Academic journal article Social Justice

Navigating the Media Environment: How Youth Claim a Place through Zines

Academic journal article Social Justice

Navigating the Media Environment: How Youth Claim a Place through Zines

Article excerpt


Zine: A small handmade amateur publication done purely out of

passion, rarely making money or breaking even. Sounds like zeen. Not

short for "magazine" or written with an apostrophe (`zine), though the

derivation is from the word "fanzine."

--R. Seth Friedman (1996), publisher of Factsheet Five

[Zines are] where the action is, where information (and disinformation)

is free...the few thousand publishers and the few million readers are

the ones at the cutting edge of social change.

--Mike Gunderloy (1990), founder of Factsheet Five and author of

The World of Zines

Zines...[are] fueled by the same sloppy solipsism that is transforming

America into a land of self-obsessed jabber jaws....

--Peder Zane (1995), New York Times

Zines: most people seem to think they're "crap," while in fact they are

a wondrous beast of great complexity.

--MSRRT Newsletter

LIKE RAP MUSIC, GRAFFITI ART, AND OTHER FORMS OF YOUTH-INITIATED MEDIA, THE value of zines is hotly contested in the world of media. What can be agreed upon is how these self-published works provide one of the only independent sites for tens of thousands(1) of youth voices (usually under age 30) in a media environment otherwise dominated by corporate adult interests (Romenseko, 1993; Gunderloy, 1990). Beyond that, zines are simultaneously valorized by most youth participants and dismissed by most adult observers. My intention in this article is to examine what zines mean to the youths who produce and consume them.(2) The task is to seriously explore how young people take an active role in shaping their media environment and, particularly, how they view media in their everyday lives.

Traditional research on youth and media has generally been more preoccupied with what media do to young people, rather than what young people are doing with media. Though researchers may disagree on whether media influences are pro- or anti-social, they have typically dismissed youths as passive consumers who are easily influenced by media messages.(3) Young people are rarely seen as agents in their own lives, let alone as producers of media themselves. Instead, research commonly conflates changes in media content with changes in the quality of young people's lives. Aimee Dorr's optimistic conclusion to Television and Children: A Special Medium for a Special Audience is a case in point: "Options abound for making television a magic window, not an idiot box for children and for making children brains not boobs..." (Dorr, 1986, emphasis added).

Likewise, media policy debates concerning young people often ignore the lived experiences of youths. Rather than asking young people how media matter in their lives, advocates opt to speak for youth by privileging their own often uninformed interpretations of youth-oriented media. One example is the crusade of Tipper Gore's Parents Resource Music Center (PRMC) to curb youth suicides, pregnancy, and crime by censoring rock-and-roll lyrics. In response, Mike Males (1996) recounts how a 1988 PRMC video blaming youth social ills on rock music was "both fraudulent and for its slick production, and astonishingly ignorant of rock music":

Its authors distorted the words to Ozzy Ozbourne's 1981 song "Suicide

Solution" to make it appear pro-suicide (the song is not about suicide;

"suicide solution" refers to the deadly dangers of alcoholism) and

butchered statistics wholesale. To prove it wasn't stodgily anti-rock,

the PRMC singled out two artists as "healthy and inspiring" for youths.

One was Bruce Springsteen, whose earlier music is replete with realistic

and evocative drug, sex, and violence themes (his 1982 "Nebraska" describes

a murder spree by teenagers as "fun"). …

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