Electronic Barn-Raising: Renewing the Bad Web

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About the recent redesign of the Bad Subjects website.

We unveil a site redesign during a period of enormous political consequence. The Bush administration is being pulled ever-deeper into its self-made Iraq quagmire; the US economy is under corporate control and workers are paying the price; the election season is beginning to reveal the depth of anti-Bush sentiment; and the most popular media venue to address these issues is a comedy show. Can alternative online publishing rise to the occasion to provide substantive cultural and political analysis?

Bad Subjects has been publishing online since 1992, beginning in long-defunct gopherspace. Beginning with a group of graduate students in Berkeley’s English department, organized by Joe Sartelle and Annalee Newitz, Bad Subjects continued to expand its editorial collective. Some of the original community has taken other directions; some remains in the present collective, together with new editors. The original vision of creating a political and cultural journal that would foster an effective left is still our central purpose.

Re-invention is a continual necessity of electronic life (perhaps all life). Until 2004 we were using technology that had provided a steady platform for seven years, since our last re-design in 1997. Our production processes were constantly hindered, however, by a publishing workflow that relied on the technical expertise of a few editors. Consequently, the flow of editorial work into production was unnecessarily slow.

This new site design employs exclusively open-source technology for electronic publishing, which can be adapted through a range of extensions. Editors can work directly on the site with simple-to-learn tools; writers and artists can post new writings directly; readers can participate more actively by commenting on essays. Plones in many ways fit the democratic and anti-hierarchical ethos that Bad Subjects has fostered in the past through mailing lists, blog-like editorials, and letters to the editor (the Voices of the Collective series of articles).

We have some of the look-and-feel of the old Bad Subjects sites: the now-beloved logo remains. However, internal site capacities have increased greatly. The old site was created before the blog revolution; the new site will enable editors to write with immediacy. It is now a site that has been designed to draw in readers, link writers and readers to one another, and give us all electronic reading rooms through which to roam. This is a more intensely participatory website; it is more than an electronic periodical.

Approximately 6,000 readers visit Bad Subjects daily from nearly all countries. So we continue to develop our multilingualism, part of a commitment that began with the first ‘Bad Spanish’ issue in 2000. The new site contains a range of non-English essays in Spanish, French, Italian, Arabic, Turkish, Korean, and other languages, and its technology welcomes readers in their native languages.

The re-invention involved in creating this new website involved the equivalent of an electronic barn-raising undertaken by Bad editors in the United States and Canada. Since the Bad archives have enormous accumulated depth, some parts of the site remain a work-in-progress. Electronic publishing is only one means to speak, though. This re-designed website is being inaugurated at the same time as Collective Action: A Bad Subjects Anthology is being published in the United States (the European edition is already in distribution) and as Bad editors join in a book tour.

Collaboration and voluntarism are powerful intellectual and political forces. In the original 1993 Bad Subjects Manifesto, we wrote that our political purpose was "to popularize a critical position from which people may challenge capitalism in both their thinking and their actions." To accomplish that collective goal, we are renewing the Bad community–and its means of production.

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Call for Papers

Bad Subjects Issue #87:


BAD SUBJECTS Issue #87 investigates how the topic of weapons is woven into the fabric of society and is broadly defined in the popular psyche and technological history. From words to pictures, to media culture and cinema, a culture of weaponry--from handguns to drones and beyond----preoccupies the global imagination.

Creative articles on how weapons impact daily life in human interaction, geopolitics, or the life of cities or other are strongly encouraged. Weapons are unsettling, technological phenomenon prone to inducing controversy, horror, pleasure, and pain. The very word 'weapon' touches a powerful nerve in American identity, that of property and liberty.

Then there is the freedom to arm oneself which for many is a concept deeply embedded in the American mind. Whether in response to real or perceived threat, personal weapons have an attraction, use, and appeal. In art, media culture, literature, and film scripts that appeal manifests as images and words; a culture of ideas. Since Sandy Hook and Isla Vista, a renewed debate about gun control counteracts the virulent demand for gun freedom from the conservative right. Indeed, notions of “weaponry” extend far beyond that which can be worn on the body, or carried, or used by a single individual shooter when entire nations are beset with the forever marks of bombs, bullets, chemicals, and military actions. Historic events may offer an understanding of where American society stands with respect to military force, military aid, or the Second Amendment, but do they put us any closer to self-reliance, sovereignty, and the pursuit of happiness?

What do guns signify and how are they, or are they not, significant? Are weapons an idea, lodged in our minds, colonizing our thoughts to the point of no return? How can we dislodge their power over us and send it, naked and vulnerable, into the world, like a frightened piece of game? This is the purpose of this issue.

We are opposed to “open carry” and want more regulation and gun control. We have been active in the history of anti-war and anti-military activity. We seek articles addressing history; articles on art, cinema, culture, political life. We want to look at weapons, at guns and gun worship; at weapons and sexuality, at war and at peace.

In a remarkable work, The Ray Gun Museum, Claes Oldenburg placed a large collection of small plastic, wood, and metal gun-shaped items he'd found over time on display in a gun shaped room. The artwork talks about the symbolism of the gun shape and what it signifies; the likeness of the found object to the gun.

Thus, we have contradictions. We relentlessly glamorize the weapon, sexualize it, make it part of gender; fool with it. A femininity of wiles is often considered insidiously complex and amoral. We make poison, cast spells, bewitch and beguile while the gangster, and the gun moll, model unequal power relations in film noir after film noir and the masculinized, westernized military industrial complex dominates virtually all of Hollywood from The Terminator to Iron Man to Full Metal Jacket and Zero Dark Thirty,despite Lara Croft! Man and his Technology reigns supreme.

An even newer weapon, possibly, has emerged since 9/11, that of a pure ideology, immaterial absolutes and a global political spectrum laced with ideas emerging fresh from the US lead “War on Terror”. The Internet as terminal hiding place, as battlefield, cities as vulnerable, and surveillance as a necessary evil are ideas which reconstitute the feedback loop of the perpetual terrorist Other; a war machine.

What then, do events like the Bundy ranch face-off mean for "revolutionary" acts of freedom in the United States? How has the history of weapons influenced such events and what do they mean for the future of civil society?

Bad Subjects welcomes articles which will generate greater understanding about this complex topic. Submitted essays must be 1,000–3,000 words long. The deadline for submission is October 1. Please send completed essays (.rtf format), your contact information, and a brief author bio of 100 words, to submissions.badsubjects@gmail.com. Please include “Submission for Issue 87” in the subject line of the email.

Collective Action
Collective ActionCollective Action, the second Bad Subjects anthology, is available today at your favorite local independent bookstore. (Get the first one, too.)

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