Zinesters in the Classroom: Using Zines to Teach about Postmodernism and the Communication of Ideas

Article excerpt

Zines ["zeens"] are non-commercial, non-professional, small circulation "Do-it-Yourself" (DiY) magazines.1 In 1996, we started using zines as an assignment in our university classrooms. Students in such varied classes as Aesthetics, Theory and Criticism of the Visual Art, Art and Human Values, and Zines and DiY Democracy have made zines. In these courses students have written, cut and pasted, folded, copied, and distributed hundreds of zines. They have explored the history of zines, the relationship of zines to popular and mass culture, the role of zines in radical and utopie thought, zine design, and the relationship of zines to art. Many of our students' zines have been widely distributed through the mail, in local zine outlets, and by hand.

We have found that creating and distributing zines is a successful pedagogical strategy for encouraging students to participate in postmodern discourse. Zines also permit students to break with the strictures of writing formal papers based on the guidelines of the American Psychological Association (APA) or Modem Language Association (MLA). As such, zines encourage students to link images and text towards the expression of ideas in a free-form and intuitive manner. Through our teaching we have discovered that for many of our students, being a zinester comes quite naturally. While they may not have been previously aware of zines, they intuitively understand the unconventional, insurgent, and spontaneous structure that characterizes them. This may be due to zines' close association with popular culture and acts of appropriation.

Our purpose in this article is to discuss the history and context of zines. We will consider the ways in which zines can be used to assist students in understanding postmodernism. Zines as a strategy for encouraging the development and distribution of ideas and social critique through images and text will be considered. All of the examples and illustrations that accompany this article are drawn from our own classrooms. While our discussion focuses on our use of zines in the context of higher education, we believe that zines can be successfully used with kindergartners to older adults. Outside of school, middle-school-age and high-school-age students currently make zines and are among those setting contemporary trends in zine design and content. Although the act of appropriating images may be unfamiliar to many senior citizens, art educators can devise ways to orient older adults to this aesthetic method. Certainly zines are relevant to documenting and sharing the life review process as well as addressing the political dimension of growing old in today's society.

History of Zines

A loose-knit multicultural coalition of academically and non-academically trained artists and writers known as "zinesters" is flourishing. Zinesters, who are both youths and adults, create and distribute images and text commonly referred to as "zines." Zines may last only one issue or run for years. Pages may range from less than ten to hundreds. Their form has been compared to "somewhere between a personal letter and a magazine" (Duncombe, 1997, p. 10).

Zines are an amalgam of original and appropriated images and text from a variety of sources including comic books, posters, album covers, graffiti, tagging, thrasher [skateboard] art, tattoo flash, television, and the history of "fine art" and literature. Zinesters combine iconography and text to create publications that can be chaotic, disturbing, uncomfortable, sensual, complex, loud, confrontive, and often a social critique of contemporary life. Gender roles, religion, familial relationships, politics, sexual orientation, the environment, academic disciplines, the arts, class structure, ethnicity, generational differences, economics, and pop culture are among the many issues celebrated, skewered, deconstructed, reconstructed, and illuminated by zinesters.

Zines, with a combined estimated readership of 500,000 to 750,000 persons (Buncombe, 1997), are available through mail order, word-of-mouth, music stores, pubs, comic book stores, thrasher shops, independent bookstores, body modification shops, political storefronts, alternative galleries, and on the Internet (e-zines). …