daily conversations among the inhabitants who refer to both the past and to the future of this space. As an old lady who lives in the center of Paris leads her life:
Every afternoon she goes out for a walk that ends at sunset and that never goes beyond the boundaries of her universe: the Seine in the south, the stock market to the west, the Place de la R¾publique to the east … She knows everything about the caf¾s on the boulevard, the comparative prices, the age of the clients and the time that they spend there, the lives of the waiters, the rhythm and style of people circulating and meeting each other. She knows the price and the quality of the restaurants in which she will never lift a fork [Petonnet 1982; see also Mayol 1994] ( de Certeau 1997: 96).
The daily murmur of this secret creativity furnishes her necessary foundation and is her only chance of success in any state intervention (ibid.).
The 'mixtures of rituals and makeshifts' that are bricolages-like those orchestrated in the old lady's walks-are integral to the practice of zines as creative appropriations rather than strategic productions. To use de Certeau's concepts, zines are mostly 'miniscule observations' and conglomerations of 'microinformation.' A good example is provided by Dishwasher Pete and his zine Dishwasher. This zine literally traces--documents--a trajectory of poetic ways of making do on a daily basis.
Pete's life goal is to work as a dishwasher in every U.S. state. Dishwasher provides accounts of his work in various restaurants and his reflections on life. Pete does not own a car or have a fixed address. He stays with people he meets via his zine--crashing on their lounge room floors until he quits his job and moves on. Much of the detailed commentary in Dishwasher focuses on inequities in the food service industry, behind-the-scenes critiques of restaurant owners, work anecdotes from other dishwashers, and such like. His bricolage is a 'critique of class and privilege from a unique viewpoint which preserves [his] personal freedom, self esteem, and well-being' (Vale 1997: 11).
Interestingly, much of de Certeau's work traces the collapse of revolution-overthrowing oppressive regimes by force-as a viable means for transforming 'the laws of history' (1984: 25) and suggests, instead, that the art of 'putting one over' the established order on its own home ground is a means for undermining these orders from within. One way of doing this is through a tactic identified by de Certeau as la perruque-French for 'the wig.' This is a '[a] worker's own work disguised as work for his [or her] employer' (ibid.).
La perruque differs from stealing or pilfering because nothing of significant material value is actually stolen (the worker uses scraps or leftovers that would ordinarily be thrown out). Likewise, it is not absenteeism because the worker is 'officially on the job' (ibid.). Instead, the worker diverts time to his or her own needs and engages in work that is free and creative and 'precisely not directed toward profit' (ibid.). It may be something as simple as a secretary writing a love letter on company time (and using a company computer and their paper and mailing system) through to something much more complex such as a cabinet maker using a work lathe to create a piece of furniture for his home (and using timber offcuts from the for-profit-work and that he picks up from the scrap heap to build his chair). Thus, '[i]n the very place where the machine he [or she] must serve reigns supreme, he [or she] cunningly takes pleasure in finding a way to create gratuitous products whose sole purpose is to signify his own capabilities through his [or her] work and to confirm his [or her] solidarity with other workers or his family through spending his [or her] time this way' (original emphases; de Certeau 1984: 25-26).
'La perruque' captures the deviousness of tactics and captures ways in which '[e]veryday life invents itself by poaching in countless ways on the property of others' (de Certeau 1984: xii). Many hard copy zines are, in fact, perruques, and would not exist without the possibility of poaching on others' property. To some extent this involves poaching on material resources. A not-for-profit ethos can be sustained, subversively, by means of perruque.
I had a temp job working in the mail room of an insurance company that was promising me full-time employment. I thought, "Hey--this will be good. I can deal with this work; it's easy, I get benefits, I get a regular paycheck …" then they reneged and said they were bringing in someone from another department to take over my job. Anger and access to paper and copiers motivated me to produce the first issue [of the now-famous Temp Slave]-everything coalesced at once" (Jeff Kelly in conversation with Vale, 1996: 22-23).
La perruque even can help us understand young people's job choices: 'I was showing a zine to a friend and coincidentally its producer was employed in her office mailroom. She'd always thought he was too talented for the job but suddenly realised why he stayed there …' (Bail 1997: 44).
