Free speech is under siege. What now for the zine community?
Zines became an outlet for many creatives to express personal takes without restraints of censorships and ridicule. It was a convenient and responsive form of expression, propagating the suppressed voices of the maligned free thinkers. However, because of the recent threat of the vague Anti-Terror Law, zine-making is in peril.
The powerful world of zines started with the sci-fi fans, dating back to the 1930s. It was called “fanzines” as it mainly circulated inside fandom cultures, then it was shortened to “zines” when it made its way in the anarchistic counterculture of punk. Highly influenced by the misfit lifestyle, zines were used by radical feminist and anti-consumerism movements which led to the emergence of zine culture in the Philippines.
Role of the small press in the Philippines
Many local artists and writers today use zines to denounce attacks against freedom of speech—all in folded or stapled paper containing informative remarks about the unmistakably tyrannical system. The main idea of zine making is that it’s a liberating process, starting from creation to distribution… You might typically see them handed over in protests by progressive groups, consisting of information usually different from mainstream media.
Fairs, markets, and cons that annually celebrate the small press niche in our country also feature zines, uplifting both its quirkiness, and its established political and critical nature. Local zine libraries and distros are also popping up to archive both foreign and local zines, the medium becoming more available for everyone to explore.
The practice has always been similar to pamphleteering. Producing as many copies as possible in order to give light to topics compelling the human interest but without the chokehold of dominating figures, and merely a complete exercise of a person’s right to speak and express.
Zine scene under the Anti-Terror Law
Days prior to the signing of the Anti-Terror Law, local media outlets were subjected to intense scrutiny. Following Rappler Executive Maria Ressa’s conviction of cyber-libel, the country’s leading broadcasting network, ABS-CBN, was also denied franchise renewal. Both decisions were widely dubbed as a dangerous precedent to Philippine press.
Meanwhile, there’s also the question of history repeating itself, with the 1970’s Martial Law as a cautionary tale for the present day. Where once, the rise of a president turned dictator eroded democracy by silencing loud activists and critics. It was also the time where government-sponsored propaganda was prevalent in radio and television.
Media outlets back then were shuttered, including ABS-CBN because of its ties with the Liberal party. It was also then where the discreet yet biting “mosquito press” rose up to oppose the onslaught of abuses the press experienced.
Since the recent attacks on press freedom and countless assaults against the people’s rights, Anti-Terror Law is becoming disturbingly similar with Hong Kong’s plight against China’s security law, where various forms of protest amplify the public outcry.
One form of protests, of course, are small-press zines, which conveyed their struggles through various artworks and messages— stationing them inside airports and public parks, handing them out on the streets, and hosting zine exhibitions. But with these amassing pro-democracy demonstrations, accounts of activists being illegally detained, some even physically violated for carrying anti-China pamphlets, are multiplying in numbers. These made the Filipino people realize that under the Terror Law, they might just suffer the same fate.
Zine making marches on
Even on lockdown, many creators still make ways for circulation using the virtual space to add into the noise. This includes known artists and zinemakers such as Makó Micro-Press, who continue to make informative posts on their platforms to bring light to relevant issues.
Filipina feminist library and publication Gantala Press also take big part in the scene by hosting online educational discussions and organizing workshops with peasant groups to counter abuse and injustice. An influx of free zines scatter online through local makers, archiving sites that tackle issues of state oppression through art and literature to reach more people.
Under the Terror Law, people might find themselves asking: what will be the future of zines here in our country, when its primal nature has always been unapologetically political? For as long as it is needed, zines can and will find a way. And in order to do that, it needs all the support it can get.
There are many ways to support the zine scene in the country. It could be learning and familiarizing yourself in its cause, exposing yourself to the culture, buying directly from creators or through zine distros. Still, the best way to support the scene is to make your own zine that contains your own voice and soul while completely disposed to the “do-it-yourself” ethos of the medium.
The path of the media and press has always been rocky and indefinite. That is why the role of the independent small press will continue on, dodging the wary eyes of state surveillance. The system embarks to new ways of dissent and resistance suppression, but the zine culture shall always persist to ventilate the struggle amid these turbulent times.
It shall continuously battle the chains of forced conformity through art and its abstract forms. Through the religious process of copy and pasting snippets, gluing, stapling, creating, and having an unrestricted platform, acknowledging its limits and taking them into the virtual world and the bustling streets. It may not be enough to overhaul the broken system, but it is an efficient way to present the socio-political climate, start a discourse, and inform the uninformed.