I’m very glad to hear back from one of the organizers of the DC Zinefest 2013, and feel it’s only fair to post our email exchanges here. Of course I don’t want to bug the hell out of everyone by continually posting if this continues, but I feel it’s important to if I want both parties to have a fair chance to speak their minds. I maybe would even get along with her in real life, we both have very strong opinions.
I read your blog post. Thanks for writing us. I am one of the other co-organizers of the DCZF. While I can’t speak for the collective as a whole, I can speak for myself and my own opinions.
A bit of background: this year, DCZF decided to “review” all tablers that “applied” to have space at the Fest for instances of content we perceived to be sexist, racist, homophobic, ableist, etc. This is part of our “safer spaces” policy. The material of yours that we took issue with were parts 2+3 of Paltry Pamphlets. Obviously, I did not read the zine as a whole, but the titles were enough for me and others to decide that your work may not be a good fit for the DCZF. While that may seem unfair since I did not read your entire work or ask you about the intention of your content, I thought this assessment was reasonable because DCZF attendees would have had even LESS time to evaluate your intentions and/or have an in-depth discussion with you about your personal history or your intentions.
The way I see it, the safer spaces policy is less about “protecting” people from being offended and more about creating a space that’s not hostile to certain populations. That’s because the rest of the world is hostile enough to these groups without the help of someone who claims to be part of their community. Everyone on the collective this year felt strongly about the need for the fest to be a “safe space” for as many people as possible. There were at least 4 tablers at this year’s fest who write exclusively about living with disabilities. I know for a fact that they would have been upset by some of your zines’ titles and sub-titles. These are people who have contributed a great deal to the local and national zine communities.
For me, I think providing a safe space to these people is more important than giving you yet another platform to display your work. That’s because there are so few safe spaces for them and so many existing outlets for you. Additionally, we had limited space for tablers. We had a ton of applicants — way more than we could fit. So we had to reject somebody and this is how we went about it.
Of course, we can’t claim to speak for the whole “zine community.” We can, however, control our little corner of the world. At the end of the day, this is OUR fest — a fest that we put a LOT of love, time, energy, and effort into — and it’s up to us to control and accept who we wish. We had zero guidelines for tablers and accepted people in the sequential order that they applied. You could have left a grocery list for sale at our pop-up distro table for $500, and we would have been okay with that.
However, we draw the line at racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist material. We’re just one zinefest of many (as I’m sure you know) and you’re free to table wherever you want. They’re free to accept you. You’re free to start your own festival, just like we did three years ago. Your design work is really nice; I’m sure you will have no trouble finding other outlets. We don’t claim to be spokespeople for the entire zine culture. We can, however, speak for ourselves, our community, and the people we know well.
I absolutely understand that writing comics with “retarded” in the title doesn’t make you a bad person. We never said it did. I also absolutely understand the value of satire and offensive material in art, and have an arsenal of memorized Louis CK quotes to prove it. We’re not in the game of judging your character or saying what is “art” and what isn’t. However, we are in the game of setting up a successful zinefest, and for us, rejecting content that can explicitly hurt certain populations is an immensely important component of that success. You’ve got to understand that this issue is not about you as much as it is about how your work could affect other people.
One thing I will apologize for is the fact that we didn’t tell you earlier. That was an oversight on our part. We’re not some professional planning board; we’re just 6 people who volunteered to put this event on in our free time, so we’re still learning how to best organize the fest. So next year we will have a more concrete method for accepting registrants and advertising our safer spaces policy (if next year’s collective decides to keep it — though I’m pretty positive they will).
That’s about all I’ve got for now. Let me know if you have more thoughts or questions.
Thanks for writing Ariana,
To be honest with you, if the original email I received had not said: “I would really consider your audience and the community. The zine scene is not a place for jokes of that sort.” I probably wouldn’t have ended up being as upset as I was. It seemed elitist and rubbed me the wrong way.
I don’t agree in excluding someone for two parts of something they wrote. It seems like editing a movie for offensive material so it’s suitable for American TV audiences. It’s a contradiction in understanding the value of satire and offensive material in art when sending me an email of that sort in reply to the question of why I was rejected. But it is your organizations choice on how you’d like to deal with it, it’s not mine. Just as I agree that this is YOUR fest, not mine. Neither of us can please everyone, all of the time.
And I don’t expect (or even want) everything to please everybody and I understand that when selecting exhibitors, you can’t sit down and write to each and every one of them to learn more, that is impossible. And I relate to having had to tell people in the past to “start their own” when criticized for not picking their zine as a winner in the grant I run. I would love to host a zine fest someday, but frankly wouldn’t want to deal with the headache that I’m sure you’ve had to endure. I’m glad someone, anyone, out there has the patience. In some ways running the Art Exchange Program grant is my way of contributing to the encouragement of independent publishing in lieu of starting a festival.
For your information, I have a learning disability called dyscalculia. I don’t usually mention it, even though it has affected me my entire life, because I don’t believe it defines me. It always felt like I would be using it as an excuse, especially dealing with someone accusing me of any “ism”. My step mother is paraplegic. My best friend’s nephew is autistic. My issues don’t define me, her wheelchair does not define her, his autism does not define him. Having to announce it every time I create something reminds me of people who make sure to tell you they have gay friends or that “some of their closest friends are black”. I see warning labels and disclaimers as cheating. I’m a recovering Christian, so I speak out against religion. My family has had child molesters in it, so I use dark humor to deal with it. I have been called a retard, and slow, and my favorite: “basic”. I use my kind of humor to deal with a lot of things, I think it’s healthy. Whether or not it’s funny is left up to the individual. But I can easily tell when something is satirical or sarcastic, and although I understand not everyone else can, I believe sheltering them from having the chance to understand doesn’t help.
Of course I’m sure there are genuine racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist material out there. Generally I’ve found creative people to not be hateful people, but human nature dictates that there unfortunately will be material like that out there; however I don’t feel my work should be counted among them. You could not be expected to know this without further investigation, something I know you did not have the time to do with everything else that was required of you to run a successful convention.
I don’t think DCZF attendees would have had even LESS time to evaluate my intentions. In the past my table has had a lot of open discussion and I think it only helps people get past knee-jerk reactions. I believe they are strong enough to take care of themselves, and speak up for themselves and have the right to be offended and the right to question my work, or anyone’s work. But just because someone is offended doesn’t make them right. It is my opinion that taking potentially offensive material out of the equation is unhelpful and coddling.
I’m glad we have had the chance to discuss this, I’m sorry if we don’t see eye to eye on this subject. I think it all comes down to our individual definitions on what “safer spaces” means and accomplishes. I see the value of having those with a particular sensibility having a place for them and those who share their ideas. I support your cause and hope you are able to continue these festivals. I’m a bit anti-social and I understand the value of these conventions. They are one of the few times when someone like me can leave the bubble of their studio and actually meet and speak with other people who make things.
Good luck in everything you do, and thank you very much for writing me back and not just dismissing me. There are many types of material I wouldn’t want to associate myself with. Material with true feelings of racism, sexism, homophobia, or ableist beliefs wouldn’t bode well with me either. I’m sure it isn’t easy filtering through the noise to find the true instances within any kind of medium.
– Marc Calvary