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Ruminations on Postmodernism and Outdoor Sport

January 15, 2010


I've long had a hunch that aspects of the outdoor life reflect the cutting edge in social issues and in underground media, but I couldn't connect it all up. I'm still lost, but I think there's a there there.

I recently bumped into three books that seemed to suggest this as well. They provoked me into trying to sort this out further. Check out: "Bicycle Diaries," by David Byrne. "The Practice of Everyday Life," by Michel de Certeau. "The Assault on Culture," by Stewart Home.

Try rolling those 3 together sometime and see what you get! : ) Here's my take...

First overviews and thoughts about the books. Then I have a few notions of my own.


"Bicycle Diaries," by David Byrne

Pop star David Byrne travels the world a lot. But "pop" is demeaning -- he's famous, but his style is rootsy even as it innovates. As he travels he digs into the local heritage of where he goes. Right on!

I never knew that he got himself around by bike until his book came out. For decades he's mostly been using a folding bike of one kind or another. He comes from the bad old days of NYC when biking was scary and unusual -- his friends were often aghast as he'd pedal away from a show at night. But it looks like he's always been as indie with his transit as with his music. Cool!

The book is a collection of his thoughts over years of travel. He profiles the cities he visits. He often works from a bike's-eye view, but it's not always about bikes per se. Indeed, the bike is mostly a metaphor for an outlook. He takes the human approach in his view of cities and a bike fits that. A bike also lets you easily get behind the facade of a city. Byrne is an artist so he naturally wants to see things the way they are. A city can't lie to a biker. Of course, artists aren't all alike and they have their own comfort levels -- most of which for celebrities do NOT seem to include seeing a city at street level. It's neat that Byrne pushed into such a zone.

Byrne always seemed like an alien to me in his music. His writing here is deadpan as well. He's a celebrity, but we don't get to see him put on any airs. When he has peeves or druthers he's straightforward about those, too.

He often mentions about how places designed for cars just aren't suitable for humans. This is a big deal, pivotal to our civilization, really. And he lets us know how this came to be: Robert Moses, a misguided missionary type of guy, talked our nation into building cities around cars. It was a big mistake and it ruined many places and resulted in all the others failing. So now we start over. Byrne likes to be on the cutting edge. Today's edge includes the rebuilding of our cities.

It's interesting how biking in this book morphs into city designs around the world, into local music, into a discussion of beauty, into postmodernism and into the role of outsider art. Wow! And, of course, all these are OYB themes as well, ahem. : )

I especially noticed Byrne's outsider artist essay -- he's long been into folk art in addition to folk music. He writes that outsiders are misfits who feel compelled to make their art, that it's a calling for them. He says that officially accepted artists also respond to a calling and are also often very eccentric -- they just, for some reason, have the one needed ingredient of being able to get along in the pro art market, that's all, they can say the right things in that setting, the rest of the time they might be as wacky as any inmate artist. I'd say there are gradations along this path, with indie artists perhaps being halfway between outsiders and pros. A main thing is that some art gets pushed at you hard and other art you have to dig for. Also, we know that pushed art is as good as anything that powerful people push, meaning that it isn't necessarily so. By "art" I mean any important info about reality. Detecting goodness requires discernment at any level, but it's just as important to include the various levels in your search in the first place. Byrne does. Bravo!

(PS: The citybike craze of today isn't really a fad, it's more a discovery. A fad fades when the activity is replaced by something else. But once you realize the liberation of a bike, its yours. Of course, if you're misusing the bike and it makes you miserable then you'll give it up. But for moderate jaunts, there's often nothing better for everyday folk.)


