Cheap Memes, contd.
Categorizing zines is difficult because most zines
are either in a category by themselves or change themes with
every issue. Some zines have no recognizable focus. The following
breakdown, however, presents a rough picture of what's available
and will hopefully spark your interest to go fishing in the zine
APAs are one of
the oldest and most enduring type of zine. (10) They are wholly
reader-written zines ostensibly devoted to single topics: libertarianism,
space-exploration, sexuality, drugs, paganism, the occult, etc.
An APA usually contains about 20 members. Each member creates
a few pages of the zine at home, makes 20 copies, and sends them
to a designated editor. The editor collates the contributions
and staples them together to produce 20 identical zines. These
are sent back out to the members of the APA, who have contributed
to a fund that covers the cost of staples, stamps and envelopes.
One APA, The Connection,
(11) has been around for over a decade, and features feuds, grudge
matches and intelligent discussion on categories like anarchy,
libertarianism, conspiracy theory, sex, law and quantum physics.
A typical issue of The Connection runs more than 80 pages of
very small print.
Because the overground
media usually completely ignores any type of political discussion
other than the usual bland Republicrat fare, other political
and anti-political groups end up hanging out in zineland. Here,
among groups more different from one another than from the democrats
or republicans, you'll find anarchists, minarchists, upwingers,
constitutionalists, libertarians, neo-Nazis, syndicalists, communists
and conspiracy-theorists. Most of the time these zines are preaching
to the choir, and the rest of the time factions of similar groups
are engaging in bloody duels over hypothetical scenarios.
zines are made by, for, or about prisoners. Factsheet Five has
about 200 prisoner subscribers. It is interesting to speculate
why so many people involved with zines are locked up. One prisoner
who subscribes to bOING bOING
wrote to me saying "I get a large amount of 'subversive'
and 'normal' material each month. I must confess that since I've
come here (to prison), my anarchist tastes have become quite
strong and I like to read anything that's anti-government. Before
I came here, I was your basic all-American, patriotic kind of
guy. But that was before I found out how vile, repulsive, crooked,
lying, cheating, unlawful, disgusting and hypocritical our government
was! I can only hope that a combination of fanzines and prison
can teach other wayward youth the same lesson."
As author Peter
Lambhorn Wilson observes, the so-called "joke religionswhich
aren't really jokes at allsuch as Discordianism, The Church
of the SubGenius and the Moorish Orthodox Church "remove
the problem of authority by laughing it out of existence."
(12) The zines produced by these joke religions are some of the
funniest and weirdest in the zine universe.
Other groups that
use zines to spread their religious memes include psychedelic
tribes, witch covens, pagans and what I call "hate religions"racial
supremacists who believe that the path to Heaven is lined with
the corpses of people having skin color other than their own.
Fortunately, in my experience, for every zine that preaches hatred,
there are ten that would rather throw an eternal global party.
This category includes
everything else. In it you'll find things like the 170-page zine
called the The Agonizer, devoted solely to Klingon lore; The
Diseased Pariah News, for artists and writers with AIDS; 2600,
a computer hacker's zine; and Nomadness, an ongoing chronicle
of a man traveling around the country on a recumbent bicycle
that is outfitted with two-way radio, solar power, several computers
and satellite dishes. The best way to experience the richness
of variety of zines is to get a copy of Factsheet Five and read
The latest and
potentially most powerful evolutionary step in cheap meme propagation
techniques is called the virtual zine. Virtual zines exist only
in the electronic matrices of computer networks. Anyone equipped
with a personal computer and a $100 modem can tap into this network
and become a member of any one of thousands of electronic communities
that represent the new frontier.
continues to overshadow gold as the hard currency of choice,
these electronic communities will become more important than
geographical/territorial states and nations. Individuals all
over the world can instantaneously share information with one
another, and by using encryption techniques, they can keep the
censors and thought police at bay.
