Zines, etc.

by Carrie McLaren

There was supposed to be a review of Unhealthy Charities: Hazardous To Your Health and Wealth (Basic Books) here but my copy editor Jay said it sucked and the paper goes to press in a couple days so I'll just summarize...good book; makes a lot of points regarding the financial abuses of health charities (many invest heavily in securities and land, call fund raising efforts "public education" so they can put more money into fund raising, fuel research cliques, giving money to their buddies/those who agree with their methods, especially when their methods/cures will make money), indict the medical community, argue that money should go to the poor and needy rather than well-to-do professionals in the form of research grants...etc. Some of this stuff might sound obvious but Bennett and DiLorenzo point out a lot of things I'd have never thought of, make a lot of solid arguments despite their sorta flighty, fantasyland libertarianism.

Anyway, there's space to fill, so I figure it's about time I use it to talk about other zines. These two in particular don't need any more attention, but what the hell... Answer Me! is a zine out of California put out by Jim and Debbie Goad. Each issue is devoted to some sort of shocker -- suicide, murder...this one's rape. 130 pages with articles like "Rape is Love,""Let's Hear it for Violence Toward Women!" and "The Promotion of Vice, the Justification for Oppression and the Encouragement of Rape," grotesque pictures (rape victims, etc.), it's no wonder that this zine is a magnet for press. Factsheet Five lists it as the fourth most cited zine in mainstream press coverage.

Readers love it, too, sheltered by the assumption that the Goad's can't be serious. Maybe because Answer Me! turns the usual discussion of rape on its head -- since there's no gray area with rape, anything neutral, anything said in defense of rapists can easily be considered "pro-rape." But with the zine, people seem to note anything written in defense of victims as "anti-rape;" and so the Goads are given the benefit of the doubt. It's the 90s cult of irony and the Goads have ridden it to full advantage, at the same time attacking those who won't take them at face value.

I'm not particularly concerned with whether the Goads are "for real" or not (and I won't cut them the same slack I cut Paris when he talks about taking out whitey). Certainly they are savvy, but I don't think they're trying to make Answer Me! as purposely ambiguous as people think. Jim Goad's introductory, nine-page rant about his mother ("When I picture her, I see a big falsehood with a vagina attached to it. It wasn't her tit I sucked on, it was factory rubber and canned milk. One thought of her, and my stomach muscles form into a fit. My dick withers and my balls roll back up into my groin...Everything I hate about humanity -- the stupidity, the lies, the conformist cowardice -- I first hated in my mommy.") was all it took to convince me that the man is seriously fucked-up, that he wouldn't bother with the pleasantries of irony, that he hates women, likes rape, etc. But what's really scary about Answer Me! is not the zine itself. There are too many assholes, too much sick stuff out there to focus in on the Goads. What's scary is that it's "cool." Fans of the zine presumably overlook the misogyny, racism etc. because it's not "for real." Again, it just goes to show how savvy the Goads are for tapping into the unspoken unconscious of (presumably liberal) counterculture types...so when suave neo-nazi Boyd Rice argues that women are genetically inferior to men, he's still cool, and these ideas carry a sort of legitimacy. Maybe his fans just think he's a real riot...but this sort of joke is why women don't have a sense humor. In the year of The Bell Curve, this ain't funny. Unlike Rollerderby. The zine of one Lisa Carver is oft hilarious and disturbing. Disturbing even for some of the same reasons as Answer Me! Her Generation L campaign for instance -- Lisa has nominated herself Voice of Our Generation and her manifesto includes stuff like all women wear sparkly eye shadow, men fix things, black people wear big Afros, etc. Sexist, racist, ridiculous...Lisa offers up, from her underground spotlight, all these mainstream (if dated, fashion-wise) values and somehow manages to package them as something new (huh? bell curve?). Brilliant. I guess I shouldn't be surprised she's getting all sorts of media attention for this.

Rollerderby is filled with all sorts of twisted ideas. Interestingly enough, Boyd Rice is a contributor to this zine as well (he and Lisa are an item) and in the latest issue, #16, he tells the story of his first glimpse of female genitalia: he gave a little girl a piece of gum so she would show him her cooter, but when she reneged, he threw her down and took off her panties. Rice's nonchalance about the whole thing is pretty characteristic of the zine. No taboos here, insidious elements are sandwiched in-between some hilarious articles and drawings (Lisa's analysis of the lyrics to Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf" is particularly moving). Again, there's a tempation to want to know, "is this for real? Are they kiding" Rollerderby sort of reminds me of why I like the band the Frogs. And why I don't like the Frogs.

Background: the Frogs have an album, It's Only Right and Natural, done from a queer perspective. It's very graphic, very fucked-up and when these two brothers sing about juicy asses, squirrel men etc., hilarious. And disturbing. The Frogs are straight, I'm told. They have another LP from a stereotyped black perspective (they're not black either), Racially Yours, which apparently no label will release (supposedly they won't do interviews or publicly defend/explain their work). There's a video where they're in blackface part of the time. Live, I have to rely on hearsay, but I'm told they've put on blackface, staged a lynching, sing a pro-rape song or two, other not-so-niceties...

Why I like them. Because, as my friend Todd would say, they mess with the boundaries. Because you want them to be gay because that makes it okay when you laugh but they're not and you realize how stupid it is to judge an album based on whether the artists are "for real" or not (as stupid as judging a zine based on whether its authors are for real). Because they're hilarious, but only sometimes. Because their music's good, at times great. Because they throw white liberal guilt in your face and show that the "underground" isn't as neat 'n' safe 'n' liberal as rockers assume it to be.

Why I don't like them. Because they remind me of what's in the audience and the fact that you can get away with being heterosexist/racist if you're cool. Because the fans just yuk it up and feel progressive because they get the joke. It's just a joke.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's good to have people like the Goads, Lisa Carver, Frogs messing with this thing called alternative culture, revealing how very shallow some of its base assumptions are, how very groupthink. But that good tends to get lost a) in debates about content (it's hard to find anything good about Answer Me!'s content) or b) on the "countercultural" masses who don't question what's cool ... There's more but I'm trying to cut down on the cliches and, besides, I'm out of space ... except to say that everyone should read Bust ($2.50 + 2 stamps from P.O. Box 319, Ansonia Station, New York NY 10023) cos it's great.

Go to letter to the editor from Jim Goad