Sober Bob is… TOO PRETENTIOUS FOR MELBOURNE
How to alienate a community you’re desperately trying to build
by Sober Bob
I got my copy at Sticky for $2 recently but it’s been out for a while
Tell it like it is: Queensland zinemaker involved in local scene travels to Melbourne for the 2017 Festival of the Photocopier and leaves largely disappointed in both city and festival.
An interstate gaze: As a Melbournian I was really interested to read what a Queensland visitor makes of the city. They came with dreams of cafe culture, high fashion, amazing shopping and finding ART, blah blah blah (well, they didn’t come for high fashion, I added that). They got overpriced scrambled eggs on sourdough bread with no butter ($14), saw sanctioned street murals and second hand brand shoes going for as much as new ones. I had to laugh in sympathy, they kind of nailed it.
For all those great hotspots in Melbourne be it for food or resale doc martins, there’s the inevitable ratio of sub par enterprises happily cashing in on laneway real-estate and hipster lifestyles. How do you know when you’re walking into a trap? It’s no use people saying to you afterwards “Oh, you should have gone to THIS cafe” or, “there are heaps of great x y and zs in THAT part of Melbourne, you should have gone THERE”. No, you want to wander around the city and experience croissants hybridised with donuts for yourself. And yes, the silent assumption is that you have money to burn.
Not on point: I did however find it strange that the zinemaker was affronted by the amount of human shit they encountered in Melbourne. The last time I came across a human turd was near Hardware Lane in the 90s and that was part of an ongoing fire exit dispute, so was done strategically and in spite.
How often does anyone come across a human shit in the city? I mean, the CBD is pretty clean. I’ve never even thought about it.
This observation is still early on in the zine, so I’m standing there still reading the first few pages in Sticky and felt compelled to pause and asked those instore when the last time was that THEY came across a human shit.
(“Am I so out of touch?”).
One person could recall one but it wasn’t some massive show of hands, and then I was gently informed in a hushed voice that the zinemaker wasn’t talking about seeing human shits around the city (as in turds), they meant…homeless people.
It’s impossible to verify if “human shit(s)” refers to homeless people in this zine – you can read the same sentences over and over and it is ambiguous. I used the term ‘white trash’ in a zine once, and was called out by zinemaker Stu Stratu for it, and am forever grateful for that because it made me seriously think about the damage behind slurs and it’s not an expression I’d use again.
Fascinatingly, the folk at Sticky had it all wrong – and god knows how, this is how urban myths start, right – Sober Bob encountered two human specimen of faeces in the single trip to Melbourne and wrote about it (as you do). Repeat: no social commentary about homeless people in the zine, whatsoever. This has been verified with the zinemaker who was kind of horrified they had been so misconstrued; MYTH BUSTED.
Faith in humanity restored. Well, not quite, taking a dump in public isn’t classy, but my god, I’ve never been more relieved to hear about turds as opposed to some horrible gross slur towards the homeless population. And there’s nothing in the zine for you to read it as such.
Controversial: It’s controversial to claim the biggest zine fair in the southern hemisphere (around 200 tables at the Melbourne town hall annually) organised by fellow zinemakers, is shit.
Fact check: This is not a zine fair put on by the MCA or some cynical corporate sponsor engaging with zine culture for street cred. It’s put on by volunteer zinemakers through non profit organisation Sticky.
This is an event that is free to attend, free to participate in by requesting a table, that has no formal submission process and that does not turn away any zinemaker. All the tables are located under the one centralised space. There is disability access to the venue. Sticky are the good guys. What criticism could you possibly make, except to complain that you can’t bring in homemade cupcakes to give away from your table or that you can’t bring alcohol to the venue. Surely that’s the extent of it.
Legit point: The Queue to Snare The Best Positioned Table.
You know what, this is a totally valid criticism. The last fest of pc fair I took part in was the year before as a tabler. I made sure I got there to queue before the doors were scheduled to open because I knew it was first in, best dressed. Everyone else had the same idea: all zinesters want to get the best positioned tables.