The virtual press
represents the ultimate in the Fast, Cheap and Good menu. It's
a method by which one may easily, cheaply and instantly make
information available to tens of millions of people. This kind
of power has already proven to be enough of a threat to the federal
government that they have, to some degree, excluded electronic
publications from the protection of the First Amendment.
In December of 1988, a computer hacker stole a
document from the Bell South Telephone company and made it available
on several electronic bulletin boards. Craig Neidorf, publisher
of the virtual zine Phrack, found a copy of the document and
placed it in his zine. About a year later, the U.S. Secret Service
launched a program called Operation Sun Devil, in which they
kicked down the doors of 28 homes and businesses, held guns to
the heads of family members including a 12-year-old girl's, seized
40 computers and 23,000 disks.
system was confiscated, and he was charged with printing the
stolen Bell South Document. One man who found that the document
had appeared on his network and reported it to AT&T had his
entire system confiscated as well. The stolen document had a
value of $30 and was available to regular Bell South consumers.
As John Perry Barlow,
Grateful Dead lyricist and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation observed, "If
the [Bell South] document had been the Pentagon Papers (another
proprietary document) and Phrack had been the New York Times,
a completion of the analogy would have seen the government stopping
publication of the Times and seizing its every material possession,
from notepads to presses." (14) Although only four people
were actually arrested in the raids, most of the people who were
violated by the SS are still waiting for the return of their
The fate of electronic
communication is undecided. The EFF was established in June of
1991 by Barlow and Lotus Development founder Mitch Kapor to protect
the virtual press from government censorship, and to see that
gestapo invasions such as Operation Sun Devil don't happen again.
All new memes deserve a chance to compete with
the defending champions in the open arena of external carriers,
whether these carriers are physical or electronic. Those who
deny an individual the right to expose hir nervous system to
new information patterns are brainwashers and slavemasters. What's
more, these censors who fear new ideas because they threaten
the established power structure, are cutting their own throats.
Even if 99.9 percent
of the memes transmitted through zines are garbage, natural selection
will weed these out, just as it does to 99.9 percent of all mutated
genes. The useful will survive. New ideas are needed to solve
old problems, and it's only in the radical meme pool that people
are going to find the successors to the ideas and practices that
have brought ecological destruction and genocidal politics upon
(10) The acronym APA stands for "Amateur
Press Association" and refers to an old club that used to
put out their own publications to show off their printing skills.
(11) The Connection is available for $3 from Erwin S. Strauss,
P.O. Box 3343, Fairfax, VA 22038.
Barlow, John Perry, "Crime
and Puzzlement, In Advance of the Law on the Electronic Frontier,"
Whole Earth Review, No. 68, Fall 1990, pp. 44-57.
Dawkins, Richard, The Selfish Gene,
Oxford University Press, New York, 1976.
Frauenfelder, Mark, "Peter Lambhorn Wilson Interview,"
bOING bOING, No. 5, 1991.
Grant, Glenn, "A Memetic Lexicon," bOING bOING,
No. 5, 1991.
Gunderloy, Mike, "How to Publish a Fanzine," Loompanics
Unlimited, Port Townsend, 1988.
Gunderloy, Mike, "ZinesWhere the Action Is: The
Very Small Press in America," Whole Earth Review, No. 68,
Fall 1990, pp. 58-60.
Henson, H. Keith, "Memes, Meta-Memes, & Politics,"
Singularity, No. 3, Autumn 1990, pp. 15-19.
Hofstadter, Douglas, Metamagical Themas:
Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern, Basic Books,
New York, 1985.
Mogel, Leonard, "The Magazine," Globe Pequot, Chester,
Sirius, R.U., and George Gleason, "Do G-Men Dream of
Electric Sheep?" Mondo 2000, No. 3, Winter 1991, pp. 40-43.
Stang, Ivan, The Book of the SubGenius,
McGraw Hill, New York, 1983.
Copyright 1997 Mark
Frauenfelder. Posted with permission.
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