Sometimes the material resources that are poached actually become the substance of the zine. R. Collision, for example, worked in a photocopying shop and was amazed at the kinds of images people brought in for copying-everything from mugshots, to photos of operation scars, to pictures of body parts and pornography. Collision was so fascinated by these windows onto the human condition that he made double copies of interesting images and kept one copy for himself. Then, as he describes it, from 'the graphics I had accumulated at work, I decided to publish an image compilation book which would say "Recycle this" on its cover, and began copying as many pages as I could at work. Eventually I had enough sheets to publish 200 copies of a 300-page book' (in conversation with Vale 1996: 43).
In other cases, zinesters' practices of la perruque involve poaching on abstract or intellectual 'property' in order to appropriate space. V. Vale speaks of zines as a grassroots response to a crisis in the media landscape: 'What was formerly communication has become a fully implemented control process. Corporate-produced advertising, television programming and the PR campaigns dictate the 21st century "anything goes" consumer lifestyle' (Vale 1996: 6). Numerous zine and zine-like productions poach upon and subvert corporate media productions as exercises in 'culture jamming', parody and exposé.
At one level this is evident in practices as direct and straightforward as literally turning media images (in) on themselves, or by combining images and tweaking texts to produce bitingly honest social commentaries that everyone everywhere can read and understand--a kind of global literacy. This kind of tactic, wonderfully employed in Adbusters's critique of Bennetton's attempt to evoke an 'equality' and 'global village' ethos in the fashion world (see Lankshear and Knobel 2001, this volume) is widely practised within zine culture.
At another level, strategic productions--or enacted strategies on the part of producers--in the form of 'official' versions of how we should be and do are poached, preyed upon, and otherwise made into opportunities to turn place into space by tactical means. For example, Taryn Hipp writes in the online version of her zine Girlswirl: 'Being an "overweight" girl is not easy. When I look around all I see are these pictures of skinny women in revealing clothes standing next to a handsome man' (Hipp 1999: 1). Taryn uses her zine as a personal space: she critiques images of women in the media; candidly discusses her relationship with her boyfriend, Josh; openly describes being a member of a rather unconventional family; and so on. While not a direct 'attack' on or resistance to popular media, Girlswirl is the product of Taryn's 'making space' in the niches and crevices of institutions such as mainstream magazines and television by thumbing her nose at the formal structures and strategies of these institutions. Her hand crafted paper zine sits nicely alongside her website, which in addition to showcasing excerpts from her zine, also includes a weblog (similar in concept to a diary, and can be added to at will) and is often asynchronously interactive thanks to email responses from readers etc. Her online zine and social commentaries are further supported by an email discussion list. Taryn is not so much out to change the world, as to declare her position within it:
I am happy with the way I am. I am happy with the way I look. I am happy being 'overweight'. I used to worry about what other people thought of me. I have pretty much gotten over that. It wasn't easy. It never is (Hipp 1999: 1).
In his inimitable way, Dishwasher Pete also deftly creates his own 'space' within the formal world of work and communicates this for a wider audience in Dishwasher. Using texts, images and his own experiences in creating his zine, Pete critiques mainstream mindsets about what young people 'should' do and be. For example, he recounts critiquing social assumptions and institutions from a very young age-which in large part he attributes to growing up desperately poor. While he was still in primary school, Pete recalls analysing and 'busting' the myth of upward social mobility through education by means of his observations of the microinformation of everyday life. He recalls:
No matter how poor you are, you're expected to pretend that someday you'll be a doctor. Every year the nuns at our school would ask, "What are you going to be when you grow up?" Destitute kids would get up and crow about how they were going to be some great lawyer-this is what you were supposed to say. I would always say I wanted to be a house painter, because I remembered watching one with a paintbrush in one hand, a sandwich in the other, his transistor radio playing while he sat on a plank brushing away in the sun. I thought, "That's the job for me-I could do that!" The nuns were never happy when they heard this: "A house painter?! Are you sure you don't want to be a doctor?" "No, ma'am" (original emphasis; in conversation with Vale 1997: 8).