"The Practice of Everyday Life," by Michel de Certeau

I recently bumped into the writings of Michel de Certeau, mainly his famous book "The Practice of Everyday Life." It's neat to run into outdoorsy and OYBish ideas amid postmodernism (PM). This book is from 1974, but it took awhile to catch on and become influential. Some of its ideas might seem obvious now but I suspect they weren't back then. I thought many parts of it were, frankly, inscrutable blather and made-up words. But some things seem both pithy and plainly stated and jump out. Enough of it fresh and surprising to make plowing through the rest worthwhile. I'm familiar with work that requires repeat readings, but some of this didn't seem like one could ever find content found in it, but who knows. Some of the good parts come close to saying things about outdoor activities which normally can't be said, or which haven't been studied. That was partly his point: he said the everyday had been neglected. Here are a few of his notions:

* consumers are producers (this turns standard economics on its head) -- what they do with a product is itself a product

* the majority today is the marginal -- humans per se are marginalized by an out-of-touch dominant paradigm

* the weak secretly use and subvert the powerful

* the essence of everyday life is "making do" (bricolage), appropriation ("poaching"), and subversion of the powerful by the weak

* believing is seeing; belief is no longer about the unseen; this relates to how we relate to the images presented to us today by authority of whatever kind

Certeau's idea that the majority is marginal seems like it sheds light on the indie relation to the mainstream. He might mostly mean that the majority might re-purpose the mega-media that they're fed. But I suppose he's saying that the majority is treated like cattle where it's assumed that all is copacetic as long as the cows are buying the fodder like they're supposed to. But Certeau asks if we know what the fodder MEANS to the cows and are we sure we really know what they're doing with it?

Certeau says that anthropology applies as much to us as it does to the ancients. He brings up the example of Spanish conquistadors who set up colonies in South America where everyone obeyed their laws and so they thought their god would be satisfied with a job well done. But we now know that their victims used their conquerors as much as they were used. They morphed their own society to absorb the Spanish rules and religion to all appearances but created an entirely separate society that the Spanish never even knew how to detect.

It was neat to see "bricolage" pop up in an academic work when I'm used to seeing it in Jack Saunders zines. He's a literary hero of mine. He writes a lot about *bricolage* -- the art of making do. He lives in connection to the land of Florida and its heritage. He's also a bigtime zinester, though he's mostly a blogger today. (But his website predates blogs so you might not call it one.) Certeau says that bricolage and "making do" are examples of the commonplace being different from what the dominant paradigm imagines it to be.

Poaching in the broad sense of "using another's property" is how Certeau uses it. He applies it to reading, actually. It was astonishing to me to encounter the term "poaching" in a PM academic work. I've also long been fascinated by the concept of trespassing. I still think it has levels and meanings that haven't been explored. (I have something to say on the outdoor sports aspect of this down below.) Anyway, Certeau says a writer is a producer and a reader is a consumer. But can any writer know how a reader will view his work? A reader can do what he likes with anything that he reads. In my own reading life I'm part of a group called the Fifth Way (http://fifthway.com). We read classics and other important work and work to use what we read in our own lives. We do not care what the writer intended. We do not judge the work. The meanings we find for ourselves are a product of our reading. Meanings are facts, not opinions. We use readings as we please. Well, we have a goal, a mission: to try to live better. Other readers can do other things, of course: they can drape themselves with a writing as if it were a fashion, whatever. The writer can have his meanings and goals as well, not that we care. Poaching might imply misuse, but does it have to?

Then there's the "wig," la perruque. This is known as what people really do on their jobs. Bosses assign and analyze work based on their goals. Employees fulfill goals...and they do other things, too -- like play and fool around or work on other projects. Conceivably they might even be doing their company's work but in a way that their bosses can't appreciate. Bosses also try to figure out what all these other things are -- and try to prevent and redirect them. Employees constantly work to stay a step ahead of their bosses. They do this to keep a sense of freedom and power. Certeau says that even in climates of maximum security there's always "the wig." This is interesting to me in light of today's mania for security.

Certeau also discusses delinquency and transgression. He really gets into the meaning of private property. ...A "proper" that we can "deprive" someone else of. He gets into the meanings of words, their Latin roots. He has a chapter on incarceration in the city -- how cities (subways in particular) are set up like prisons. Like his other ideas, his takes on all these things turn out a lot different from how they're usually viewed.

