Melissa Rogers is a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland. She teaches a course titled Women, Art, and Culture at the University of Maryland, College Park, and a course in queer theory at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Rogers visited Kenyon on Monday to lead a workshop on zines as a form of activism and an alternative to social media.
How do zines specifically aid social activist groups or other groups?
I think it creates a form of networking. One, you have an ability to see your own story or your own experiences reflected in a medium where you may have thought you were alone or the only person that this issue affected. So it gives you a more structural understanding of some of these problems activists are dealing with. But it also just allows you to connect with other people, whether they’re in your region or across the world. You know, it’s just a way to reach out to other people and hear about other people’s experiences.
How does this medium survive with new platforms to express stories on the Internet?
I definitely think of them as existing side-by-side with the Internet, so not only can the Internet help you distribute a physical thing by giving you a centralized location where you can find information about this artifact or email folks about it, but it’s also like another dimension on top of the printed stuff. So a lot of zinesters also blog, they’re using social media, they use social media to document the release of their zines or to spread the word about them. It’s just one among many platforms. I hate to pose these as a contest to one another.
How has technology influenced activism and the stories zines are expressing?
I think that the availability of these technologies is really important. They’re becoming cheaper, it’s easier to get a printer or a photocopier secondhand, but they also become obsolete very quickly. So people’s printers are dying and being put in the trash. The kind of technology available really affects the kind of product you can make. So I would say Lisa Gitelman is a really great person to look at for this. She has this book called Paper Knowledge that’s all about bureaucracy and paper and these actual documents. But thinking about the rise of the photocopier and now the rise of desktop publishing and Photoshop, we have access to so much cheap software and online tools.
Do you think going forward zines will continue to be a popular medium?
Absolutely, and in different ways. People are definitely doing activism on the Internet, but I think it’s worth thinking about: Why would you put this information in this particular medium? What kind of audience is it going to reach as opposed to the Internet? We assume that because something’s for free on the Internet that everyone is looking at it, but we actually might not know who is able to access this. There are still rural places that don’t have high-speed Internet and can’t download stuff as easily as we can on a university network. So I think not presuming that the Internet is just a ubiquitous thing that everyone can access, but that reading something physically might still be important to people.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.