I wasn’t even going to write about this because I’m hurt and upset and even feel a little embarrassed. But I consider zines and creating in general to be a form of therapy, and right now I need some therapy. So I’m going to selfishly vent and get some.
There was a zine fest going on in Washington D.C this weekend that I really wanted to be a part of. They require you to submit an application. I hear that lots of conventions do this, although this was a first for me. I applied and never heard back from them. So I wrote them early this morning asking why I had never heard back:
I applied but never heard back from you, was there a reason my application was rejected? I’d like to apply again next year, can I?
– Marc Calvary
Well, they responded a few hours later…
In your case, it was because of your content. As I recall, your website had insensitive jokes about the mentally retarded. This is in violation of our safer spaces policy. Also, as a disabled-identifying zinester who knows many other disabled zinesters, I would really considder your audience and the community. The zine scene is not a place for jokes of that sort.
– DC Zinefest Organizers
Someone asked me at work just now “Who pissed you off?” I told them I wasn’t pissed off, that someone had just… I didn’t have the words for it, or I did but I was embarrassed to admit it… finally I just said it “Someone didn’t piss me off, someone just hurt my feelings.” Yep. I have feelings. Start the jokes, Irving. I understand how it looks; I’ve said hurtful things and because of the hurtful things I’ve said someone has hurt me. Especially since the phrase they used in their letter “As I recall” implies to me that they didn’t even bother to see what I’ve been up to recently and decided to judge me purely on what I’ve done in the past. But I don’t feel I deserve it. Here’s why: IT’S FUCKING SATIRE PEOPLE! Satire. How boring life would be without satire and sarcasm? How white-washed and vanilla. All art made as to not offend anyone, all clean and sanitized. All of our heroes devoid of flaws and every character you read you would be able to relate to and they would always be pure of heart. I try not to throw the word “retarded” around willy-nilly, I have used it in the past but I’ve tried to only use it for specific purposes. I am not politically correct, and although I don’t set out to create shock material, sometimes shock material is fun to make… but I am not a hateful person. For the most part the point has been understood. I have a friend who works with disabled kids, last year he questioned my use of it. He said he understood why I’ve used it in the past but he helped me see that it wasn’t always understood, so I’ve made sure when I use it it wasn’t as a replacement for stupid, but only when it was sarcastic and for a satirical reason. I have this sticker I sell about not needing to wash your hands if you don’t wipe your ass. It’s silly, not meant to be taken very seriously, but in the original printing I saw that I had used “retarded” in place of what I really meant, which was “stupid”. After I had been educated by the conversation with my teacher friend, I had the sticker re-printed with a replacement for the unnecessary word. Not to kowtow to political correctness, but because I actually understood what he was saying and I didn’t want to overuse it until the satire just became another noise drowning out any idea of intelligence. But in another instance, a zine I did had the title “Are You Retarded or Just Ugly?” and I damn well stand by that one because it’s written from the perspective of a moron trying to give self-help advice. For god’s sake, it even gives the tip that you should pretend to be mentally retarded to get dates! It’s completely off the wall and I’m not changing a fucking word.
I wrote the DC Zinefest Organizers back:
Wow. I’m sorry you feel this way. In the past I’ve used off color jokes as satire, usually trying to make a specific point. I admit that some people don’t get the humor, mostly due to the fact that I don’t like to make explanations within my zines, but I have always been open to answering people’s questions when they haven’t understood. I wish you would have asked. I’ve written jokes about child molestation to deal with my own family’s awful history and the mentally handicapped from a perspective of a moronic narrator to show that only a moron would feel that way, which I believe shows more about those who actually say the “R” word than a zine preaching to them would… if they could see how stupid they sound I think does more to change their views. Last year I even went as far as editing a sticker I sell on my site because I didn’t think the language showed the reason enough and I had the word “retarded” removed from it. I’ve tried to be sensitive to whenever I thought the true meaning wasn’t obvious, but I admit I like to have fun with outrageous statements and public perceptions of political correctness. I have always believed in print as a way of therapy. I’ve never had the free speech alternative crowd not understand in the end. This is a first time and I’m disappointed that I was judged before given the chance to defend myself. I’ve been making zines since the early 1990’s, started a zine grant giving money made from my 9 to 5 day job to others trying to make zines and believe the zine scene to be a free place for all sorts to exchange ideas and hopefully learn and grow. My girlfriend and I are currently trying to open a zine/comic/book shop in Queens, and despite your knee-jerk reaction I will continue to support the zine community in any way I can. I’ve never been the popular kid, never felt part of a community, I guess there’s no reason I should start now. But I am saddened by your organizations blind reaction and I hope that in the future you will inquire of artists when you are unsure of their intentions. If you had thought I was really an ignorant and hateful person it would have been more productive to educate me rather than exclude me. – Marc Calvary
I doubt I’ll hear back from them, however if I do I will amend this post.
[They did write back, click here to read the continuation…]
The world is losing its sense of humor, becoming so sensitive they forget what really matters. Funnier/better people than me still understand. People like Joan Rivers, Louie CK, Trey Parker and Matt Stone… I don’t compare myself to them, but it’s nice to know of others out there who at least get the point.
I believe the “zine scene” can be whatever you want it to be. If you want to make zines into something watered down and sterile, go for it. But I have no desire to be a part of that community. My zine community is made up of free-thinkers, experimenters, innovators, rebels, and outcasts. We are the weird kids. We make paper art in an age of digital media and we revel in our fringe.