I’m not teaching this winter term, and believe it or not part of me actually misses the adrenalin rush of last year’s Remix-Culture-in-a-Month experience. But at the same time, I’m glad for the chance to catch my breath, to dig into my manuscript writing, and to have a chance to reflect on last semester’s classes.
As I mentioned in my last post, last semester marked a shift in my teaching. For a long while now, I’ve been talking the talk about integrating theory and practice, and the insights that can come from the merging of the two, but last semester felt like the first time I went all in, both with syllabus design and with my approach to each day of each class. At the same time, I’ve also for a long time talked about the value of bringing yourself to your research and teaching, though I have personally found that this is harder to put into practice than it is to talk about. But inspired yet again by Alexander Doty’s work after his death (and by the really wonderful Flow panel in his honor) I came to my classes this semester newly dedicated to both of these mergers–personal/academic and theory/practice. And so though it felt at times like I was treading on unfamiliar and even uncomfortable ground, I was determined to more fully bring myself to my classes and and to encourage my students to do the same, both in their more traditional academic work and in their creative work. And I have to say, the results were incredibly rewarding.
I promised more images of my students zine-making from my Gender/Sexuality/Media class, and I am here to deliver. I would say, with some reflection, that the value of this zine project was twofold.
1) The zines gave students the opportunity to personalize the broader ideas we were studying in class, to try on how they applied to their own experience of media culture & popular culture, and more specifically still to their personal histories and to their experience of college life and of being a college student and young adult in 2012. Zines from both semesters revolved around college culture and the expectations and experiences of my students and their peers. This is turn infused all of our discussions with a sense of immediacy and relevance that was invaluable.
2) The zine project encouraged students to get together and be creative and productive, hands on, sitting on each other’s dorm room floors with glue sticks and magazine cuttings (and if they chose, sparkles), to engage with each other beyond concerns of specific grades or outcomes. Because zines themselves are so open ended, and have such a do-no-wrong ethos, this assignment freed students to experiment with and explore their own and each others’ creative and intellectual impulses. I have to say that this is where that merger of theory and practice is especially crucial: I don’t think this sense of embrace of experimentation would have been so strong if we had not read the entirety of Alison Piepmeier’s excellent book. The zine assignment has the potential to deteriorate into a sort of 6th grade diorama mentality, centered on who can make the best bubble writing or most stylish looking artwork (and there’s my personal past coming in! I was never the strongest at bubble writing, I have to admit, and to this day hate the word diorama…) But Piepmeier’s book emphasizes the DIY diversity of zines, the sense that the point that there is no one way, no one best aesthetic, but a multiplicity of approaches, from image based to text based to comic based to collage, color, black and white, small, large; everything goes. This sense of diversity was without doubt reflected in the diversity of the zines students made.
Finally, I’d like to end on a question. What assignments have you all been experimenting with that merge theory and practice, or encourage an integration of the personal into the academic? I’d love to hear about successes and stumbling blocks and everything in between!
And so without further ado, more zines! These are excerpts, as in a few cases I found myself actually finding that they felt a bit too personal to post publicly, even though the students said they’d be happy to share them.
Vogue, Middlebury Edition [a commentary on fashion & culture at Middlebury]
No Boys Allowed (what its creators termed “the vagina zine”–worth noting not only women were involved in the making of this zine, despite what its title may suggest )
And finally, Call on Myself! You’ll note that many of these zines had interactive components. This one actually had five different quizzes, made by the different group members, so that each copy of the zine was unique and individualized. This version of the quiz (the one made especially for me!) was a collective effort.