The mention of Generation Y conjures up images of adolescent thugs running amuck at a Facebook house party. Narcissistic teenage girls with the wild antics of women twice their age. Youngsters who have lost their innocence well before their time. Society is going to the dogs, the doomsayers proclaim.
It seems, however, that the seemingly mythical breed of intellectual and self-aware adolescents is no longer such a rarity. Of late, there has been a do-it-yourself ideology emerging amongst ambitious youth adopting the punk attitude of past decades.
The ‘80s and ‘90s spawned an outburst of creativity and activism in cut-and-paste, photocopied zines. An unfamiliar term in this era of blogs and URLs, zines refer to self-published fanzines with a niche distribution. Art, culture, politics, sex – no topic was off limits on these xeroxed pages.
With the rise of the Internet in the early noughties, zines became a thing of the past – almost like the rebellious creatives who made them. The drive behind these defiantly lo-fi projects seemed to take a backseat to ‘safer’ mainstream publications.
But true to the twenty-year spin cycle of the pop culture washing machine, the punk subculture is re-emerging in the new generation. And it’s not all tartan pants and sky-high hair. Suddenly, it’s cool to be an opinionated and innovative individual.
"The Mitchell sisters have effectively encapsulated the essence of old-school teen angst into a contemporary webpage."
There’s nothing more punk than conceiving a zine in a high school religion class. Former Brisbane schoolmates Nicole Pires and Madeline Hay did exactly that with IZE Magazine – pronounced ‘eyes’ and named after The Strokes’ song ‘Ize of the World’.
IZE’s aesthetic is reminiscent to indie publications such as Yen, Russh and I ♥ FAKE. Flick through these titles and one can easily envisage its young, alternative readers – pink-haired, wide-eyed and roaming the city’s underground hotspots in weathered Doc Martins.
In the face of the Millennial Generation’s often-negative portrayal, IZE editor Nicole is quick to defend her peers. “Generation Y is warped up in the technological age and it’s afforded us to be stereotyped as lazy and narcissistic,” she says. “But one of the things defining our generation is a do-it-yourself mentality – we’re fighting against a mass-produced society.”
The bonds forged between female friends seem to be a catalyst for creative success. Fellow Brisbane pioneers Becki Kenworthy and Phoebe Golden created Occult after meeting on exchange at UK’s University of Leeds. The duo returned to home soil with fire in their bellies.
Their abstract, rainbow coloured zine is a labour of love – 500 or so copies printed, stapled and folded by hand. But some may wonder why they go to such lengths, when a simple webpage is all the rage. “Independent zines are more innocent, less money-focused and maybe even more ignorant,” Becki explains. “It keeps them humble in their production and more open to opportunities.”
With its runaway success, both IZE and Occult have its humble hometown to thank – Australia’s oddball little city. “Brisbane is taking a step up in the creative and cultural world,” Becki says. “I strongly believe in going out and getting things done, and it seems like a lot of other people here have the same attitude.”
This DIY movement is not a phenomenon exclusive to Australia’s shores. Our peers across the Pacific Ocean are experiencing the same paradigm shift – evident more than ever through the World Wide Web’s intertwining creative circles.
American sisters/photographers Cailie and Brianna Mitchell – better known through their mutual persona The Pulp Girls – will soon celebrate the one-year anniversary of their online publication, The Pulp Zine. Adorned with glitter, stickers and cuttings of cult pop culture (à la Twin Peaks and Freaks and Geeks), its art-and-craft aesthetic resembles something you would secretly pass around in class behind your teacher’s back.
"Zines offer so much freedom,” Brianna says of The Pulp Zine’s candid entries – My First Kiss, My First High, My First Heartbreak. “You can set the tone however you like, rather than settling for the watered-down dribble the mass public consumes.”
Like many of its fellow publications, The Pulp Zine’s appeal is rooted in nostalgia. The Mitchell sisters have effectively encapsulated the essence of old-school teen angst into a contemporary webpage. “There’s a lot of dissatisfaction in our generation,” Cailie says. “Not many people are optimistic for the future and it’s like we’re all living in limbo – from fad to fad.”
Nineteen-year-old The Pulp Zine contributor and New York University student Elizabeth Rauner understands her peers’ disillusionment. “Our generation is constantly being told that we’re the children of technology and all that bullshit,” she says. “But I’ve definitely become more aware of independently run projects in the past few years, with Rookie [online magazine by blogger Tavi Gevinson] becoming a really prominent presence in teenage girl-dom.”
Communities such as The Pulp Zine are helping to stitch together today’s youth – the modern-day answer to pen pals. “We’re constantly encouraging each other,” Elizabeth says. “We’re totally comfortable adding each other on Facebook and being like, ‘Hi, I’m obsessed with your work, let’s be best friends’. I wish I had a community like this when I was sixteen or seventeen – in high school, I felt like no one really got what I was about.”
Throughout the years, teenagers have always needed some defence mechanism to cope with their awkward, angst-ridden years. Now, in an age of creative freedom, they can carve their own path through street zines, online blogs or with like-minded peers on a faraway continent.
They’re doing it themselves, but they have never been more connected.