Academic journal article Shofar

Oppositional Culture and the "New Jew" Brand: From Plotz to Heeb to Lost Tribe

Academic journal article Shofar

Oppositional Culture and the "New Jew" Brand: From Plotz to Heeb to Lost Tribe

Article excerpt

This essay considers how an amateur literary production, Plotz: The Zine for the Vaclempt, helped to construct both an oppositional and an eminently marketable form of contemporary Jewish identity. Barbara Rushkoff, née Kligman, the wit behind Plotz, yoked zine writing practices and attitudes with Jewish humor and thereby repositioned Jewishness in her zine as a kind of "alt-Jewishness," another type of oppositional culture within zine subcultures of the 1990s. Plotz's cultural significance is evident in the direct and indirect emulations of Rushkoff's formula in Heeb: The New Jew Review and in the visual and editorial packaging of Lost Tribe, an anthology of "Jewish Fiction From the Edge." Both developed that formula into a market brand, thus enabling fans of American Jewishness to buy, and to buy into, the values and practices that currently lend cultural legitimacy and social prestige to Jewish identity.

Walter Benjamin, in his famous and oft-cited essay, "The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technical Reproducibility," notes that in this new scene of modernity "the distinction between author and public is about to lose its basic character. ... At any moment the reader is ready to turn into a writer."1 In Benjamins view, the proliferation of publishing oudets such as the letters to the editor section of magazines and newspapers helps demystify authorship and is a portent of expanded amateur literary production. But any meaningful democratization of literary production is undercut in modern capitalist societies by the owners of mass media who exploit authorship as a commodity, as a consumable form of personality or celebrity. Instead of narratives of selfrealization or revolutionary criticism, the relatively easy access to authorship merely provides raw material for marketable narratives of self-spectacle: publication as the profitable and essentially narcissistic reproduction of the self.

Hypertext theorist Stuart Moulthrop reads Benjamin's point about the ease of authorship as one made "with some regret."2 But Benjamin was certainly not chagrined by some putative collapse in literary standards, much less by the direction of an historical development that could not be changed anyway. In an underappreciated footnote to this passage in his essay, Benjamin quotes Aldous Huxley calculating, and then excoriating the quality of, the phenomenal increase in reading matter made possible by process reproduction and the rotary press. In a short, droll sentence following Huxley's acidic quote, Benjamin states: "The mode of observation is obviously not progressive."3

Benjamin's insights illuminate the broad motive for this essay, which is to take up, from a scholarly mode of observation, the question of how an amateur literary production like Plotz: The Zinefor the Vaclempt helped to construct both an oppositional and an eminently marketable form of contemporary Jewish identity. Like scholars such as Stephen Duncombe, Michelle Comstock, and Stephen Burt, I am interested in how zines reflect on, and speculate about, the relationships among popular culture, narrative, and identity. Plotz was one of the very few Jewish zines.4 It was a significant participant in, and provided a literary model for, a burgeoning American Jewish culture of opposition at the turn of the millennium. Whether termed "alterna-Jews" or "New Jews," exponents of this Jewish oppositional culture, or of "radical Jewish culture" (a phrase borrowed from John Zorn and his circle of klezmer experimentalists), aim to subvert or recontextualize the tired narratives, stale images, and fey sounds dogging American Jewish culture and religiosity. Given the media coverage and critical attention it generated, Plotz raises these two questions: What was the nature and scope of its cultural power? What made it attractive as a source of raw material for the culture industry markets?

In the first part of this essay I argue that Barbara Rushkoff, née Kligman, the wit behind Plotz, yoked the zine format with Jewish humor and thereby repositioned Jewishness in her zine as an'alt-Jewishness," a type of oppositional identity within the wider frame of oppositional zine subcultures of the 1990s. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.