In addition to critiquing social institutions and myths, and as we've mentioned already, Pete's zine is not just about dishwashing in countless restaurants across the U.S., but is a deeply thoughtful and thought-provoking critique of work and economic inequality. Indeed, Dishwasher Pete himself actively side-steps 'baby-boomer' work ethics and turns the proliferation of 'McJobs' to his own ends (cf., Howe and Strauss 1993). As he puts it:
I'm addicted to that feeling of quitting; walking out the door, yelling "Hurrah!" and running through the streets. Maybe I need to have jobs in order to appreciate my free leisure time or just life in general. … Nowadays, I can't believe how personally employers take it when I quit. I think, "What did you expect? Did you expect me to grow old and die here in your restaurant?" There seems to be a growing obsession with job security, a feeling that if you have a job you'd better stick with it and 'count your blessings' (op. cit.: 5, 6; see also Duncombe 1997).
By no means all zines employ tactics in the kinds of ways we have illustrated here. But many zines reflect sophisticated expertise in the use of tactics in the sense that their author-producers '[pinch] the meanings they need from the cultural commodities … offered to them' (Underwood 2000: n.p.). Zinesters are often highly adept at appropriating spaces of dominant culture for their own uses, or of otherwise making these spaces 'habitable.'
Some important points for educational practice generally and literacy education specifically flow from our attempt to explore zines in the light of de Certeau's conceptual frame. One fairly obvious implication is that for all the value there is in addressing critical analyses of media texts and other cultural artifacts within curricular learning, it is also important to understand how consumers take up these commodities. Doubtless the world will and should be transformed. Meanwhile we need to make it 'habitable.' There is much to be learned from those who we classify as learners and/or in need of learning in terms of how they make places habitable, how they pinch meanings to make do, and how having enough people making do successfully might act back on dominant culture.
Buchanan makes an important series of points here. He notes that theorists often see strategy and tactics as oppositional terms, and thereby assume that de Certeau's approach belongs to a weaker category of resistance (Buchanan 1993). In other words, it is often thought that tactics are merely 'reactive forces, a practice of response' (ibid.: n.p.). Buchanan notes that, on the contrary, tactics 'define the limits of strategy' and force 'the strategic to respond to the tactical.' Hence, tactics contain an active as well as a reactive dimension. So, for example, prisoners determine the level of security required in a given prison. Users of non-standard Englishes determine the degree of policing needed on behalf of standard English. Zinesters help to determine the degree of diversity required in establishment publisher lists. In a context where tactics are strong, healthy, many and pervasive, the fact that the strategic machines are always one step behind when they need to be one step ahead becomes apparent (ibid.). The situation could become stressful for producers. Could 'armies' of tacticians up the ante to the point where strategies pop? Our hunch is that it is worth testing this out.
Perhaps in schools we spend too much time trying to kit kids up to perform within strategically defined parameters of success. This, paradoxically, often leads to engaging in practices that actually dumb kids down-such as enlisting them in moribund basic literacy remediation programs, or engaging them in painting by numbers activities to familiarize them with dominant genres. This kind of approach can subvert many genuine 'smarts' that extraordinarily ordinary practitioners of tactics-including the so-called 'literacy disabled'-have, and that could productively be built on.
One of our favorite examples here concerns a Year 7 student, Jacques, who told us 'I'm not keen on language and that. I hate reading. I'm like my Dad, I'm not a pencil man' (Knobel 1999, 2001). His teacher concurred, describing Jacques as 'having serious difficulties with literacy.' Jacques did all he could to avoid reading and writing in class, although he collaborated with family members to engage successfully in a range of challenging literate practices outside school. These included producing fliers to attract customers to his lucrative holiday lawn mowing round, and participating in Theocratic School each week, where Jacques regularly had to read and explain and give commentaries on texts from the Bible to groups of up to 100 people.
Jacques's literacy avoidance behavior in class yielded a classic use of tactics with respect to the Writers Center his teacher had established in one corner of the classroom, where students could work on the narratives they had to produce for their teacher. During a two week period we observed him spending several hours at the Writing Center making a tiny book (6cm by 4 cm or 2" by 1") containing several stapled pages. On each page he wrote 2 or 3 words which made up a 'narrative' of 15 to 20 words (for example: 'This is J.P.'s truck. J.P. is going on holiday in his truck. J.P. likes holidays in his truck. The End'). Other students found these hilarious when he read them out loud to them, and he eventually produced a series of six 'J. P. Stories.'
