Being (R)evolutionary:

A Consideration of the Adolescent Nature of Zines

1Recently, on the alt.zines newsgroup there was a discussion that centred around the perception that zines were experiencing a decline in popularity. This followed a period, at least in the US, of intense scrutiny of zines and their editors by the corporate mass media. For a brief time, newsstands and distributors had been willing to stock these non-commercial independent publications -- with their sometimes illegible fonts, cut'n'paste layouts, and personal diatribes -- alongside the glossy covers and slick production values of Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair. After commercial magazines had exhausted the novelty factor of zines and their editors, a reluctance by commercial enterprises to continue to sell zines ensued. Following the thread "**Zines Fading from Popularity? Why?" some contributors to the newsgroup wondered whether the alleged decrease in interest reflected an overall decline in the standards of zines being made. While other contributors offered evidence to refute an emergent lack of interest in zines, 'Kris from Menace Publishing & Manufacture' suggested that "zines are a very adolescent medium, and I think a lot of people just outgrow them, both producers and readers" ('Kris').

2Kris's point in using the term adolescent was to account for a presence among zine editors of those who were not committed to producing zines in the long term. He employs a notion of adolescence as a developmental stage at the end of which one becomes an adult. Although it would appear that Kris makes zines, he uses adolescence as a pejorative term to describe them as the expression of a transient stage of human development which it is expected one will leave behind. Kris's linking of zines and adolescence as a developmental stage becomes complicated while there are people who don't outgrow zines. Jeff Potter responds directly to Kris's analogy between adolescence and zines when he writes:

3I like the 'playing for keeps' aspect of true art. The 'it's just a phase' sector is perhaps the weakening one. Altho I have nothing against ephemera or one offs or whatever. Pop, kiddy, groupie stuff tho: ferget it [sic]. (Potter)

4 While Potter does nothing to dispel the prevailing societal disdain for adolescents and youth in general -- he trivialises their zines as "pop" and "kiddy" --, he introduces another understanding of transience in his reference to "one-offs" and "ephemera", one that is not so easily dismissed as when the association with adolescence is made.

5 The use of 'adolescent' to dismiss some zines, while valorising the ephemeral characteristic of others, is intriguing. In response it might be argued that adolescence offers a model for zines and the identities and communities that surround them; evolving structures that are also characteristic of ephemeral cultural products. In the Brisbane-based Australian zine Fried Trash Tabouli, Cathy Tabouli considers the notion of adolescence as a pejorative description applied to zines and people who make them:

6 I mean this maybe the last fried trash tabouli cos a kinda friend got me thinking about how fucked zines are and how kiddie they are but hell I'm a kid! I'm a kid who just so happens to be of adult age and responsibility. I realised how stupid their opinion can be... (Tabouli, n.pag.)

7This example shows how Tabouli reappropriates the state of being "kiddie" and takes it with her into adulthood. The conclusions that Tabouli draws, which enable her to adopt adolescence as an ongoing way of being in the world, are evocative of the understanding of adolescence articulated by Julia Kristeva.

8Kristeva speaks about adolescence as a period when having a subjectivity-in-process is socially acceptable. As a teenager, one is able to restlessly reject role after role, to try on a number of identities, each of which is lived as authentic. An adolescent represents, "naturally", "a crisis structure within the ideal and consistent law" of the social world (Kristeva 136); the adolescent is able to transgress the boundaries of difference within society without incurring penalty. Kristeva describes the adolescent as an open-structure personality and she suggests that the on-going process of the adolescent stage of development is an ideal model for writing because through the practice of writing one is able to explore the possibilities of identity without encountering judgment. As a community that is organised around writing it is possible to identify the open-structure of adolescence in zines -- not just in the youthfulness of many (although certainly not all) of those who write and read them, but also in the constant process of exploring ways of being in the world that fill their pages.

9On a nominative level one can quickly identify instances of a restless rejection of roles in the way that many zine editors, through the pages of their zines, adopt new names, and thus "a new living identity" (Kristeva 137). In The Life and Times of Mavis McKenzie the editor, 'Jason', pretends he is an elderly woman, Mavis McKenzie. Mavis sends letters to local councils, celebrities and businesses exercising her civic duty to hilarious effect. That Mavis receives replies to her ridiculous enquiries and outrageous opinions exposes the inanity of many bureaucracies and (star) systems, and enables 'Jason' to critique current events and to make fun of "the never-ending procession of dumb celebrities and companies" ('Jason'). Further examples of new identities configured through producing a zine are evident in pseudonyms like Kylie Gusset of the e-zine Gusset; Kylie Purr, formerly of PURRzine and now Kat Pounce; Chris Dazed of Dazed and Swarming and Coughing Up Legomen; and Flea, who in her transition from the seminal zine Grot Grrrl to Thunderpussy has adopted the latter title as a surname.

