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Dispatches: Talking DIY Culture at McNally Jackson

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Last night, McNally Jackson in SoHo hosted the panel (Re)making media: DIY, zines, punk rock, gen X and millenials in the digital age. The moderator Jacob Lewis, co-founder of a writing collective website for teens, Figment.com, was joined by Blake Nelson, whose book Dream School had been serialized and recently published by Figment, Christopher Bollen, whose book Lightning People was published by the indie press Soft Skull, Mikki Halpin, the creator of the now defunct zine Ben is Dead and the now defunct satirical website Shut Up Foodies, musician and writer Izzy Schappell-Spillman, Japanther’s Ian Vanek, and New York Times technology reporter, and recently the publisher and editor of Girl Crush Zine, Jenna Wortham.

Together, the group of panelists discussed DIY culture as it’s happening today and how technology is affecting the movement.

Most had a positive view regarding the rise of the Internet and its facilitation of independent productions. Izzy, who began her music career with the band Care Bears on Fire when she was just 8-years-old, and who is now 16, felt the online community has brought an end to isolation and has ushered in a time of quick creation. Jenna, who began as a culture blogger at the Times when she was 25, discussed that while it’s easy to get caught up in trying to be ahead of the news curve, especially when one is working for a media outlet, technology can have a profound effect on expressive culture. She mentioned Kickstarter, the online fundraising site where artists of all kinds can raise money for their projects, in particular. Blake Nelson serialized his first book, Girl, in Sassy and when he couldn’t find a publisher for the already-written sequel, Figment did the same by running it in pieces on their site.

The lone voice expressing opposition, mainly because he feels social media creates a culture of self-promotion and self-branding, was Ian Vanek. Although the most skeptical, his argument is solid: people today are too concerned with their public persona and not concerned enough with their actual art. For Vanek, he feels it’s “important to be invisible”.

A reminder of where DIY started, both Ian and Mikki spoke about the continued value of the printed zine. Online publishing platforms, with their endless opportunities for self-expression, are often corporately owned — and those companies ultimately have control over your content. The old-fashioned Xeroxed zine remains a way to share thoughts and ideas privately, or “sneakily,” as the panelists like to describe it.

Far from devolving into a trite debate about the pros and cons of the Internet, the discussion was a reminder that DIY, as an art form and ideology, is still very much a serious venture, regardless of the ease in which it can now be executed.

What’s on the shelf?

Here are just some of the projects and books created by the panelists:

Figment.com
Inspired by Japan’s cellphone novels, “Figment is a community where you can share your writing, connect with other readers, and discover new stories and authors. Whatever you’re into, from sonnets to mysteries, from sci-fi stories to cell phone novels, you can find it all here.” You can read a profile about Figment and its co-founder Jacob Lewis at The New York Times.

Girl by Blake Nelson
“Meet Andrea Marr, straight-A high school student, thrift-store addict, and princess of the downtown music scene. Andrea is about to experience her first love, first time, and first step outside the comfort zone of high school, with the help of indie rock band The Color Green.” [via IndieBound]

Dream School by Blake Nelson
“Imagining a typical ‘J. Crew/college catalogue’ experience, Andrea Marr leaves Portland to attend prestigious Wellington College in Connecticut. Surrounded by the best and the brightest, she works hard to adjust and keep up.” [via IndieBound]

Lightning People
“The fanciful premise behind the title of Bollen’s novel is that, after New York loses the lightning conductors of the Twin Towers, more and more residents die in lightning strikes. But the title also evokes the random nature of post-millennial city life, in which disaster or good fortune can strike at any time. An actor, supported by money from reruns of old commercials, pursues a sinister hobby—frequenting conspiracy-theory chat rooms and meetings. His wife doesn’t know about her husband’s fixation, distracted by her depressing job at the Bronx Zoo and her dysfunctional friends. Bollen excels at creating an atmosphere of Manhattan-specific dread, and certain scenes, particularly the account of a struggling actor’s going-away party, are tragicomic masterpieces.” [via The New Yorker]

Girl Crush Zine Edited by Jenna Wortham and Thessaly La Force
“For those unfamiliar, a girl crush is when a girl has such a deep admiration for another girl that it becomes an infatuation of sorts, though platonic in nature. Editors Jenna Wortham, a reporter for The New York Times, and Thessaly La Force, former blogger at The Paris Review, have taken this concept to the next level by celebrating girl crushes in an online and paper zine aptly called Girl Crush.” [via Laughing Squid]

Japanther
“Japanther have since made a name for themselves in unique performance situations. i.e. along side synchronized swimmers, a top the Williamsburg Bridge, with giant puppets, marionettes and shadow puppets. Out of the back of a moving truck in SOHO, with giant dinosaurs and BMXers flying off the walls.” [website] You can read an interview with Ian at The Nervous Breakdown.

Teenage Izzy Schappell-Spillman’s archive
Teenage is a film and a blog about youth culture. About the film: “Based on a groundbreaking book by the punk author Jon Savage, Teenage is an unconventional historical film about the invention of teenagers. Bringing to life fascinating youth from the early 20th century—from party-crazed Flappers and hipster Swing Kids to brainwashed Nazi Youth and frenzied Sub-Debs—the film reveals the pre-history of modern teenagers and the struggle between adults and adolescents to define youth.” [website] You can hear her perform the theme song for the teen site Rookie.

It’s Your World–If You Don’t Like It, Change It: Activism for Teenagers by Mikki Halpin
“Free Speech. Racism. The Environment. Gay Rights. Bullying and School Safety. Animal Welfare. War. Information about Safe Sex and Birth Control. Free Speech. HIV and AIDS. Women’s Rights. These are the issues you care about — and now you can do something about them. It’s Your World will show you how to act on your beliefs, no matter what they are, and make a difference.” [via IndieBound]

What are some of your favorite DIY projects? Comments are open.

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Written by Gabrielle

January 5, 2012 at 5:52 am

6 Responses

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