His teacher's response was negative and highly critical. She was not impressed and saw his activities as 'very childish' and as a means of avoiding writing and of not taking too seriously something he could not do. Yet Jacques's tactical approach to making this literacy learning context 'habitable' showed precisely the kind of 'spark' that could serve him well in all kinds of real world contexts. It also inchoately contains a critique of much classroom activity (what's the point of it? How is it relevant?) that is consistent with formal research-based critiques of non-efficacious learning (cf. Gee, Hull and Lankshear 1996: ch 1). A teacher who could appreciate and celebrate tactics might have been able to reward the potentially fruitful and genuinely subversive element of Jacques's 'trick' and extend it pedagogically.
We want to argue that zines provide the kind of tactical orientation that would help teachers and learners develop pedagogies of tactics to supplement pedagogies that render unto producers. Such pedagogies would identify, reinforce, and celebrate tactics when they occur, and invite other participants to consider alternative possible tactical responses to the same situation. This might take some time out of being on task within formal learning activities, but with the chance of stimulating and enhancing native wit, survival potential, critical thinking, and creative subversion. It may be worth contrasting here the capacity of a Dishwasher Pete to handle the impact of a new work order in which the middle is suddenly decimated and where many middle level workers and managers experience their lives and worlds collapsing when their jobs no longer existed. A good tactician always has somewhere to move. Under current and foreseeable conditions of work, teachers as much as their students (will) need well-honed tactical proficiency in order to obtain the meanings they need. Many of us in education might benefit by refining our capacity to pinch and poach on the property of education producers. In so doing we might contribute something to the tactical prowess of all who are compelled to be education consumers. Our argument is that zine culture is a likely place to include in our efforts to understand and develop pedagogies of tactics. This work is greatly assisted by the close study of subjectivity in relation to zining. An individual's sense and enactment of self is tied intimately to their ability to celebrate the 'everyperson' and the microinformation of everyday life, and to practice poetic ways of 'making do'.
zines, subjectivity and pedagogy:
The role of education in relation to personal development has been massively complicated during the past two decades. Such phenomena as intensified migration and intercultural exchange, the demise of former longstanding 'models' and 'pillars' of identity (e.g., well-defined gender norms) and the linear life course, displacement of modernist/structuralist ways of thinking about persons and the world by postmodern/poststructuralist/postcolonialist perspectives, the rise of radically new forms and processes of media, and an emerging new globalization have been prime movers of this complication. They have intersected in ways that generate profound challenges to knowing how and what to be in the world at the level of subjecthood. They have also helped to complicate aspiring, emerging, and established educational reform agendas in areas of equity, gender reform, and the like.
The individual's sense of self, now commonly referred to as subjectivity rather than identity, is shaped at the confluence of diverse sociocultural practices and discourses (Rowan et al. 2001: ch 2) . 'Subjectivity' refers to 'our ways of knowing (emotionally and intellectually) about ourselves in the world. It describes who we are and how we understand ourselves, consciously and unconsciously' (MacNaughton 2000: 97; Alvermann and Hagood 2000: 197). Individuals negotiate cultural understandings about acceptable, proper, or otherwise valued modes of gendered or ethnic being in the course of shaping and reshaping their own senses of themselves. Cultures circulate meanings about what it is to be a valued kind of girl or boy, or member of a particular ethnic grouping, and so on. Poststructuralist perspectives in particular have re-emphasized the point that while powerful and regulatory social fictions about gender and ethnicity are circulated and endorsed by diverse institutions and discourses, it is also possible for alternative and less restrictive representations to be constructed, circulated and validated. For example, strands of feminist research have focused on the personal and political significance of alternative representations and images of being a girl or a woman. Donna Haraway speaks here of new 'figurations' (such as her notion of cyborgs-Haraway 1985). Such 'figurations' are not merely 'pretty metaphors [but] politically informed maps [that] aim at redesigning female subjectivity' (Braidotti 1994: 181; Rowan et al 2001: ch 3).
