What is authenticity? I challenge you to find a genuine voice in the news media. They are far and few between. Whether it be for reasons of money, identity, or even sheer ignorance - the press often fails to fully appreciate the complexity of the issues facing Americans today.
This tragedy has not gone without notice. According to a poll conducted by Gallup, only 8 percent of Americans have a “great deal” of trust in the news media, while 40 percent doubt its capabilities to report "fully, accurately and fairly" on the issues at hand. Disenchanted Americans have begun to look elsewhere for credible news sources, or have repudiated the mass media altogether.
The significance of the free dissemination of innovative thought and political dialogue need not be argued. Our nation was founded on the premise that a centralized government can not effectively serve the needs of its citizens if left unchecked. This becomes even more relevant in an era where the corporatocracy has imposed new, discrete constituents to the established authority. In a time when money dictates politics, and sponsorship dictates news, is it even possible for the corporate media to respond to issues of corruption?
Six corporations control 90 percent of the media in the United States, consolidated down from 50 corporations in 1983. Billy Aul, Senior Librarian at the New York State Library, weighs in on this issue. She states, “The corporate media, by definition must fail at being a watchdog for the corporate elite.” The responsibility of providing accurate investigations into abuses of power lies with the corporate media, however the media’s strong affiliation with corporate sector authority highlights a striking conflict of interest.
This disparity ignites a search for a logical alternative. The disillusioned American will inevitably stumble upon independent means of communicating information among alternative communities. Publications, such as the Factsheets Five zines, represent the fundamental antithesis of corporate news behemoths.
The Conception of Factsheet Five
Aul had long been involved with various zine communities when she received word that Mike Gunderloy was interested in donating his copy of the Factsheet Five collection. Thrilled by the prospect, Aul immediately started jumping up and down saying that they had to get it. The Factsheet Five collection was officially adopted into the New York State Library (NYSL) in April of 1992.
The Factsheet Five zines offered comprehensive reviews of independently published material for underground publications. The NYSL collection includes over 10,000 zine titles, general correspondence letters, and business records. The literature in this collection covered a medley of topics ranging from the far political left to the right: encompassing the cultural gamuts of literature, fine art, social theory, and music.
Gunderloy was the original publisher and editor of the first Factsheet Five zines. He believed in the ability of the alternative media to facilitate the dissemination of truly free speech. Gunderloy believed that zines, unhindered by corporate sponsorship, were an indispensable platform for keeping ideologies, “alive in the face of repression.”
The genesis of the Factsheet Five zines was an act of political idealism. Particularly when, “most or all of the big institutions have been co-opted into the system.” To gain deeper insight into the magnitude of social injustice faced by Gunderloy’s generation, one need look no further than the pages of reviews littered throughout these publications.
Gunderloy states that the Factsheet Five zines are a place, “...where men grapple with feminism and what it means to their lives – and where women can be alone for a moment without the presence of men. One where new languages are being invented and learned even as you read this. One where workers, from old-line unionists to new burger-flippers, talk about work in their own words.” The Factsheet Five zines provided an avenue for dissenting dialogues in the face of corporate censorship.
The Corporate Press
The dominant political ideology of the United States can be epitomized by the juxtaposition of American news narratives. Stephen Duncombe is the professor of history, media, and politics at New York University; he explains that there have been two narratives governing the fate of the news outlets. These narratives comprise, “of political domination and commercial control” and “of challenges to these powers.” As capitalism has grown increasingly tantamount to mass ideology in the United States, the influence of the corporatocracy in the news media has purported commensurate growth.
The logic of capitalism is that of the market. In the face of profit, everything becomes trivial. Journalists are marginalized as a means to an end.
The Antithesis of the Corporate Press
In a press run for and by corporate sponsors, the news media tends to withdraw from a paradigm of compassion. The press fails to communicate the actual substance behind the collective human experience.
Duncombe writes, “Within a mass culture where no topic is left untouched for long, but all topics are covered with the bland disinterest of the hired writer and the commercial published, the problem is not lack of information, but an intense depersonalization of it.”
The Factsheet Five zines functioned as a means to facilitate meaningful connections among individuals in underground communities. These zines functioned as a space of communication in the gaps created by mainstream culture. They became, in essence, the absolute antithesis of the chronicles proliferated by corporate news outlets.
Gunderloy hoped that, “By connecting up the various people who were exercising their First Amendment rights on a small, non-profit scale… that they could learn from each other and this might help generate a larger alternative community.”
