Wearing her heart on her sleeve, Andi Zeisler kicked off Valentine’s Day with a talk on rebellion and dissent at our Portland chapter. Andi is the co-founder and editorial and creative director of Bitch Media, a national nonprofit organization best known for publishing Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, which for 18 years has fused feminism and cultural criticism in a witty, readable quarterly publication.
A self-proclaimed magazine-obsessed “pop-culture-holic,” Andi spoke on the subtle differences between rebellion and dissent. While closely related, the two terms have different meanings in the world of culture and cultural production, as well as in the context of magazines. Andi shared the war path that led her to Bitch Media, one littered with the carcasses of magazines like Sassy and Details, where she learned the ins-and-outs of print publications——including some of the stickier topics like money and retaining values without selling out. “From an economic perspective, you can position yourself as an alternative, but if you’re still dependent on the traditional revenue streams—that’s going to complicate your ability to be truly alternative,” Andi told the audience.
In her talk, Andi asks ‘rebellion questions’ of the Portland crowd, listed below, opening a discussion on the topic of independent media in a world controlled by only a handful of perspectives.
Can a project be a product?
“The right magazine is a place where you as a creative, can express yourself in a way that is completely unique to that medium——in a way you wouldn’t be abel to do in a novel, or an essay, or some other traditionally literary form.” Magazines like Sassy were able to package the ‘alternative girl’ as a type, someone with which teenagers could identify. Their ‘voice’ came from a core group of editors and writers who were also young, and open about still figuring it out. Magazines are essentially an art that also exists as a marketable product.
Who defines selling out?
“Publishing that really, truly goes against the grain is more subversive than I initially thought—and rarer because it is such an uphill battle,” said Andi. Despite their rebel outlook, magazines that write against the culture, inevitably are a product of that culture themselves, and therefore retain parts of it. As Bitch critiques advertising and beauty culture, they wantedd to engage with the mainstream, did that mean it was selling out?
If the mainstream likes it, can it still be cool?
In an era where everyone was rooting for the underdog, the zines and other products of subversive culture are quickly being swept up by big media moguls to use for advertising and other campaigns. How can we become publishing activists?
For love or money: Does it have to be either/or?
Zines are for love, not money, but money is still a huge concern. “From an economic perspective, you can position yourself as an alternative, but if you’re still dependent on the traditional revenue streams—that’s going to complicate your ability to be truly alternative,” said Andi.
Can you package dissent?
Re-branding of the feminist movement seems to be on the rise, a trend that is actually damaging the movement by picking and choosing ‘sexy’ parts——often to the detriment of other more or equally important things.
Does rebelling against the past mean killing it off?
What do you think? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.
All photos by Scott Larsen.