From this kind of standpoint, reform agendas within education in areas like gender and ethnicity involve identifying dominant narratives of gender and ethnicity and then working to develop, promote and validate counternarrratives that recognize there are multiple ways of being, say, a girl or a boy. Moreover, such counternarratives work from the premise that individuals may align themselves with more than one version of being a girl/woman or boy/man in the course of their life or, even, in the course of a day (Rowan et al. 2001: n.p.). This is to see 'the self' or one's personhood as 'continually constituted through multiple and contradictory discourses that one takes up as one's own' (Davies 1993: 57).
The educational implications of this are clear enough. Teachers and learners concerned with moving beyond limitations of dominant cultural fictions of valued modes of gendered and ethnic being are necessarily involved in entertaining, discussing, acting out, producing, etc., counternarrative representations. Many zines, especially the burgeoning array of electronic zines, offer fruitful and diverse insights into how different people try to work out or create their subjectivities. Many online zines make available spaces for discussing, critiquing, reporting, etc., different people's experiences of negotiating subjectivity. Two examples are indicative here.
Mimi Nguyen is a self-labelled Asian-American bi-queer feminist anarchist who has created a range of hard copy zines (e.g., Slant, Slander) and cyberzines (e.g., Slander, Worse Than Queer). Nguyen, refugeed from Viet Nam at age 1, identifies punk rock as the original driving force behind her zines. More recently, however, she has focused on issues and injustices occurring at the interstices of race-ethnicity and sexism.
Ngyen's zines grew out of her desire to network with people of colour in the punk music scene who-like her-were struggling with identity issues. She uses her zine, Worse Than Queer, to deconstruct 'Asian-ness' as an anarchist, feminism as a bi-queer, and race in general as a young graduate student at Berkeley University. Her goal is to turn long-standing assumptions about Asian women on their head by refusing to submit to the 'Oriental sex secrets' and 'Suzy Wong' Asian personae people foist upon her (cf. Nguyen in conversation with Vale 1997: 54). Nguyen draws herself as a punk rocker complete with piercings, as shaven-headed and toting a gun, and in martial arts poses that are definitely 'in your face'. Her zine, Slander, is definitely 'in your face' as well-no holds are barred and Nguyen refuses to throw dummy punches.
In a phone interview over three years ago I was asked, "What do you think of Asian women who bleach or dye their hair; do you think they're trying to be white?"
That day my hair was chin-length, a faded green. I said, "No."
It is already suggested by dominant "common sense" that anything we do is hopelessly derivative: we only mimic whiteness. This is the smug arrogance underlying the issue-the accusation, the assumption-of assimilation: we would do anything to be a poor copy of the white wo/man. Do you buy this? Are you, too, suspicious of "unnatural" Asian hair: permed, dyed, bleached? But if I assert the position that all hair-styles are physically and socially constructed, even "plain" Asian hair, how do we then imagine hair as politics?
Who defines what's "naural"? Does our hair have history? What does my hair say about my power? How does the way you "read" my hair articulate yours?
Asian/American women's hair already functions as a fetish object in the colonial Western imaginary, a racial signifier for the "silky" "seductive" "Orient." Our hair, when "natural," is semiotically commodified, a signal that screams "this is exotic/erotic." As figments of the European imperial imagination, Suzie Wong, Madame Butterfly, and Miss Saigon are uniformly racially sexualized and sexually racialized by flowing cascades of long, black shiny hair. Is this "natural" hair? Or is hair always already socially-constructed to be "read" a certain way in relation to historical colonial discourse? Is this "natural" hair politically preferable? "purer," as my interviewer implicitly suggests? (Nguyen 1998; Angel 1999: 91).
Slander is a bricolage of Mimi's views about race and gender, articles written by friends and colleagues, bold and evocative sketches she has done herself, and in the hard copy version of the zine, collages and other artwork done by her or by friends, and so on, making Slander more than an 'amateurish' cut-and-paste production. It qualifies in more than one sense as a 'poetic way of making do.'
