This paper aims to give insight into the use of zines (independently produced publications) as a release of self-expression and an act of defiance against mainstream media. By looking into the history of zine-making. The content is taking reference from the exhibition Print! Tearing it Up which took place at Somerset House from June to August 2018. “The exhibition chronicles the evolution of progressive print publications and celebrates the diverse subjects and social issues they tackle. From alternative views on lifestyle, leisure, and architecture to addressing topical issues including diversity, gender, sexuality, and media manipulation.
” (Somerset House Press Release). Focusing primarily on feminist do-it-yourself [DIY] publications this paper displays the advantages of a format unimpeded by commercial constraints. Thus, giving way to a unique publishing medium that allows voices, otherwise unheard, to come to the forefront of the media.
The term ‘zine’ came into common use during the 1970s; yet finding a definition for zines is a problematic task.
Many scholars tend to disagree on specific characteristics, especially when attempting to distinguish a zine from a magazine or artist’s book. Claimed by Stephen Duncombe in Notes From Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture, “zines are non-commercial, non-professional, small-circulation magazines which their creators produce, publish, and distribute by themselves” (Duncombe,1997, p.6). Although pointing to many discernible features of this format Duncombe makes evident the contentious issues of defining zines by using abstract and vague terms. This format of publication rose to popularity during the 1970’s, following the emergence of the punk subculture.
The DIY ethos of zine-making was encouraged with the cut and paste aesthetic being a stark contrast to that of the mainstream magazine. Duncombe acknowledges zines as being part of the “Scene”: “the loose confederation of self- consciously ‘alternative’ publications, bands, shows, radio stations, cafes, bookstores, and people that make up modern bohemia” (Duncombe, 1997, p. 53). This intrinsic link with underground subculture gives evidence as to why the content within zines tend to advocate a divergence from the norm.
Commonly, zines are referred to as amateur and born out of a desire to communicate a certain ideology. Karen Greene and Tristan Taormino in A Girl’s Guide to Taking Over the World: Writings from the Girl Zine Revolution discuss the motivation behind zine making as sites for communication, education, community, revolution, celebration, and self-expression” (Green and Taormino, 1997, p. 14). Due to this desire to communicate the content of zines often contains oppositional ideology that falls outside the mainstream. Creating a zine is, in fact, an act of opposition towards a mainstream culture. Anyone can make a zine, so long as they have access to a pen, paper, and a photocopier. Gone away with is the tradition of mainstream publishing. They are created out of passion and feeling rather than a need to create profit.
Print! Tearing it up charted the history and influences of the magazines we see today. When looking at feminist ephemera and literature, it is hard to imagine how different the magazines we see today had it not been for Spare Rib. Although, produced using traditional means of publishing the content of Spare Rib was unique to any other women’s magazine of that time. Spare Rib was created out of passion and had a true desire to change the social attitudes of the 1960s.
With the rise of the British Women’s Liberation Movement during the 1960s, Spare Rib was launched by Marsha Rowe and Rosie Boycott to offer a magazine that could provide answers to the questions and challenges women were faced with (Douli?re, 2017). Their aim was stated within the first issue: “to reflect the questions, ideas and hope that is growing out of our awareness of ourselves not as a ‘bunch of women’ but as individuals in our own rights” . Therefore, moving away from the other women’s magazines of the time. Marsha Rowe claimed Spare Rib simply “showed women who looked just like themselves – and there was a kind of energy to that”. They rejected revenue sources that sold the ‘beauty myth’ (Wolf, 1991, p. 69) in order to empower women and challenge the stereotypical depiction of the time.
While Spare Rib was in issue, a change in social attitudes was occuring with the second-wave feminist movement having had breakthroughs occuring during the decades preceding publication. Many articles within Spare Rib confront issues dealing with self-image and the male gaze. This argument of sexualisation is inextricably linked with second-wave feminism. There were concerns regarding the presentation of women as inferior to men. It was this view that bound ‘women to stereotyped roles, such as the mother who nurtures, the wife who nags, the object of male desire, or the jealous, overbearing mother-in-law’ (Rowe, 1982, p. 23). Although there was evidence of change within culture, such as the Equal Pay Act of 1970 following the Ford sewing machinists strike of 1968, Rowe warns this was limited. Spare Rib openly challenged the expectation of women and aimed to reconstruct ideas of traditional femininity and masculinity; in the context of the time this was unheard of and successfully presented a clear message of female liberation (Smith, (2017).
Spare Rib exemplifies the desire to differentiate oneself from the mainstream media. Yet, this has been achieved through the use of conventional publication formats. Although, Spare Rib was reliant on advertisement and sales in order to create profit its impact upon the media of the time and even that of today is undeniable. The British Library describes “Spare Rib [as] the largest feminist circulating magazine of the Women’s Liberation Movement in Britain of the 1970s and 80s. It remains one of the movement’s most visible achievements. The trajectory of Spare Rib charted the rise and demise of the Women’s Liberation Movement and as a consequence is of interest to feminist historians, academics and activists and to those studying social movements and media history”. Spare Rib questioned the traditional role of women in society in a period of economical struggle and political turmoil. Using a traditional method of publishing the ideology of the magazine was widespread – this is very difficult when producing zines. Despite Spare Rib being traditional in terms of format, its content was decidedly not.
The Riot Grrrl zines were born out the social movement ‘Riot Grrrl’, this was located largely in North America and was composed of “a network of young women linked by zines and bands” (Duncombe, 1997, p.8).
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