To me, this kind of stuff shows that the dominant paradigm is stupid and outdated. It'll be swept away. Unspoken forces bring to life the new reality that will replace the dominant one. The dominant view can't even see the change. It changes under its feet. Like how the USSR was at the end: most living was done "on the side" since the approved way didn't work for anyone. Today we say that "security" is the most important thing. But no physical thing or time-limited concept can ever be perfectly secure. They're both subject to change and dissolution. But a paradigm isn't intelligent. It's a vestige of accumulated ego traces and is lower than the sum of its parts. That is, it's mistaken. It's a tool used by bigshots but they end up used instead. They produce the opposite of their intention then are surprised since the numbers all add up their way. The power-center thinks it knows what security is, but it tries to get it from where it isn't. Security can only come from freedom. Freedom doesn't mean liberty it means the power to be who you are. Power doesn't equal freedom either, though the ego likes to think so. Power is only a means which is only used rightly in service of freedom to give life to people by way of creativity. What's money got to do with it? Real people know that good things INCREASE as they give them away. Money isn't right in the head. Not as a guiding principle or a centerpiece.

Then there's Certeau's contrast between oral traditions and what he calls the "scriptural economy." Written words = reality to a scriptural people. The People of the Book, in other words. In a culture that worships the literal written word it's not just the Bible that gets this power, but all writing. (I don't think he's commenting on the spiritual truth of religion, which would be different from a social relation to text.) He says the first people to write words down did it to keep track of their property, their debts/credits, and to reach out far with orders to underlings. Those motives were AGAINST the mass of people and got them KILLED. Of course, words can be used for good, too. I think he just tries to say that things like written laws don't reflect reality for a scriptural culture: laws create reality. The words themselves end up being worshipped. And the power-brokers work to make sure they control the written words more than anything else. But he seems to say we can ignore that kind of power and base our lives on realities prior to written words. We can shine a light on text. -- I kinda think that's what PM intended to do. His was a totally fresh take on the written word, at any rate: I'm sure I've only touched the surface of a tiny part. It sure was striking.

As a sideline, there's a book about Certeau (by B. Highmore) that positions his work in terms of Cultural Studies (CS). It mentions that CS likes to think of itself as radical yet it's now the new establishment at universities and means as much as a term like "humanities" does. It has a great line about if you want to find out how radical CS is just ask a grad student -- the usual exploitative/blacklist/omerta relations are still in play, maybe stronger than ever. Certeau's ideas are broad -- they're searching for a science that can be used to shed light on CS, too. Hey, I know of a couple: zines! blogs!

Postmodernism (PM) is often impossible to understand. From what I gather, the French have done the most work with it, so that tells you something. Academics have done the rest, which seals the deal for insrutability. But there's something there. PM has become powerful and become derailed itself, it seems. In fact, most folks like to say it's dead now. Sign and signifier, bla bla bla. But every now and then some ideas from it pop up and cause me to take notice.


"The Assault on Culture," by Stewart Home

Stewart Home's "The Assault on Culture" (1987) is about the history of radical movements and how they interconnect, going back to Dada and to Marx and earlier revolutionaries.

He uses an anarcho critique, but seems to try to keep a hands-off approach.

There are chapters on the Situationists and on the Yippies. Due to its pub-date, he doesn't include the Web... but he has mimeo! He doesn't cover zining per se, but you can sense that it's a big part of its background.

It's hilarious reading about all the squabbles and expulsions in these movements.

He has neat observations about what happens when thousands of people become a certain kind of artist, mail artists in one case. He says there are people who use the Mail Art network knowing what it means to do so, and there are those who just use it. It relates to bourgeois alienation (surprise!) and the dilution of the arts by millions of college arts degrees. What do people do who think of themselves as artists but for whom there's no room in the inn of art? Home shows various contradictions at play, shows how creativity has a political role to play in a materialist critique. He singles out the unique contribution of Mail Art to the "no identity" movement and the liberation of pop star power away from the grips of big corporations via the name of Monty Cantsin, which Blaster Al Ackerman encouraged artists to use -- and they did. They pooled their efforts and made that one "public" name famous, so that a bunch of otherwise unknown artists could get attention whenever they liked. (Home shows some communal history for this kind of thing via the White Bikes of Amsterdam and how making typically private property into public freaked out the authorities.)