Nguyen's writing and artwork are loud voices of protest, as are her other projects such as 'exoticize this!' (<http://members.aol.com/critchicks>), a virtual Asian-American feminist community she founded in the late 1990s, and a 1997 compilation zine titled, Evolution of a Race Riot. This zine was and is 'for and about people of color in various stages of p[unk]-rock writing about race, "identity," and community' (Nguyen 2000: n.p.).
Nguyen is producing a new literacy in her zine, Slander, (and elsewhere) that is rewriting traditional conceptions of and roles for Asian/American women. This literacy concerns finding ways to draw attention to assumptions and stereotypes of Asian and Asian/American women at work in popular media. This includes critiquing texts in 'underground' magazines that profess to be anti-establishment and pro-young people (e.g., Maximumrocknroll 1998, issue 198), but that often simply perpetuate images of Asian women as sex toys or as exotica. She also carries her message in the strong, line-drawn images she creates herself for her zine. By these means, Nguyen is creating a space for herself that grows directly out of the microinformation of her everyday life as a punk, bi-queer, Asian/American woman who grew up speaking Vietnamese in Minnesota and who recently has given over her shaved head and combat fatigues for red lip gloss and spiky heels. Mimi does not claim that she is speaking for, or even to, everyone and refuses to make concessions to non-Asian readers of her zine.
[Mimi] wrote about how someone didn't enjoy her zine because they claimed they "couldn't relate" (being some hip white riot grrl type), but Mimi says "duh, of course you can't relate" (Squeaky n.d.).
Although numerous reports (e.g., National Science Foundation 1997, Roper Starch Worldwide 1998) indicate boys and young men spend more time on the internet than girls and young women, the number of online zines created by young women appears to greatly outnumber the number created and currently maintained by young men. Internet searches using advanced search engines and techniques, along with consulting a series of popular online zine webrings and indices , suggest that young women dominate the online zine world, unlike in the offline, meatspace world where young men seem to publish more zines than women.
Digitarts is an online multimedia project space constructed originally by young women for young women, but now also encompasses disadvantaged youth and people with disabilities (Digitarts 2000). The Digitarts' website explores different conceptions and constructions of female identity through poems, narratives, journal pages, 'how-to-do' texts, and digital images, and presents alternative perspectives on style, food, everyday life and commodities. The Australian-based project is 'dedicated to providing young women who are emerging artists and/or cultural workers with access to the knowledge and equipment necessary for the development of their arts and cultural practices in the area of new technologies' (see <http://digitarts.va.com.au/welcome.html>). It aims to challenge 'the "boys toys" stigma often associated with electronic equipment,' and to 'provide young women with access to information technology in a non-threatening "girls own" space, to encourage involvement in technology based artforms' (ibid.). Digitarts provides a venue for emerging multimedia artists to showcase their work, and seeks to attract young women to the field by providing web-development courses and beginner and advanced levels, and by publishing a cyberzine called grrrowl.
grrrowl (<http://digitarts.va.com.au/grrrowl/>) is an ongoing, collaborative publishing endeavor, remarkable for its long life (many zines on the internet only ever reach the 'first issue' stage). Like all authentic (not-for-profit, DIY) zines, grrrowl's production is not regular. It follows the beat of projects conducted by Digitarts. Its first issue focused on grrrls and machines. Each contributor constructed a page that is either a personal introduction-in the style of a self-introduction at a party-or contains poems or anecdotes about women and technology. Hyperlinks to web sites engaging with a similar theme also define each writer's online self, and her self as connected with other selves. The second issue of grrrowl provides alternative readings of fashion trends and body image, perspectives of contemporary culture and everyday life and the like.
grrrowl #4 (<http://digitarts.va.com.au/grrrowl4/>) investigates the theme, 'Simply Lifeless' and documents online 'the everyday lives of young women in Darwin and Brisbane'. Its thesis is: 'Our culture informs our everyday activity. Our everyday activity informs our culture.' The issue celebrates the 'everyperson' and everyday-ness of their lives (cf. de Certeau 1984; Duncombe 1997), with eight young women-ranging in age from 12 years to 25 years, broadcasting webpage-based 'snapshots' of their lives. These snapshots include digital videos of personally important events such as composing music on a much-loved guitar, a daughter feeding a pet chicken and so on, or hypertext journals that span a day or a week and that also include photographic images such as digitised family album snaps, scanned hand-drawn graphics, 3D digital artwork, and so on. For example, 12-year-old Gabriell writes about a typical few days in her life that involve waking early, dressing and going to school, who she plays with at school during lunch and snack breaks and what they do, and what she does after school. She talks a little about what she usually has for dinner, and about going to stay with her father every Saturday night. He lives near her mother and her partner, Stephen (Gabriell n.d.). In documenting the 'banal' and 'everyday', this issue of grrrowl aims at 'increasing the range of criteria by which our cultures are measured and defined' (grrrowl #4: n.d.).