Not only was Gunderloy interested in providing a platform for the expression of repressed ideologies, he was also determined that his reviews of alternative discourse function democratically. Under Gunderloy’s supervision, the Factsheet Five zines reviewed every single publication that was sent to them.
Democracy in Action
In order to fully comprehend the motivations behind zine culture, one needs to be willing to contemplate the cultural confrontations that accompany capitalism. Zines, like Factsheet Five and the publications that it reviewed, arose from discontent with American hegemony. Duncombe described this alternative rendition of American democracy in Notes from Underground:
“They are the fruits of their creator’s discontent with the nature of personal interaction and communication, the eclipse of community by mass society, and the separation of people like themselves from the process of cultural creation and consumption. Zines are their attempt to fill in the gaps between the quality of these things as they’ve experienced them in the dominant society and their ideals of what they could and should be like.”
These voices of mass dissent are closer to traditional American principles than most would assume. Qualities such as competitive individuality and practical self-sufficiency resonate deeply with the communities that disseminate alternative ideologies.
America, as it once existed, has gone through a silent revolution in the name of corporate and state interests. Instead of providing a uniting front for the population at large, subcultures with opposing ideologies find themselves victim to falsely polarized cultural competition.
The media is not the biggest perpetrator of these sensationalist tendencies. Gunderloy explains that, “Capital has pulled off a magnificent PR coup: it has convinced most of the world, including a few timorous lefties, that the market is the ultimate form of social organization, while managing to export, displace, or evade most of its problems.”
The current economic paradigm breeds mass delusion. Capital seduces its followers with romantic notions of an American Acropolis, while refusing to acknowledge the mass incarceration of minority communities, rampant poverty disproportionately affecting low-income families, staggering inequality, and the precipitous decline of wages for the working class.
Socioeconomic inequalities prevalent in American society are indicative of larger cultural prejudices. Individuals feel entitled to ignore facts that don't coincide with their rigid world view. This kind of thinking promulgates negative stereotyping and cultural stigmatization. The narratives pushed by the corporate media under the current paradigm of neoliberal economic hegemony fosters extreme divisions among our nation.
Is it us, or them?
It is easy to blame someone else. It’s even easier when that ‘someone else’ is an abstract notion such as the corporate press or the political elite.
The zine apparatus that once facilitated the democratic expansion of ideas has largely dissolved in today’s society. Jerod Poore, a late publisher of the Factsheet Five zines, asserts: “As fewer and fewer people are willing to challenge themselves regarding what they know and how they see the world, fewer people would truly benefit from anything that lists and reviews publications regardless of ideology.” The interests of the American public are secondary to the interests of the corporate elite. Furthermore, we have grown to accept this subordination.
Billie Aul points out that the truth simply demands more effort than most Americans are willing extend: “It is much easier to react to information that pushes emotional buttons, than to work at understanding information that appeals to reason and intellect.”
How can we, as a nation, expect accountability when we are not willing to embody this virtue ourselves? Capital will always have the power to sanction the convictions of the political and corporate elite. Inevitably, in an environment unencumbered by dissent, the discourse promulgated by the news media will continue to neglect the interests of the American public.
Authenticity is not subscribing to the words and actions of other people at their face value. Authenticity is striving to always know more. Above all, authenticity is the willingness to challenge your own personal beliefs.
There is a uniting quality about the authenticity of zine culture. Duncombe writes that the Factsheet Five zines provided a platform for disillusionment. “Zines are both a cultural artifact of, and a medium of expression for, an underground world staking out its identity in the shadows of commercial culture and through the cracks of capitalism.” The values of authenticity that promoted the free dissemination of information can be found in many independent media outlets today.
A small minority of individuals and organizations are willing to actively engage in the fight for a free press. Duncombe notes that participatory politics have the power to inspire positive change. He remarks, “I’ve come to the conclusion, after years of being an activist that the only way you are going to get people to care about the truth is to get them excited about it, to get them engaged in it.”
Our truest greatness as a nation, can historically be traced back to our power to inspire positive change through collective action. However, Mike Gunderloy declares that this participation can only inspire a democratic shift in awareness: “To the extent that the alternative press can begin to function as a system of oppositional consciousness.” The true, authentic power of the press can only begin to manifest itself as long as people are willing to put aside their differences and recognize their responsibility to provide a check on power.
Participate in our democracy, as Mike Gunderloy was fond of saying: “For love, not money.”