Introduction: Finding a Voice
Issue #31, March 1997
Recently, a story on Bad Subjects appeared in the on-line edition of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, a famous free weekly. The writer of the story, David Hudson, made a point of distinguishing between our zine from traditional academic fare. He noted that it would come to many readers as a "pleasant surprise to find that the political education offered in Bad Subjects does not come in the form of lengthy treatises encrypted in polysyllabic theory-speak, but rather, in some of the most straightforward, readable, and most importantly, relevant prose you're likely to find dealing with how to stay politically conscious while trudging through the numbing rigmarole of day-to-day living."
We are extremely happy to be complimented in this way. But we also recognize that this praise is bit of a double-edged sword. For people with a lot of intellectual training, these are hard words to live by. At Bad Subjects, we have always been concerned with the thorny problem of 'accessibility'. Although our publication was originally the product of a university environment, we have tried to be something more than another academic journal. We operate on the principle that most writing by intellectuals is harder than it needs to be. On the other hand, we recognize that some ideas just can't be expressed in a simple way. As we stated in Our "Manifesto for Bad Subjects," "if what we have to say is hard, then let it be hard." There are two distinct goals here. And they are not easily reconciled.
To an extent, every issue of Bad Subjects steers a perilous course between the Scylla of accessibility and the Charybdis of condescension or, just as dangerous, over-simplification. Issue editors agonize over questions of language. Take the preceding metaphor as an example. Does it presume to much of our readers to expect that they will know what the names "Scylla" and "Charybdis" signify? Why not say that Bad Subjects is always caught between a rock and a hard place? Good arguments can be made for each of these phrasings, and for many others as well.
The members of the Bad Subjects Production Team all agree that it is important to steer this perilous course. But what we are starting to realize more and more is that it is extremely difficult to come to any consensus on exactly how to achieve our goal. For Bad Subjects, the word "accessible" is starting to function like the ink-blot in a psychiatrist's Rohrschach test. This can make for considerable confusion. If I look at an ink-blot and see a tree, but my friend looks at and sees a fish, we're going to have a hard time communicating with one another, even though we're looking at the same piece of paper. To rephrase this in terms of Bad Subjects, while one member of the Production Team may be completely confortable with a reference to art history, another may find it needlessly obscure. Like beauty, accessibility seems to be in the eye of the beholder. But is it really?
The articles in this issue do not provide a definite answer to this question. However, they do suggest some more angles from which to approach it. A couple of them build directly on previous articles from Bad Subjects In "Hard Left: Language, Intellectuals, and Politics" from our "Access and Accessibility" issue last spring, Charlie Bertsch and Joel Schalit argued that leftist intellectuals could make their arguments more accessible by using figurative language — metaphors, similes, and the like. In this issue, Peter Ives responds by defending the straw man of their article: jargon. Joe Lockard follows up on some of the ideas he first explored in "Resisting Cyber-English" from our second "Cyberspace" issue. Lockard considers the latest outcries over the decline of the English language in the United States.
In addition to these two meditations on language, this issue also features a number of pieces which, when taken together, give a good sense of the different voices in which Bad Subjects' contributors speak. Renate Holub's piece takes as its topic the political transformations of Telos, a journal that, like Bad Subjects, once sought to produce leftist "public intellectuals," but which now romances virulently anti-democratic right-wing figures. In both style and content, Sarah bat Avraham's autobiographical piece about becoming a Jewish lesbian differs sharply from Holub's. But both articles deal with the question of access. Holub critiques the access Telos has both given and denied to its pages, while Avraham reveals how a series of personal transformations gave her access to a new understanding of prejudice.
Scott Thill's piece interprets the disturbing sexual politics of the Hollywood blockbuster Independence Day as part of the backlash against policies that have given women more access to authority in the workplace. Kevin Carollo writes about his experiences as an American man in Senegal, meditating on the meaning of mobility to Africans and westerners. Finally, this issue marks the debut of a new feature in Bad Subjects, "Bad Shorts." "Bad Shorts" will give several different members of the Bad Subjects community an opportunity to offer their own quick takes on the same topic. Our first is the media event of the past month and a half, the re-release of the Star Wars trilogy. By offering multiple perspectives on a single topic, "Bad Shorts" will give you a better sense of the range of style and opinion within the Bad Subjects Collective.