grrrowl #5 is subtitled Circle/Cycle and focuses on 'things that are round and things that go round' (grrrowl #5: n.d.). The main menu is a spoof of a woman's diet menu that uses images from a 1960s Australian Women's Weekly magazine. The food items listed for various times of day (breakfast, beauty break: morning, lunch, beauty break: afternoon, dinner) are hyperlinked to interviews with interesting women such as comic-strip artists (dubbed 'ladies of the black ink'), circus performers, bookstore owners, and so on. Other entries in the zine include a range of summer recipes, a detailed account of how to get rid of cockroaches in the house, recounts of food explorations and adventures, and a zine-within-a-zine link to the Losergurrl zine (n.d.): one young women's personal offshoot of Digitarts projects.
This fifth issue employs a diverse range of text and image genres. The front page for Losergurrl, for example, is a collage of images cut from 1960s and 1970s women's magazines. Each image is hyperlinked to reviews of grrrl punk rock music; interviews with women in the music industry; rants about personal demons, safety issues, and women's comic books; book reviews; online games; treats such as recipes for natural beauty products, DIY files that deal with everything from DIY-Cryonics, to gardening and getting rid of pests in ecologically sound ways.
Items in the grrrowl issues are steeped in cultural analyses of everyday life and subjectivity. The zine presents online magazine-type commentaries and is used to establish and nurture interactive networks of relations between like-minded people. It is used to explore and present cultural membership and self identity through digital and textual bricolages of writing, images, and hyperlinks. The Digitarts' work is also a keen-edged critique of 'mainstream' discourses in Australia and elsewhere. For instance, the editorial in the third issue of grrrowl explains how to subvert the default settings on readers' internet browser software, and encourages young women to over-ride or side-step other socially-constructed 'default settings' that may be operating in their lives. Digitart projects challenge social scripts which allocate various speaking and acting roles for young women that cast them as passive social objects or as victims (e.g., 'This is not about framing women as victims--mass media vehicles already do a pretty good job of that' Girls in Space n.d.), and that write certain types of girls (or grrrls) out of the picture altogether (cf. Cross 1996; Green and Taormino 1997).
Indeed, 'bricolage' is a key concept in this tactical work: the girls and young women involved in producing the various issues of grrrowl experiment with new technological literacy skills that have recently come to hand (e.g., VRML programming, language, PERL script, shockwave applications), they use whatever technological equipment they can access at the time, or they poach, scan and insert images from found texts-often placing mainstream images of women or objects often associated with women beside non-mainstream commentaries or narratives in order to underscore the different world views from which the Digitarts are operating. In this way, grrrowl-along with the other Digitart projects-offers a coherent alternative to the commodification of youth culture, and the concept of 'youth' as a market category is made too complex for corporations to use. grrrowl is a cyber space in which young women can become producers, and not merely consumers, of texts and culture (cf. Duncombe 1997, 1999; Knobel 1998).
Just as many zines can provide graphic and hard-hitting insights into everyday uses of tactics in the practice of social critique and commentary and in the enactment of alternative politics, so they provide equally valuable insights into the nature and politics of subjectivity. As will be obvious by now, however, vexed issues converge around the place and roles zines might assume within classrooms in publicly funded schools. We will turn to this and other issues briefly in our concluding section. Meanwhile, it seems clear that teachers and learners who happen one way or another to become familiar with zines and zine culture will be helped in their efforts to negotiate subjectivity and subject positions within classroom pedagogy, as well as to bring a range of perspectives and familiarity with diverse and hybrid text forms to themes and tasks arising within the formal curriculum.