I've always been interested in the interplay between everyday zining and the radical critique players in the zine scene. On the one hand we've long had introverted perzinesters -- zinesters of their personal lives. On the other hand, zines were how many radical political groups got their word out ... and how they've fought the world...and each other (and, in that case, often over nothing).

Home also mentions that when the bourgeois overthrew the aristocrats they wanted the benefits that had been denied to them. They tried to adapt art to their needs. And their main need is comfort.

The aristocracy had overthrown the control of religion over their lives. In its place they put high art. So when the bourgeois overthrew the aristocrats, out of envy they developed art, too, also as a religion -- but instead of worshipping the intellect, which they didn't have, they worshipped comfort, or low art. You can't question comfort in art. If it feels good, it's good, and that's art. Something like that.

The Surrealistic/Dada phase challenged the classic restrictions on art -- and was apparently one of the first modern atttempts to do so -- but it still stayed in the context of the elites, that is, it was expressed in galleries and museums. Their challengers mostly busted them on this issue -- the next phase was meant to take art to the streets. To liberate it for the people. This was the Situationist and Lettrist phase.


I liked how an early manifesto writer at this point was a 19-year-old Russian. These movements -- since they pushed The Street -- tended to include architecture and their direction was called "new urbanism." This teen wrote about remaking cities into diverse-experience environments with everyday cathedrals. He wrote about what he wanted to see in life: nomadism and potlucks. Whoa! These are interesting concepts to me and people I know. He went on to promote *public rooftops*! Amazing, to think of it. ...Streetlights that anyone can turn on or off. The abolition of graveyards. Converting churches to other uses. Converting triumphal arches into bistros. The abolition of museums -- art is to be placed in bars. "We'll build as we like with the materials we like." He writes about how the middleclass struggle against poverty overshot its goal and groveled in comfort.

The point was to LIVE the revolution and its art in everyday life.

It's interesting to read about the interaction of "comfort art" and activist art at this early point in the modernist and underground scenes. The attack on comfort reminds me of the position that outdoor sport easily falls into: it has a very influential sector in upscale luxury and an enjoyment of comfortable natural beauty. One view of recreation is easily used to support the worst in work and family life. "I shred on my mt-bike every day to blow off the stress of being a brutal prison guard!" "Cross-train for a balanced life!" It can be used to make a bad life tolerable. Rip people off in business then forget yourself in booze and escapist travel and purge the toxins by sweating it out on the ski trail! "I'm a high-powered banker (who throws people out of their homes) so I do yoga afterhours!"

We need to stay on guard against our tendency to abuse recreation. Risk-taking is especially used as an escape from drudgery and seems particularly embraced by those with secure jobs and good benefits packages. The real poor can't afford to get hurt when they play. Risk and luxury get a lot of the airtime of outdoor sport. But it might be that the biggest, yet unexposed, aspect of outdoor sport is created around everyday activities and sustainability -- it's just not often heard about -- because the main things we hear about today relate to exciting profit or numbing comfort.

It's easy to forget that things like yachts were developed with a worldview that a crew was *expendable* while the owners enjoyed the comfort of their outdoor sport. Outdoor sports were enjoyed mostly by the rich with the help of short-lived servants -- camping was in the same situation until Nessmuk wrote the first book of populist lightweight camping which showed that average people could cheaply and simply take to the woods and enjoy themselves. There was and still is a class aspect of outdoor sport that's worth paying attention to. Workers rights are part of outdoor sport! And, of course, it's still the source of world strife that people will entice or coerce others into doing work that they would never consider doing! Exposing the often hidden dynamics of injustice and unfreedom is what PM and CS...and zining and sustainable outdoor activity is often about!

