These days, it ain’t easy being indy.
The last 12 months have seen the demise of Clamor, Punk Planet, Satya and LiP. Not only have we lost a set of publications committed to the cultivation of progressive thought, intriguing activism and culture-jamming, but we have also lost four great forums of initiation for the next generation of thinkers and activists.
Thank heavens AK Press has stepped up to fill the gap. This fall, the anarchist publishing house released Tipping the Sacred Cow: The Best of LiP. It’s a comfort to know that LiP’s unorthodox journalistic approach now has the potential to reach new audiences.
Tipping the Sacred Cow is a savvy and well-curated collection of the comics, illustrations, articles and interviews featured in LiP’s myriad print and online incarnations from 1996 – 2007. Capturing the magazine’s cheeky nature, it reads like a super-special edition of LiP – complete with illustrations by cartoonist Eric Drooker, a “theft ethics” quiz, a glossary of culture-jamming lingo and other useful appendices – including some exclusive, behind-the-scenes, previously unpublished material.
Goodies aside, this collection approaches all of the left’s sacred cows with verve – from hip-hop activism and anti-globalization to environmentalism and radical queer activism. Though some articles in the compilation are nearing 10 years old, the material is still fresh and relevant. Jennifer Whitney’s “Make Media, Make Real Trouble: What’s Wrong and Right With Indymedia” (June 2005) particularly resonates in these dark days for independent publications.
“People don’t read sloppy, unedited or disorganized stories,” Whitney writes, referring to the profusion of poor content on Indymedia websites. “They don’t look at bad photographs or videos. And so the potential to have an impact is greatly diminished. Simply put, an unread article changes nothing.”
While the Internet is a tremendous resource for organizing and activism, our increased reliance on social networking sites, blogs and other marginally edited transmissions thwarts the production of inventive, imaginative and investigative articles from the left. That decrease in quality alienates potential audiences.
Technology has shored up diverse ideas and activist networks – i.e. the online organizing efforts for the Jena Six– but few groups attract allies outside their niche. Well-executed and thought-out journals can function as “spokespeople” for nascent movements, engaging participants with the theories, activism and ideas needed to further movements.
LiP addressed these difficulties head on. In his introduction to the anthology, founder Brian Awehali writes that LiP’s purpose was to “spur different conversations, generate different frames and attract people who, frankly, feel stultified by a lot of U.S. progressive and radical media.”
One of the most intriguing pieces in Tipping the Sacred Cow is “Sweatshop-Produced Rainbow Flags and Participatory Patriarchy: Why the Gay Rights Movement is a Sham,” by self-described radical queer activist Mattilda, a.k.a. Matt Bernstein Sycamore.
The essay addresses the concern of assimilation and homogeneity within American queer culture and asks what is lost when marginalized social groups compromise their core identities in favor of acceptance. Abstractly, these are interesting questions, but when used to argue against gay marriage as a symbol of oppression, the piece exemplifies the kind of thought-provoking work that was LiP at its best.
Similarly great entries include Lisa Jervis’ “If Women Ruled the World, Nothing Would be Different” and an interview with Christopher Hitchens about his book, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice.
Though its print circulation peaked at around 4,000 readers, LiP was a training ground for many of today’s young writers, thinkers, artists and activists – many of whom have gone on to work for other publications, In These Times included. Mattilda is now an editor for Make/Shift, one of the most promising entries into the print world since LiP’s untimely passing. Other notable authors and interviewees in Tipping the Sacred Cow include Jeff Chang, damali ayo, Kari Lydersen and Neelanjana Banerjee.
Not everything in Tipping sparkles. Neal Pollack, of Alternadad fame, is decidedly lackluster with his satirical “I Love to Burn the Flag,” and almost all of the anthology’s fiction and prose pieces come off as trite retreads rather than sacred cattle prods.
When compared to LiP’s other articles on gender and sexuality, pieces like “Gender Ninja, Gender Pirate” fall flat in their attempts to shock with laughable lines like, “What was the difference between piracy and cultural appropriation? If you asked the gender pirate that question, you’d get a poke in the eye and a kick between the legs.”
The missteps, however, are rare. From LiP’s staff-wide treatise on the ethics of poop to the misuses of renewable energy on Indian reservations, Tipping the Sacred Cow serves as a worthy headstone for a publication that died before its time.