Lindsay comes to terms with blogging. This could get meta.
If you’re like me, then there is a tiny mechanism in your brain that makes it physically impossible for you to say the word “blogosphere” without muttering a quick preface of apology or, worse, dry heaving. Not only is it a dumb-sounding word, but it’s also a reminder of the most cosmically terrifying aspects of our digital culture: the colossal, systematic, faceless mob-mentality of it all. It’s hard for me to avoid “blogosphere” entirely, though. For one thing, there aren’t many synonyms for it. And for another, as you may or may not have heard, I’m a blogger.
Reading about feminist zine culture in Sara Marcus’s Girls to the Front, then, kind of bummed me out. The zines she documented were so cool! And much too radical to be accessed via Ask Jeeves! Their aesthetic was creative and powerful, often using old, found images of women and adding cut-and-paste style text to voice irreverent critique. (A favorite example: the inaugural issue of the Riot Grrrl zine featured, on its back cover, the Utz potato chip logo with an “SL” drawn in front.) Zine language was visceral, urgent and palpably honest; here’s a quote from an anonymous writer in What Is Riot Grrrl, Anyway?, ungoverned by editorial restraints:
we are coming together in full force because we know the world treats us like little girlsdumbslutsstupidwhoresuglybitchesoldmaidshelplesscreaturesPROPERTY. and we know what we really are. (sometimes).
I got such a rush out of reading the zine quotes in Marcus’s book. The inherently subversive nature of feminist zine culture and the unfiltered intimacy of these girls’ accounts only made me feel nostalgic for their time — made me wish I was right now writing a zine instead of a blog. The Internet felt so sterile and anonymous by comparison.
But, thankfully, a quote towards the end of Marcus’s book set me straight. In writing about Seanna Tully, a latecomer to the D.C. riot grrrl scene, Marcus describes the “first generation Shrinky Dink envy” Tully felt when she hung out with girls who’d been going to meetings since the movement’s beginning — and wore their handcrafted “riot grrrl” Shrinky Dink necklaces to prove it:
Seanna laughed later, aware of how silly it sounded, but her comment pointed to something real: how easy it is to idealize things that happened in the past, or are happening to somebody else, as more enticing than what you could make out of your own life.
This quote resonated with me on so many levels. Is my blogosphere shame/zine envy is really any different?
Nostalgia and idealization of the past can, to an extent, be fruitful — connecting with ideas from the past can help strengthen your convictions and allow you to discover what you really believe. But sometimes we get paralyzed by nostalgia, caught up in it like a thick muck, left to spin our wheels in place. The most productive change happens when we do what Marcus suggested — figure out how to make things from the materials of our own lives. Feminism can’t move forward and figure out ways to grapple with contemporary problems if we’re all paralyzed by Shrinky Dink envy.
The blog aesthetic at large might not be as ostensibly radical or intimate as zines, but blogs have many other strengths. Their reach is wider, their interface encourages comments from readers, and they allow writers with obscure niche interests to find each other with an ease unfathomable to past zine writers. As with any form of communication, they can be used subversively if we understand how they can work to our advantage. Amy Klein, in a wonderful tumblr post from last week, writes:
So many of the world’s stories, from the ones on TV to the ones in pop songs, to the ones in the history books, are told by men. Isn’t that unfair? It means that the stories we take as The Truth often have a male perspective embedded in them. But now our generation has a secret weapon: the internet. The ability to use the internet is a real privilege that previous generations of girls and women didn’t have. So let’s take advantage of that privilege, and tell our own stories in our own voices. Self-publishing is radical, and fun! Let’s all do it!
Agreed! Some of the riot grrrl movement’s zine writers have embraced blogging and see it as a way to connect even more strongly to their readers, through comments sections and emailed response. As I mentioned earlier in the week, Tobi Vail turned Jigsaw into a fantastic blog, and many other zine writers have done the same. For others, print zines are still the preferred method of self-publishing — and I’ll agree there will always be something special about a tangible, printed artifact. But whatever your method, the important part is the fact that you’re expressing something honest and true. Feminism can only move forward if we value the things we make out of our own lives.