Zines Are Dead
By Chris Yorke
Let us remember the whole of Zinehood as a single, lovely flower, and let us count its virtues as one would count a flower’s petals, each equally important, each radiating from the centre of its being: Zinehood, the Zine Revolution, Zine Nation, whatever you called it in your town. “There was Idealism, and a strong feeling of Community. There was Hopefulness, and beautiful Simplicity of expression. There was great Determination, and a sense of evolving Purpose. These fed the scene and made it blossom.”
Why then did the scene die? Things were going well enough… Zinemakers were given media exposure on a regular basis, and usually the portrayals were positive and ennobling. People were excited both by the personal possibilities that self-publishing opened up for them and by the tangible products of their friends and contemporaries’ imaginations. Artists helped each other create and revise their Zines, which in turn acted as reflections of their creators’ identities. When this happened — when work became creator — a forum erupted wherein many issues, which were normally swept under the rug, were innovatively discussed and portrayed. Each Zine had a tangible effect on the world, regardless of how raw and/or unrefined its content and/or presentation. Zinemakers learned how to speak for themselves, and (eventually) to have others listen. Some discovered that they were unknowingly part of a movement much greater than themselves. Still others discovered that they were different people than they thought they were when they started out Zinemaking. What followed, in short, can only be thought of as a fundamental revolution in the consciousness of those involved. Speaking solely from my own perspective, I saw it begin in 94, boom in 95-6, and trail off in 97-8. These days, and here I’m not alone in my assessment, there’s not a hell of a lot worth looking at. Maybe you disagree with this view; I’d like very much to be able to quote you some figures worth looking at, but unfortunately there’s no United Council of Zinemakers that puts out annual reports on such things.
Perhaps time will prove me wrong. But for those of you still with me in premise, the question lingers: How did it come to this? What killed zines? For reasons discussed later in this article (see Instability) Zinehood itself, if constituted of six main virtues, should be conceived of as having six cancerous vices eating away at its body.
The first, and perhaps worst, I call Complexity. For Complexity, we find ourselves inarticulate when there is much to be said; inactive when there is much to be done — simply because we have no idea where to begin. I see North American culture in a state of advanced entropy: no issue has a clear resolution, and there is no motivation beyond the doubt of question. Long-time readers of Broken Pencil might call this phenomenon “Malaise”, but malaise is too romantic a term for such outright cultural paralysis. With none of our leaders willing to take clear initiatives, or even responsibility for their own actions, we see the cultural machine grind to a screeching halt while it tries to resolve the apparent contradictions of its figureheads, to rescue some sort of cultural identity. Directionless, artists creatively suffocate. For me, it was over when I saw protest signs come pre-fabricated (by various political sponsors) to student rallies. Those who used them replaced their own genuine and justified outrage (direction) with a safe, homogenous, group-sanctioned indignity (confusion). Thusly things as basic and personal as our own emotional states or political stances get unspeakably over-complicated.
The second culprit goes by the name of Unfeasibility. This is the financial reality of Zinemaking: You’re going to lose money. In fact, the more Zines you make, the more money you’ll lose. A rational person will immediately extricate herself from such a lose/lose position. And so we see, as we have time and time before, idealism destroyed by hunger. A possible explanation: the customer, who gets more demanding, sophisticated, and bored as time goes on does not continue to buy a product which remains (largely) low-tech, unattractive and repetitive. But you can’t blame the customer entirely. As I have pointed out earlier, there are no Zinemaking Guilds standing by to enforce standards of excellence in a Zine’s content or presentation. In such an environment of uncertainty, a reader has only to be disappointed once to form an unfavourable opinion about the entire medium. UNFEASIBILITY IN SUMMATION Most Zinemakers fit into one of three categories — they: (1) Are very wealthy, and will soon abandon Zines in favor of more decadent pursuits, or (2) Will stop Zinemaking by necessity when they run out of cash, hungry and homeless, or (3) currently have a financier (corporate or personal) whom is actively compromising the integrity of their publication.