10The association of many zine editors with more than one zine title is worth noting in a discussion of the open-structured adolescent quality of zines. In the 'Idiotorial' of Kat Pounce/PURRzine #4 Kylie Purr explains the reasoning behind the name change of her zine:

11soooo much has changed!! A new name has been adopted, for the purpose of separating my 2 projects, zine-purr and band-purr, but Purr broke so its [sic] just a fresh exciting new start. I've lived in three more houses since #3, but I am now, in theory, settled for awhile [sic]. In this shocking era of tranquility I have established a herb garden, honed my drawing skills, learnt to touchtype (30wpm and counting!!), expanded my cooking repetoire [sic] and deliberated over a musical future. I laughed at the State Rail Authority and their free entry to central (via Country terminal ramp) for several moths [sic]. I became much louder and more frequent in my verbal abuse of TV. I became happier and more bitter. I've gotten really sick of loser fuck ups, no more patience with that I'm afraid. I met a lot of really nice people who aren't loser fuck ups so I just hang out with them!! (Purr, n.pag.)

12Although the name change in Purr's zine was initially for pragmatic reasons, it came to represent a substantial shift, not only in terms of the number of residences she lived in over eighteen months, but also in her perspective on life. Chris Dazed cited a similar evolution in his perspective in a conversation I had with him at the recent National Young Writers Festival in Newcastle. Chris's decision to abandon Dazed and Swarming and start Coughing Up Legomen was motivated by a deeper philosophical understanding that had emerged as a consequence of beginning university. Chris felt that Dazed and Swarming zine could no longer contain or express the evolution of his self and ideas.

13While some zine editors accommodate a shift in identity by leaving one zine and beginning another, others such as 'Jason' from The Life and Times of Mavis McKenzie make more than one zine -- a multiplicity of writing which captures in print an adolescent structure of subjectivity that is constantly in process or on trial; in a state of (r)evolution. In 'Jason's' case additional zines are one-offs of more personal writing. More recently he has been involved in producing a zine on electronic pop music in collaboration with some friends.

14Often the parameters of other people's zines provide the space for the articulation of a different voice. A negative use of this willingness in zines to accept contributions from outside sources is related in a US zine, Escargot:

15Leslie Gaffney (Popwatch) told us about another zine editor who once offered to write reviews for Popwatch because he decided reviews were too passé for inclusion in his own zine, but if he wrote reviews for another zine, he could protect his own editorial principles and still get the free promos. (Billus & McKinney, n.pag.)

16While this example is instructive, in an Australian context it also appears to be atypical. Generally, it might be said that the manner in which zine editors avail their pages to a constant input of ideas from many individuals and sources (contributions and stealing images etc.) goes beyond an expression of multiple and evolving identities towards facilitating an aesthetic, and a community that is predicated on the open-structure personality of the adolescent. While aesthetically zines are never only one thing; the forms zines take are many and varied: photocopied and glossy, illegible and streamlined, within their pages there is a genuine exchange between writers and readers. In zines feedback moves beyond the mere printing of letters to the editor, to blur, perhaps even abolish, the distinction between a passive reader and an active producer.

17The idea that anyone, even with the most minimal of resources -- scissors, glue, pens and paper -- can create a zine eliminates the barriers which restrict access to other, more costly forms of cultural production (Simon Turnbull of Some Underground Machine). Those who contributed to the alt.zines newsgroup thread mentioned earlier express an appreciation of the role of the 'newbie', the new zine editor. New readers and fans that become writers and editors sustain the zine community. While some zine editors may go on to pursue other interests, or as in the US begin to make money from their zines, the reasons people do zines will, as Seth Friedman of Factsheet Five has pointed out, ensure that new people constantly enter into the zine community ("Zine and Not Herd"), to "push on ... jaded old-timers", and "question [the existing] structure" (Crye). To this end, zines are an adolescent medium; they are predicated on, and facilitate an open-structure (r)evolutionary mode of being in the world.