You can find it on their website here, but as it's a little hard to find, I'll just reprint it.
"At the institute" we believe that all zines are awesome no matter what, AND we believe in healthy discussion and critical thinking in zine culture. And that these are not mutually exclusive standpoints.
Consider these reviews in the spirit in which they are written - just one person's point of view put out there as starting points for larger conversations and exchanges of ideas about zines.
But first, here's some more thoughts on the role of reviews...
The Bubble – zines and constructive criticism
I’ve been trying to think of a good way to talk about feedback and the current climate in the zine community – or at least the Australian zine community. It’s been bothering me for a while, mostly because like a lot of us, I enjoy a good discussion about what makes zines great. But it pains me that many people I come across only seem to want to discuss the good stuff. Whenever the feedback touches on something they don’t like, it seems to bring up a wall. I’m not going to name names, but friends have told me that there are people upset by newsletter reviews, people who believe zines shouldn’t be reviewed at all. People who have told me that I shouldn’t say anything if I want to highlight something I don’t think works in a zine, or something I find problematic. It’s the ‘if you can’t say anything nice…’ argument, and it feels ironically conservative for the kind of people that seem to make zines. It’s a conversation I’ve had a number of times over the last several months. When I try to articulate why this bothers me, I always think of this particular episode of the US sitcom 30 Rock. Liz, the main character, is dating a very handsome man played by Mad Men’s Jon Hamm. She soon realises he is living in what’s known as ‘The Bubble’, a situation faced by very good-looking people in which nobody ever tells them anything negative and are overly helpful towards them in all instances.
Because of this, he mistakenly believes that he is a tennis pro, can speak French, is good in bed and that Gatorade tastes good in salmon dishes. When Liz attempts to rescue him from The Bubble he lashes out at her, telling her he likes it in there.
What am I getting at with this overly-long analogy? Well, sometimes it feels as if zinesters wish to live in a similar bubble, where they never have to confront anything they don’t want to hear about their own work.
I know not all constructive criticism is given with tact, but a lot of it is pretty innocuous. And a lot of it is intended with the idea of having a dialogue and maybe growing as artists/zinesters/what have you. I can understand how it might be better if sometimes the criticism is sent privately, rather than aired publicly. But zines, when published and sent out, are something very public. So I also disagree with the idea that zine reviews shouldn’t exist because, what? We don’t want to say anything bad about zines, not even about something small and technical because that might kill zines? Are zines like Sumatran Tigers and Giant Pandas? Are they that fragile? Understand that I am not talking about writing cruel, discouraging things to crush the souls of new zinesters who might be terrified away by reviews. I’m talking about reasonable feedback, aimed at seasoned zinesters. [editor - how do you know who's a seasoned zinester and who's a newbie? Should that even be an issue?] I think zines are pretty durable and strong, personally. I don’t see them wilting away into nothingness over a bit of feedback.
Let me be very clear – do I want someone writing cruel, nasty things about my own zine just for the hell of it? No. Of course I don’t. But I am also a grown up, and surely it won’t be the death of me if I encounter someone being an arsehole. Mostly, I’d like it if people responded to something in any of my zines they didn’t like, that offended them or that they thought I could improve on. I think it’d be wonderful to talk to someone like that, and I can’t see an argument for a zinester or artist not wanting to have a conversation about their work, which clearly matters to them.
I’m interested in any reactions to this. And you know what, you don’t have to agree withany of the above, in fact please feel free to disagree with everything. God, write a zine about how wrong I am if you like. Write a rebuttal for this very newsletter even. That’s actually what this is all about.
Candace – firstname.lastname@example.org
Interesting stuff right? Then there's a link to another blog post about how reviews create elitism. It's on Clementine Cannibal's blog and can be found here. Go read it. I mean, if you're reading my blog you clearly have time to kill.
These two pieces led me to spend several hours writing a 1300 word response to my friend. I won't be reprinting that here. Instead I will link to a post by Chantal Lefebvre (who left a comment on the above blog entry) about criticism. Go read it too. Her stuff probably explains my positions better than I could (even if I don't agree with her on every point).
People have said my reviews are often too critical of the work they discuss. I think there is a difference between criticising the way something is done and criticising the actual content. Just as there is a difference between criticising a piece and attacking a creator.
What are you opinions on reviews in the zine world? How about elitism in the zine world? I'd love to have an actual discussion with people, but expect nobody to even reply to this : )