The third little piggy I call Distractibility. The vice encountered by those who turn away from Zines to pursue quicker, easier methods of ego gratification. Choosing instead to focus on their careers, or explore other mediums of expression, or netsurf, they stop Zinemaking. Zinesters looking for glory quit when the fad went bust. Those with other interests simply morphed into filmmakers, sculptors, legitimate writers, performers, and so on. My only concern is that the apparent lack of dedication and determination that many of these hapless souls exhibited in regard to Zinemaking will carry over into their subsequent endeavors.
Another byproduct of our supermodern lifestyle is Instability. In the absence of a consistent social framework, there can be no transmission of extra-generational knowledge. In other words, the kids aren’t taking up the challenge of pen & paper, scissors & glue they’re turning to mouse & modem, monitor & megabyte. But Zines, in a way, destroyed their own communities. It’s well known that Zinemakers are generally resistant to collectivization: fiercely individualistic, somewhat cantankerous, even downright misanthropic. Our misguided cultural obsession with competition compounds this problem by forcing rivalries to emerge in areas wherein cooperation could have naturally flourished. I often encounter this problem when writing critical Zine reviews……instead of welcoming criticism as an opportunity for growth, or even as pure humour, many Zinemakers choose instead to get defensive, striking out with threats or insults. However, through this vehement rejection of cultural dialogue, Zinemakers only succeed in further alienating themselves from their supposed communities, retarding their own artistic/spiritual development in their attempts to avoid refinement (sounds like a good rap CD title: “Attempts To Avoid Refinement”).
The fifth, and largely existential concern for Zinedom is Futility (the absence of purpose in one”s activities). Beneath the simple financial futility we established earlier, there’s a deeper, nagging, philosophical Futility to the act of self-publishing; one which I think arises from the following two limitations: (1) Limitation of Content: If you publish on a regular basis, you get the funny feeling that everything you write, by the time it reaches your reader, is outdated or repetitive or it’s already been scooped by another Zinester who did it better. So you’ve either already written it (or something a lot like it) before, or it’s derivative of another’s work, or it’s coming out too late to even matter anymore. This is the world of Zines. (2) Limitation of Form: Let’s face it. There are a finite number of ways the three standard sizes of copier paper can be folded, cut and mutilated to resemble non-standard sizes of paper. As for covers: after you’ve unsuccessfully run some experimental materials through your copier and fucked up the rollers, your mind begins to wander to less limiting mediums.
The final, and most timely concern, is Anxiety. We are perched on the precipice of a new millennium, and that hasn’t happened enough times in recorded history for humanity to get too complacent about it. We feel we have a special reason to be nervous, to watch what we say, even to remain silent. We know we’re living in a special time, but we won’t know just how special until this new millennium gets underway. We also know we’re living in some vague sort of danger, but we won’t know how grave the situation is until it”s already upon us. We don’t want to look foolish by making wild predictions that aren’t likely to come true, but we do ourselves great injustice by ignoring the possibilities. Anxiety is this force, the one capable of turning the chance of a lifetime into an everyday chore. Although the restraint that Anxiety provides could be the key to a non-eventful millennial navigation, it is more than likely just a reflection of our collective resistance to change; a powderkeg of misdirected energy waiting for release. This Anxiety is perplexing, almost mystical in nature: a psychic affliction that targets nobody in particular, yet affects everyone in general. The hope seems to be that the passing of this time will bring our society together again somehow either in mourning or celebration.
Cut to Chris Yorke. He is standing over a cemetery pit, which we see is filled with unsold copies of the Gypsy Times. He pulls a strange flower from his pocket and holds it to his nose.
CY: “She loves me.” (Plucking a petal from the flower.) She loves me not.” (Plucking another petal.) She loves me.” (Another petal falls.) She loves me not.” (And another.) She loves me.” (And another.) She loves me not.” (This petal is the last the flower has to give. He gently places its stalk into the grave.) Bright flash. Sound of booming thunder followed closely by a heavy rainfall. Chris Yorke pulls his coat closer to his body and walks stiffly from the cemetery.
Ex-zinester Chris Yorke lives in Truro, Nova Scotia.
The Six Deadly Sins That Killed Zinery