issues and possibilities:
Zines provide firm ground from which to interrogate literacy education as currently practiced in schools and offer hard evidence that young people are not held necessarily in a 'consumer trance' or are without sophisticated critical capacities. Even large corporations recognize that many young people are media smart to a degree that their parents were not and never will be. For example, the Nike faux zine, U Don't Stop, avoids including the globally-famous Nike swoosh logo on any of its pages. It seems that the absence of the logo is an intentional nod to young people's 'media savviness.' Stephen Duncombe explains,
When I called Wieden & Kennedy's Jimmy Smith and asked him why the Nike logo was conspicuously absent from U Don't Stop he explained that, "The reason [the zine] is done without a swoosh is that kids are very sophisticated. It ain't like back in the day when you could do a commercial that showed a hammer hitting a brain: Pounding Headache. You know, it's gotta be something cool that they can get into" (1999: n.p.).
It may well be that no matter what teachers try to do in bringing young people's literacy practices into the world, it will never be sophisticated enough for their students. Or, as happens all too often with 'new' literacies, zine literacy will become domesticated within the classroom so that the zines are produced according to the teacher's vision and purposes, rather than according to the grassroots, personal motivations of authentic zines.
For our own part, we remain unclear about exactly what direct implications zine literacy has for schools. In optimistic moments we think that the proper literacy business of schools should be to take due account of any new literacy that is demonstrably efficacious. From this perspective, the role of people involved in studying and interpreting new literacies is to continue politicising literacy education and research. Protesting claims that all young people today are politically apathetic and unmotivated would be another way of approaching zines in education. This would entail reading and discussing meatspace and cyberspace zines in classrooms.
On the other hand, for all their potential for fruitful educational appropriation, zines are often controversial, visually and mentally confronting, and regularly deal with topics taboo to classrooms. If some parents get up in arms about witches in storybooks, imagine how they would react to articles and zines entitled: Murder Can be Fun, "Sex and Sexuality, and Why I Jack Off So Much Instead of Talking to Girls", "Real Skinheads Take a Stand… A Feature on Red, Anarchist, Anti-Fascist and Activist Skinheads", etc.; cf. Williamson 1994: 2). One way out of this dilemma might be to focus on the ethos of zines--the potent do-it-yourself writing and reading ethic for young people--and acknowledge the manner in which and extent to which new literacy practices evinced in hard copy and cyberzines engage young people as active and often critically sophisticated participants in and creators of culture.
Alternatively, perhaps a revamped critical literacy that is enacted as 'tactics,' 'clever tricks,' a knowledge of how to get away with things, a suspicion of grand narratives, and not simply as critical analysis of media texts as commonly practised offers a way of maximising students' media smarts in literacy education. Projects could include a public radio segment conducted by students that critiques some element of media culture each day over a four week period; a commercially published booklet of interviews with local zinesters about their zines and what zines enable them to do on a day-to-day basis, and organised into themes that speak to young people; a Mavis McKenzie-type letter writing campaign (see Bail 1997: 44) that subtly spoofs large corporations or institutions (students could write to a munitions company asking for their magazine catalogue, to the department of education or large hospital asking for a copy of their recycling policy, to local town councils asking for their youth policy, etc.)--these letters could then become the basis for a multimedia 'position paper' or commentary.
The trick, we believe, is to approach the place and role of zines within school-based (literacy) education tactically. Here as well, the medium is the message. Whatever other capacities and dispositions they display, smart teachers and smart learners are tactically adept. Zines present us with a tactical challenge; an ideal learning and implementation problematic for new times. How can we get the kinds of orientations, ethos, perspectives, world views, orientations, insights, etc., encapsulated in zines into classroom education when to do so necessarily involves maneuvering on enemy terrain? If we cannot work out how to do this and get away with it-with the assistance of endless models of tactics available within the practices of everyday life, of which zines are but one-we probably should not try to incorporate zines and core zine culture values into formal learning. By the same token, if we cannot engage in tactics of this kind it might be time to question our credentials for being educators under current and foreseeable conditions. For it seems likely that in the 'fast' world that is now upon us, those who survive well will increasingly be 'tactically competent.'
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