In the recent past, many of the critical functions of society have subsumed by institutional entities. However, this development has led to an increasing reduction in the role by which average individuals and ordinary citizens play in public affairs. This is most exemplified by a move towards the professionalization of cultural production.
This wasn’t always the case: Simon Winchester notes that the development of the Oxford English Dictionary was conducted primarily by expert amateurs such as a grammar school dropout named James Murray and a relatively uncredentialled Henry Bradley. Individuals such as the likes of Clay Shirky, Jamais Cascio and Lawrence Lessig celebrate the empowerment of the amateur, primarily because they serve to give people a way of expressing themselves with more meaning than in channel surfing or purchasing choices.
Zines are an amateur form of publishing and printed expression – and amateur in the sense by which Lawrence Lessig (44) interprets it: in a non-professional and non-profit sense rather than in the inexperienced sense – which reclaims publishing as an individualist enterprise in the tradition of Thomas Paine and Martin Luther and enables individuals to find a voice apart from highly corporatized media.
Take for instance the zine known as Dishwasher, which was authored by an itinerant man named Pete Jordan who discovered a liking for the inherent flexibility and temporality of dishwashing jobs. Jordan decided to make a vague ambition of washing dishes in every single state across the United States as a means of discovering more about different state-bound cultures. Over the span of six years, Jordan self-published fifteen issues of Dishwasher, in which he chronicles various anecdotes and provides observations gathered from his migrant career path.
The zine’s format and appearance emphasizes low-cost minimalist production values, but without compromising readability. As such, it is mostly textual and interrupted only by hand-captioned photographs. The bulk of his fifteenth issue, which features a dishwasher dressed in quasi mythological regalia on its cover, focuses on his experiences in the state of Louisiana and Alaska. Perhaps the most noteworthy experience Jordan describes is his experience in washing dishes on an oil rig at Alaska.
Additionally, the zine also features a section devoted to quotes from famous individuals who have washed dishes and in this issue, the focus is on musings derived from washing dishes at sea, a short comic by Gavis McInnes entitled “The Dish King” and an interview with dishwasher David Wagner, who edits a community-based newsletter for his fellow employees at the Sheraton Hotel in Spokane, Washington.
Dishwasher essentially focuses on how personal attitudes towards work, including Jordan’s desire to avoid responsibility, accountability and unnecessary socialization towards restaurant clientele and the attitudes of his co-workers, reflect regional cultural mores. Another zine of note is Thoughts on Technology, which as its name suggests is a collection of various articles joint edited by Jen Angel of the zine Fucktooth and Theo Witsell of the zine Spectacle. Thoughts on Technology is effectively the 24th issue of the former and the 7th issue of the latter.
It features greater production values than that of Dishwasher, but not to such an extent as to render it indistinguishable from a glossy magazine. The emphasis is textual content as well, but with some use of clip art and a more diverse array of typography. The zine features a lengthy piece detailing the history of technological dissent, as predominantly defined by the Luddites of the 19th century, the relationship between media and technology, a scathing denouncement of uncritical embrace of computers, and a short two-piece debate on biotechnology.
The opinions of the editors tilt towards critical suspicion, but not to the extent of being fear-mongering. Rather, they tend towards suspicious regard of unquestioning acceptance of the advertised benefits of technology. Ultimately, the focus is on how institutionalized attitudes about technology, indirectly affect individual attitudes towards community and lifestyle. In effect, both zines directly address the ways both ends of the sociopolitical spectrum: individuals and communities on one, and media and governmental and corporate institutions directly affect our culture in a myriad of ways, some of which are less obvious than we think.
Winchester, Simon. The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press: New York, 2004. Lessig, Lawrence. Free Culture: How Big Media Uses The Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity. Penguin Press: New York, 2004. Shirky, Clay. “Gin, Television and Social Surplus. ” Here Comes Everybody. 26 April 2008. Retrieved August 25, 2008 from: http://www. herecomeseverybody. org/2008/04/looking-for-the-mouse.
html Bowie, Chas. “Elbow Deep: Meet Dishwasher Pete: The Man Who Set Out to Wash Dishes in All 50 States. ” The Portland Mercury. 31 May 2007. Retrieved August 25, 2008 from: http://www. portlandmercury. com/portland/Content? oid=334103&category=34029 Angel, Jen & Theo Witsell. Thoughts on Technology (Fucktooth # 24 / Spectacle # 5). The Small Publishers Co-Op: Sarasota, Florida, 1999. Jordan, Pete. Dishwasher # 15. Dishwasher: PorSample Essay of BuyEssay.org