Laurel Sutton’s "All Media Are Created Equal"- get out and get some! Reading it left my brain with many ramblings I believed were worthy of sharing- in a subversive place!
As I've been getting back into blogging, I am re-realizing how important alternative media/publishing truly is, on a feminist and philosophical level. Online or hard-copy zines, weblogs, internet journals/diaries, and other new media) have opened up unconventional spaces for youth/minority/female voices to be heard. And as Sutton succinctly summarizes this idea (as it pertains to a marginalized and devalued gender): “For women, particularly adolescent women, zines may serve as one of the only public places to establish an identity.” And establishing an identity, especially as a teenager, is VERY important.
While women have historically had more access to journal and letter writing than any other medium, it makes sense that these should be the first forms to become popular among many subcultures and feminist circles. The only difference is that these reflections are now made public in our modern, high-tech era. Whether the topic is date rape, body image, oppressive school policies, drugs, alcohol, orgasms, food, pop culture, or whatever, women can make the personal/political statements they wish to make, loudly or daringly— and never worry about who wants to hear it. If no one wants to listen, it doesn’t matter, for they can put this material out there anyways, and tell their stories without a large audience. Whether it is bouncing from humor to poetry to art to other forms of self-expression, there is no need for following rules, and this gives women twice as much freedom in their craft.
Moreover, all of the content is reviewed or edited by no one but the writer, and is never censored because some advertiser threatened to pull funding. What is found in mainstream media is controlled completely by the powers that be, and all content is vulnerable to the whims or desires of a few rich old white men. Books are published based on the assumption that certain stories will be sold in record numbers, and oftentimes, even if one thinks the book may sell, authors (a la J. K. Rowling of the Harry Potter series) may be forced to alter their name, as certain genres will not sell because female authors are not highly valued. Most mainstream media has only one goal in mind, and that is to make it their business “to appeal to everyone and offend no one.”
Conversely, alternative media seeks to please the individual that is following his/her internal creative process, as well as perhaps inform like-minded people who share common interests or beliefs. It can be very therapeutic, becoming vulnerable through putting pen to paper and then perhaps making one’s feelings available for the whole world online. It can be a conversation starter, and a new way of meeting others who have also experienced what it means to be black, gay, bisexual, Cuban-American, rich, poor, shy, marginalized, angry, or whatever. At the end of the day, however, the writer is able to make her/himself happy with the artistic and intellectual pursuit, instead of worrying about how to please another company, boss, or audience.
Hearst owns Eastern magazine distributors. Time Warner is a cable company and News Corp. is a content/satellite company. ABC is owned by Disney. It does not seem right that a handful of corporations can call all the shots, so alternative voices have found ways to completely avoid the machine, through pirate radio, or public-access television, or organizing zines and other anti-establishment creative spaces. However, one is taken seriously only if he/she has a public history, or a public record of whatever he/she has published. In this way, “public” can almost be equated with “socially acceptable, recognized, and widely distributed” materials.
This idea of a public history is significant, because, for example, many Native Americans have always relied on oral story-telling to pass down traditions, wisdom, cultural knowledge, spirituality, and more from one generation to the next. Since many Natives have been killed/oppressed/silenced, the passing down of these stories is not easy to do, and more importantly, a “public history” is not possible if everything is communicated verbally. Therefore, Native voices are not going to be considered significant or credible, or taken seriously by mainstream media. Suburban teenagers of New England are just as quickly and easily dismissed in their online postings and chat room conversations, but at least their methods of communication are slightly more public, and given far more attention than any Native voice on a reservation. However, linguists and sociologists must take seriously all forms of communication, (whether through computers or zines or any other medium), because few other people will, (particularly academics).
Slang, eccentric or subversive sentence structures, run-on sentences, illustrations or cartoons, informal writing styles, and other spur-of-the-moment wordplays can alter, shape, and personalize different online journals. Sutton calls these “violations of maxims.” The maxim of Quality is violated- (although, ‘violate’ seems to be an interesting, perhaps inadequate, term to use here)- by the exclusive use of first-person pronouns. The maxim of Manner is violated by the use of ungrammatical forms that are intended to emphasize individuality, (or purposely build an identity based on as many rebellious acts as possible against what is “normal”). And, last but not least, the manner of Quantity is violated by the use of blended formats. For example, a writer can bounce from a prose style to a poetic one, or insert a haiku in a seemingly random place, or write in a conversational tone before switching to a more standard form.
Yet, I wonder, when do alternative media no longer qualify as being alternative? When does a zine become a magazine, or a blog become seen as a valid resource of information? Is the standard of measuring the value based on how many copies are sold, or how much money is earned from advertising, or how formal the writing becomes? Many have objected to the term “alternative” because it implies somewhat of a self-marginalization, when many communities are not feeling left out of public spaces by choice, but rather by force. Instead, these people like to use the word “independent,” ..Whatever word/label one uses, the question remains: What qualities make something independent or alternative, and what constitutes evolving into a mainstream space? How do we cease to support the mainstream as much, to show the value (and sometimes superiority) of alternative media? These questions deserve answers. Ultimately, our collective discourse must shift to include many backgrounds, many voices, much variety, and much open-mindedness, instead of always assuming that standard is best.