***

OK, now we hop into more of my notions about these things!

Our family eats road-kill. There is a complex mass of law and prejudice around this "everyday" topic. Some kinds of tasty roadkill are free to take, others have strict rules, some are totally forbidden. Yet it's all meat. It's all REALLY the same. So what do people really DO about it? Do they obey the law by day and snatch the forbidden meat at night? Is that wrong?

For instance, in Michigan, you can pick up a roadkill deer any time, for free, but you have to call a cop first, who will give you a free permit -- this paper turns the deer from illegal to legal. But a dead pheasant can only be picked up in season (one month of the year) and if you have a (paid for) hunting license. The rest of the year a dead pheasant is, by law, wasted meat. No one can touch it. Now we step it up a notch: if you pick up a dead hawk -- or even a piece of it -- like a feather -- you're a serious criminal, liable for a huge fine. How does a people ACTUALLY deal with such situations? To me they seem to be litmus areas, focal points of contradiction. This kind of legal structure is inevitable as a state tries to make everything *make sense*. How else can they *control* what's happening? They can't have people shooting pheasants in the springtime mating season. It can't have people shooting endangered birds of prey. If you have a dead critter how can they know how you got it? The result is that a whole world can turn on a feather. Literally.

Poaching means to put my view of the law onto the situation when I'm out in the woods alone or when I see a dead deer -- or pheasant -- on the road in front of my rural home. I'm taking someone else's property, in this case the state's. But is it really *proper* that another entity owns the dead meat laying there? And that they *deprive* me of it invisibly? Private property means that it's the state's property, or in this case public in effect becomes private because I'm deprived of it.

Roadkill is a bit outlandish, I suppose, but other nutty contradictions come into play with the storage and transport of legally shot game and fish. It's easy to run afoul of the law, which is just there to try keep a lid on things. Otherwise, how can the game warden know when and where you caught that salmon? Of course, for the most part, to get along you go along, but a contradiction can be a unique thing with surprising effects. Not that I know what they all are. I just have a hunch about them.

We can run into bigger taboos. In my outdoor-culture work, I often run into the concepts of poaching and trespassing -- concepts that are both marginal and forbidden and yet mainstream in rural life. This might be taking Certeau's abstract ideas and taking them literally. But is it really? Certeau says that readers using writing is REAL. So it's no more abstract than a person out walking on some land. The outdoor culture is split about this stuff, but in an unspoken way -- the truth is NOT discussed, except to toe one line or another. In public, no violation of laws or liability or private property scenarios is acceptable. But the dam is breaking. The 200+-page state outdoor regulations booklets are causing faultlines. As are the endless fees and licenses. As are the heavy-handed penalties. As are endless efforts to turn wild, empty, remote rivers into private property. The concept of navigable waterways as giving the public access to places is just a concept that could be bought away. It didn't INTEND to increase the public's freedom. The public has just seized on it as a way to make our paradigm tolerable. Public shoreline rights can easily go away as well. "And why shouldn't I own the view that I paid such good money for?" (And if I own it that MEANS that YOU can't SEE it!) Official lingo is morphing to try to keep up. Remember that language leads the way! (As Certeau says.) In the 1970's an infraction of a hunting game animal law meant "poacher!" A program called RAP was started, "Report All Poachers!" I remember as a teen wondering what a poacher looked like. They must've been bloodthirsty drunken bums, shooting machine guns at night so they could sell carcasses for drug money as part of organized crime rings. Then, as of the 1980's, such folks were called "violators" instead of "poachers." Heavy penalties are now still levied against all such people in an attempt to control behavior in wide open, unpopulated spaces. But is such control possible? What really happens out there? Zero tolerance! I'm just doing my job! Rural-haters imagine bloodthirsty villany in the sticks: without law the rednecks will run wild. While self-righteous outdoorsmen paint violators as criminals who deserve to lose huge chunks of (scarce) income along with their tools for gaining their livelihoods (their guns and vehicles) and maybe having their lives ruined -- it's their own fault! What if everyone fished with bait instead of a fly! There'd be no fish! The reality is neither way. Of course. It's like the drug war. There's a war on drugs yet I can now buy most drugs without a prescription online. A sensible person could go to a nearby stream and net a fish for dinner and not actually be starting any chain reaction of environmental destruction. Yet they could get busted bigtime and they'd be easily hated from all directions: from fishermen for "cheating" by using a net, from the property owner for daring to exist on empty land that he had been properly deprived of, from civilized cityfolk for being a hayseed. Our culture still accepts zero tolerance of everyday fish'n'game "violators" in a way that it might not accept such toughness against everyday car speeding. But with concerns about "security," "safety," and "liability" the dominant paradigm is now ever more willing to give up more and more freedom. So the game does spread into common things like car speeding. If you speed today you can lose your job. So if you're caught speeding that $100 ticket means that you'll hire a $1000 lawyer to beat the ticket due to its weblike side effects. A situation like this represents a chink in the armor. These forces rapidly increase the cost of doing business as business itself attempts to lock out life. States can't afford to hire game wardens because hiring a real human is so expensive -- due to their overhead costs resulting from worries about security, etc. The spiral grows. Yet fewer wardens mean more actual freedom in the woods. But less actual control requires more extreme threats to keep the IMAGE of control alive.

