Youth Cultures, Youth-Made Media, and Mainstream Media: A Brief History of Inextricable Relationships (Part 3).

various fanzines

The creation of fanzines has been a prolific youth-made media activity among female and male youth members of, punk, post punk, and club cultures. Fanzines have been very important for the development of youth media entrepreneurial practices, and for the sustainability of youth cultures as well, because they are relatively easy to produce, distribute, and archive. Fanzines also involve, as in certain hip hop practices, a sort of work-play labor. Despite the fact that the technologies involved in the production and reception of zines are relatively easy to access, the availability of free time has been a constraint for the engagement of working class youngsters with this kind of youth-made media. Scholars such as Gaines, Thorntorn, and Kearney have described the power of fanzines to organize, maintain, and develop youth cultures.

In her analysis of hardcore and death metal fanzines made in the 1990s, Gaines demonstrates that these kind of media texts are crucial for the establishment and development of a local scene. According to her, scenes are forms of organization and interaction that youth create in order to carve out their own spaces and places. For the purposes of my analysis, it makes sense to understand scenes as youth cultures. Post-punk local scenes or youth cultures such as death metal and hardcore are exclusionary, subterranean, and have discrete elements that separate them from other youth cultures. Zines help youth organize (network) themselves with other peers who have common interests creating a community that can be called upon different activities. As Gaines argues, there is a symbiosis between the community and the fanzine, the fans feed of the zine, and the zine feeds of them. (55) This kind of symbiotic relationship between zines and scenes, demonstrate the complexity of the relationship between youth-made media and youth cultures.

Besides helping to organize the youth culture supporting the creation of a community and the networking among youngsters with similar interests, zines, as exemplary youth-made media, can also be an essential training ground for youngsters. In her study of the Riot Grrrl youth culture and its prolific production of music and zines, Kearney has argued that media savvy girls were able to purposefully exploit reporters in order to disseminate the radical message of “girl power.” Besides educating themselves in strategic communications and also helping to develop skills among peer girls (e.g. workshops on zine making), riot grrrls engaged in productive media making were active in the creation of independent presses and distribution services (distros). The entrepreneurial media practices of riot grrrls were not not only productive but also educational.

riot grrrrrl zine

Although fanzines are originally produced for circulation inside the isolated and exclusive youth culture, sometimes they end up calling the attention of the mainstream media and are integrated into their content (copied, quoted, reviewed). For instance, Riot Girrrl zines were reviewed by the mainstream Sassy magazine in a specialized column called “Zine of the Month.” Even though this kind of relationship was not originally intended by youth media entrepreneurs, the publicity and amplification of their cultural productions through mainstream was useful for gaining recognition among other youngsters outside their unique culture. At the end, this kind of public amplification of youth-made media by the mainstream, turns out to be helpful for the development of youth counter-publics where the voices of youngsters are not only heard but also placed in dialogue with other public and adult discourses.

Thorntorn has described a symbiotic relationship between youth-made media and mainstream media in her studies of club and rave cultures. According to her, mass media (e.g. tabloids and tv shows) and specialist “subterranean” media such as micromedia (e.g. zines, flyers, and listings), and niche media (youth-oriented consumer magazines) are all integral to the formation of youth cultures. As Thorntorn explains, “diverse media are inextricably involved in the meaning and organization of subcultures. Youth subcultures are not organic, unmediated social formations, nor autonomous, grass-roots cultures which only meed the media upon ‘selling out’ or at moments of ‘moral panic.’ (188) Interesting examples of such inextricability are the strategic way in which rave fanzines appear in the aftermath of a tabloid “moral panic,” and the manner in which local magazines rely on the information of micromedia flyers.

techno flyers

In conclusion, the relationships between youth-made media and youth cultures, and youth-made media and mainstream are interrelated and inextricable. They are all part of a complex system that needs to be understood using an ecological approach. Youth cultures, youth-made media, and the mainstream media have been always interconnected. The relationships have changed overtime according to the different economic, cultural, technological, and social contexts. The changes on the relationships can be understood as transformations in the balance of power, the access to media technologies, and the creation of new counter public spaces. As late capitalist and post-industrial societies keep changing and transforming themselves into information and networked societies, youth cultures and youth-made media become more powerful, visible and influential.


Gaines, Donna. (1994) “The Local Economy of Suburban Scenes.” In Epstein, Jonathon S. (ed). Adolescents and Their Music: If It’s Too Loud, You’re Too Old. New York: Garland.

Kearney, Mary Celeste. (2006) Girls make media. New York : Routledge.

Thornton, Sarah. (1994) “Moral Panic, The Media and British Rave Culture.” In Microphone Fiends: Youth Music and Youth Culture. Eds. Andrew Ross and Tricia Rose. New York: Routledge. 176-92.

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