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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 pool.


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.

Political Zines

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.
Several political 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."

Religious Zines

As author Peter Lambhorn Wilson observes, the so-called "joke religions—which aren't really jokes at all—such 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.

Special Interest Zines

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 reviews.
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.
As information 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.
Neidorf's computer 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. (13)
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 property.
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 our world.

(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.
(12) Frauenfelder
(13) Sirius
(14) (Barlow)

Works cited

  • 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, "Zines—Where 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, 1988.
  • 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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