Outdoor sport has a lot of tradition. But it also has a radical side, and it always has. The discussion of that aspect has been skimpy, but it jumps up into pop culture now and then in sports like skateboarding and surfing. But then they get co-opted, and the radical side stays underground.

What does radical mean in outdoor sport? What does it mean in general today? Today is the time of postmodernism, when radical can be just another trendy identity slogan. Is there anything interesting going on below the buzzwords?

Neither tradition nor radicalism are good per se. I'm more looking for flags. A flag pops up whenever an unacknowledged or taboo reality is commonplace.

Everything is so open nowadays. There's so much diversity. Shouldn't taboo be weaker today than ever?

Not so fast! Maybe in some ways taboo is weaker -- in areas that can be exploited for profit, sure, taboo is weak. The power of money was just ITCHIN' for that to happen. Heck, are there any taboos about money?

Taboo is sneaky! When you think something is gone, get ready for it to reappear, maybe even in plain sight where you least expect it and maybe you'll realize that it never even went away.

I'm not all that interested in taboos about degradation, although I'm sure they can be common. I get REALLY iinterested whenever wholesomeness is unspeakable.

Degradation already gets attention so easily. Heck, gross obsessions are the basis of the richest markets. (Whoa!) So I'm not worried about them. Banned books are always popular; nasty books can have strong niche demographics. It's the suppressed realities we never hear about that interest me. It's the everyday life of people who are awake and who are creative that I suggest is so easily overlooked. It's maybe even attacked or "prevented," in Orwell's term. He said that markets, not censorship, were the biggest threat to culture. That's what I'm into -- the counterintuitive stuff. I thought that markets were about freedom? (Someone said that the first thing that two businessmen discuss whenever they get together is how to fix a price and screw the customer. That's money and freedom for ya! The freedom of REAL crime, more like.)

I often get that counterintuitive vibe after I read some postmodernism (PM). PM seems to say that we live according to appearances. Still, isn't that how humans have always lived? Sure, but they didn't always know it. We know it now. PM isn't just a cultural mode or phase, it's part of a *critique*, of history, of time itself. It's a more recent way of talking about just what the heck is going on. It says that image determines reality. Adam started by naming things. Our names and concepts make things appear before us. If someone doesn't know what a table is then to them it's just a mess of sticks to bump into.

Zining also often gives me that sense of getting a look into what is usually hidden.

