Thursday, December 31, 2009

On nostalgia, the new year, and zine technologies

As we come to the end of another year and round out a decade, Daniel Gilbert writes of nostalgia in the New York Times, playing right into everything I find depressing about both ushering in a New Year and the General Direction of Things. He states: “But maybe we’ve reached nostalgia’s end. ‘Nostalgia’ — made up of the Greek roots for ‘suffering’ and ‘return’ — is literally a longing for the places of one’s past. And lately, it has become harder and harder to find things to miss about America’s places.” Gilbert then goes on to discuss the chain culture of America and blurring of the lines that distinguish one place from the next.

I went to the movies on Christmas Day. Being subjected to 45 minutes of commercials and previews, including a cinematic advertisement for the National Guard, makes me want to drop out of society.

I always prided myself on embracing change. As a teenager in the nineties I decried listening to one’s parents’ music, which many of my peers did, instead embracing the new, grunge/alt/indie/triphiphop. I delved into the cyberpunk culture of Mondo2000 and fantasized about hacking despite my lack of programming-level computing skills.

As an adult at the turn of 2010, I have embraced social media and taken my calendar and my music digital. Then again, I find myself attached to older technologies as a printmaker, letterpress printer, and maker of artist books, paper, and zines. Someone remarked to me the other day: “I thought ‘zines were over.” Now certainly media focus on, well, media, concentrates on computer and networking technologies, but this does not necessarily mean the death of other older technologies. Try telling the dozens who tabled the Philadelphia Zine Fest with me this fall that zines are dead. Zines – their creators and audience – can fill West Philadelphia’s Rotunda, as well as other zine and small press events around the country. It hardly looks like a cemetery. Indeed one might surmise that the direction technology has taken has helped rather than hindered zine culture.

As virtual aspects to our lives have increased, a simultaneous interest in the handmade has arisen. Witness the uptick in knitting, the resurgence of letterpress printing, the success of the handcraft website Etsy, the interest in homebrewing beer. While the photocopier itself may be a speedy technology, these are still self-published and self-bound items. Meanwhile, the flourishing of blogs and social media sites has acclimatized a large population to creating content, which was once upon a time the gaping empty hole of the web. Imagine. Additionally, the internet has aided the distribution of zines and supports the networking of zine makers. Witness the ability to track down zine distros online, the weblinking amongst metazine publications such as Broken Pencil and Zine World. The social networking site Ning has a Zinemakers community, and email groups also support connections amongst zinesters.

One benchmark of the health of the zine community might be the size and might of the Zine Yearbook over the past 13 years. I quote from Zine Wiki on the 2008 Zine Yearbook #9: “at 240 pages #9 is the largest Yearbook yet and proof that zines are not dead."

Is nostalgia tied exclusively to place, or is it applied to the tangible? Can we be nostalgic for the handheld? If so, maybe there is hope yet for nostalgia and a world that remembers its past, documented in the pages of something that can be picked up, held in the hand, and passed around.

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