Jeff Potter wrote a great and elegant reply post on the social website, We Make Zines, about zines, book publishing, art, and why he, and I and others are advocating for more fairness and changes in the arts and media. I asked if I could reprint it, and he said yes. Here it is uncut. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did - Tom.
James N. Dawson said:
There's only so much time in a day, and only so much of that to have to read. I get most of my dozens, maybe hundereds of paperbacks and magazines for 10 cents a piece, sometimes free. (I favor the horror genre, but sometimes read others.) Among those, some are so bad, mediocre or boring, I set them aside. Most are okay and relieve a little boredom. A few are quite good. Even fewer are absolute masterpieces, but they don't come along often. That's mass market paperbacks. Even some of my favorite authors, short story writers, deliver mostly duds. You can't expect consistent genius all the time.
Jeff Potter replies:
I'm baffled why discussion of activism for a cause provokes comment on content. I mean, no one said a thing about expecting genius all the time. ? Maybe you're saying that because it's hard to find the good stuff, you end up short on time. ? Maybe I just don't get you, so no worries... No harm no foul.
And, sure, let's speculate on the size of potential audiences. But how can we have any relevant data if a scene is cut off from consideration? It's like the swamp blues folks of the 1930's and some player is saying "Yeah we like this music but who else would? Let's just stay home." Well, that's fine for him, but if some other folks want to get out and push it and try to break that sound on thru to the radio stations then I'd say more power to 'em.
I'd say that lots of MFA-system novels that get airplay are about rich-folk concerns -- nannies, psychiatrists, hotels and such -- heck, even the fretful, isolated lives of professors. All of these are even given way more airtime than their demographic warrants. They're the ones with the micro-audience topics.
A zine about trying to travel while being poor, about exploring a city on a thrift-shop bike, about hitch-hiking and couch-surfing, is something that FAR MORE people could relate to. A zine that reviews garage bands -- where the writer digs thru tons of local music and finds some great stuff and writes about it well -- and where a fan can go hear that good music cheap -- that's a zine that's of great service to LOTS of folks. I mean, can there be too many zines like that? I haven't seen too many of them!
Now, reviews of mainstream concerts with $50 tickets...that's just crap, really. Posing. Exploitation. I don't know ANYONE who goes to such things. No realworld audience there in my world.
Or, how about a zine -- or book -- dealing with life in A NEW DEPRESSION ERA. ...About life on the road, moving from job to job. Maybe about finding a way to thrive despite having no money but then getting into new dire straits coz in America if you don't have money you will be trapped like a rat eventually. But then the characters -- or the writer -- bounces back AGAIN. Refuses to be beaten down, figures yet another way out. Fact or fiction, who cares. No, IT'S TRUE. I'd say there's a REAL plot that MILLIONS in the USA today could relate to. Is it in the new fiction coming onto bookshelves!?! HAR! It's DENIED! It's "Dancing with the Stars" instead!
Of course, if there WERE a lot of zines about job-loss and bike-exploring and hitch-hiking and couch-surfing, you're right that most wouldn't be very good. We do say that the zine scene should be better known, but we don't say that all zines are equally good. We're into pushing the best up into the limelight. The best do rise up in the scene. We just say Why stop their rise? Break the glass ceilings in their way! The ceilings preventing underground lit are the same ones that prevented women from executive jobs! Whenever one hits a ceiling, don't ask why, just smash it! Sure, most are content underneath. But there are actually, as I've detailed, a few reasons why the barriers should be challenged (including freedom and justice -- a couple biggies).
At the same time, the lack-of-quality justification for barriers is TERRIBLE. It's reactionary. It's fetishistic. We've posted why many times -- as have many other cultural critics. Talent and quality were debunked eons ago. They're certainly valid in SOME ways, but there are other big concerns. ...Rough old Leadbelly never had the "quality" that smooth, pure Pat Boone did, right?
And, as Tom says, what's a novel anymore? What's a book? Zines BLEW ALL THAT UP. Of course, it was blown up before then. But zines did turn THOUSANDS of people, mostly young people, on to new forms of literature, writing, story-telling -- much of it from personal experience, real life. The Bosses say that doesn't count as Fiction, as literature, as a novel. But, man, are they behind the times. They're in a Reactionary Phase. The rules of the novel were blown up decades, eons, ago. Heck, when was Tristram Shandy written? 1700's? In the 1800's about the 1700's? All these supposed rules about what "real writing" is and about what "real books" are that can be let into the System -- are LIES. The bias against self-published books and indie presses...is based on a LIE. There was never any functional reason against admitting such media. And the rules have always been broken on a whim -- or asserted just as lightly.
I'm thinking part of the bias against zines -- and their bookish offshoots -- by the mainstream was that zines represented the rearing-up again of a Cultural Critique, like in the 60's and 80's.
I suppose we'll hear, yet again: "Just set up your own thing and forget the mainstream." And as I've posted, literally, 1000 times: Keep building your indie scene. We're your biggest fans! We IS you! ...Just also feel free to challenge the big-guys if you ever notice something (big) amiss there that relates to YOU...and get yourself heard better if you make your challenge with a dozen other folks. There's no lockstep -- everyone can chime in on a different angle. And get yourself heard EVEN BETTER if you fly the same freak flag: ULA! ...It actually works.