The deeper into the maze of tables at the town hall? the more the visitor’s brain is overstimulated and the less they can intelligently take in. The human body is not evolutionarily equipped to deal with so much zine awesomeness all in one densely populated space.
It’s natural you want to score a good table before your customers eyes glaze over and they start hallucinating in all the overwhelming print culture fantastic-ness.
The problem with ‘first in, best dressed’ is that this can mean standing on the street for up to an hour before you’re even due to physically be there. Which can suck if you’ve come in from interstate, have stayed up all night stapling madly, or just don’t like standing in a really overwhelming queue. And then of course, as Sober Bob experienced first hand, “you local cool kid artists” start casual conversations as they happenstance upon a friend also in the queue, who then effectively “push in” by being absorbed by their mates rather than assume position at the back of the line, which by that time has winded up collins st which is like, what the hell.
Everyone is desperate to subvert this: I’m also responsible for ‘saving’ a table for a friend once I’ve got inside the hall – which is just the same as queue jumping, just a bit less obvious. There’s always been enough tables for everyone, which is amazing and highly admirable, so the queuing is needless in that regard, but – location! location! location! – everyone is heavily invested in getting the best placed table (completely subjective) and making the most out of such a great opportunity to sell your zines – which, as an organiser, is the kind of passion you want.
I think the first in best dressed method is workable for fairs to a certain size, then it gets to a tipping point where it registers in people’s consciousness as a negative part of the fair experience. So yeah. I totally get it. Preallocated tables would remove the stress, the FOMO, sneaky benefits of social connections, and would surely engender good will and peace on earth generally.
Of course, being a volunteer event, it’s more unpaid blood sweat and tears for someone to allocate tables. But you know what, a large scale event deserves consideration and organisation of these kind of aspects. Allocating tables would have to be random, to be truly fair, if you were going to do it. Random like tattersall lottery machines with air bursts and numbered ping pong balls and television studio adjudicators.
The Social Exclusion Criticism:
Basically the Cool Kids factor mentioned above where you don’t get that sense of inclusion when you’re on the periphery. Sober Bob felt it, it sucks, and it’s present in most sub cultures. A tough one. Is Melbourne full of cold and insular people? bah, probably. Soz.
The Etsy Market Criticism:
This is where you bitch about how everyone is selling crafts and badges and temporary tattoos instead of it being about The Zines. I file this under unfortunate-but-hard-to-control and things-could-be-worse. Sober Bob calls for tables to be vetted for their content, and you know what, that’s exactly what satan wants too. Zines versus Crafts And Small Felted Animals is an eternal spiritual battle, and we must all try and be vigilant, but once you start trying to actively vet content of zine tables on the day…well…it’s a dark and lonely path. Maybe you have ideas on what’s inside the zines as well, that also need to be vetted? Maybe you want to organise zine fairs in America where this goes on all the time?
The ‘200 goddamn vendors’ Criticism:
Whereby Sober Bob complains the zine fair is a ‘squished up cluster fuck of people being forced down rows’ lol, that’s a great sentence. Well, it’s a big event, yes but you can always pace yourself. No-one actually died from suffocation or stampeding in 2017’s fair. So, you know, there’s crowding, but it’s a cluster fuck of goodness more than anything.
Production values: This is a folded down A3 effort with Serif font, colour photocopied, black pen handwritten bits, some photos as documentary evidence, token fare evasion pamphlet collage addition and pen squiggles. (the squiggles you do on your folder in year nine).
Further Reading: ‘Anonymous, Idealistic and Responsible: Part 2 This is Not Organised” a zine about a Newcastle zine fair held in atrocious conditions, which this zine pays homage to. I’d also like to recommend my own interstate zine fair bashing effort, ‘I Lost My Sense of Irony in Brisbane’ where I cannot find a cafe that sells freshly squeezed juice or iced coffee in the Brisbane CBD.