Zining is about street life. As distinct from what's officially marketed. And, don't forget, outdoor life is part of living, too. Or, it CAN be. Or, it can be part of an image. Which will it be? Obviously, it's a blend of both. The important thing is to KNOW this. I'm not just a guy out there skiing. I'm an educated white guy of a certain age who when I was a teenager ran into print media about how skiing was a way to commune with nature with attractive young ladies. Set and setting are important! Skiing isn't just a fact and a thing. It's a conditioned culture. So, am I using it for freedom and justice? Or for (self)exploitation and escape?

Outdoor life and zining can both be strong reflections of the indie spirit. Or they can both be co-opted in various ways. How does this play out and how does it relate to the mainstream? For instance, is the mainstream always about being co-opted?

I've long been into "everyday life" and its relation to marginality. I noticed that PM sometimes seemed to speak to this. Anarchy does, for sure. At any rate, it seems that PM, anarchy, zining, and outdoor life all can offer a potent critique of culture.

It can be a bit harder to see outdoor life as having a radical aspect but, hey, it's "outside." Stepping outside the main view is the best way to see the main view. Of course, as I said, being outside is itself a "view." But there are things to be learned!

Just walking along, outdoors, in a suburban mall area can teach you a lot! You'll literally be in the margins often, for one thing. The sidewalk will just end in weeds as you walk along, with the cars whizzing by. You'll have to scramble down a ditch to get back to a parking lot where you can walk again. (Just like the guys in "Office Space" -- a PM comedy!) Literalism is a trap to avoid, but reality isn't always literal. You don't need WRITTEN words to express the reality of walking in the margins of suburbia! Of course, you need to be talking (or writing) to someone who can RELATE to what you're saying: typically this is someone who has ALSO walked the margins in some way. This is how powerful networks against the paradigm are built without even trying. People start living and hooking up outside the net or web of the mainstream.

I first encountered PM via zines, largely from "Anarchy: Journal of Desire Armed." It's a well-done magazine, but since it's done on a shoestring by one or two people and also has homestyle distribution (distro), I call it a zine. Anarchy is about voluntary living based on a postmodern critique. The kind of critique "A:JDA" offers pops up in lots of zines.

Here's a real story of suburbia. Can you relate? A local suburban guy started painting provocative signs on his house a few years ago. Talk about taking the marginal to the mainstream. He made his house into his zine and the zine was notorious. I always wondered who he was. We've felt alienated around here, being the only errand-bikers, but he went over the top. I heard rumors. Then I saw a guy at the grocery who looked hip, hardcore, sullen and "not from around here" and I thought "that's the house guy!" So I finally googled it a few days ago. And I was right! It turns out he's one of the only punk stars from mid-Michigan yet he came from a super-rich/powerful local family who he was disowned by. A lot of torsion there! He complains of being lonely but provoking people is about the only thing he's ever done. (Well, he did run for mayor -- and seemed to provoke a rape crisis center to be built.) He really doesn't fit around here. I wonder why he stays. (We don't fit either but we do many things that ARE part of our community.) He talks about radicals saying they'll support marginal people and that they'll back em up, but they mean they'll be "way, *way* behind you." He recently painted over his signs. Here's a big interview with him where he says he's given up drinking and is now a mystic: www.viceland.com/int/v16n1/htdocs/the-troublemakers-515.php

Lastly, I recently read the "History of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians" written by Andrew Blackbird, a chief from Michigan from the late 1800's. I think it's one of the only authoritative native overview/memoirs from that period. (Textfile: old.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A2000.03.0073&query=head%3D%231.) In it the chief refutes some of the distortions that official whites like Schoolcraft layed out in their own, more famous, memoirs. Man, what Blackbird did to get an education! Plenty of whites helped him, but dudes like Schoolcraft have a bitter side revealed. The book is out of print, but local activists in the wild St. Ignace area of the Straits of Michigan want to...you got it...self-publish it themselves and keep it alive.

Subversive writing of "truth to power" and of reclaiming reality keeps popping up if ya keep your antenna out.

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