Pictured is part of an internal announcement (nowhere online, alas) from NYU’s library system, announcing that noted feminist sweepstakes winner Kathleen Hanna, in a charitable mood, has bequeathed her papers—’zines, presumably correspondence and material pertaining to her career in Bikini Kill, among other things—to NYU’s Fales Library, the branch of the library system holding a number of special collections. The Kathleen Hanna Papers seem to be the first major acquisition for the library’s brand new Riot Grrrrl Collection.
There’s been, of course, an exponential increase in the academic study of recent pop-cultural phenomenon; like the press release says, intimidatingly hip grad students interested in researching “feminism, punk activism, queer theory, music history,” et cetera, will find much to fascinate them here.
NYU’s library, in general, has been for a number of reasons a natural destination for material pertaining to NY-centric alternative cultures of the last few decades. Notably, Up Is Up But So Is Down: New York’s Downtown Literary Scene, 1974-1992, Brandon Stosuy’s marvelous, compendious anthology of the East Village’s D.I.Y. lit scene, was put out by NYU Press, and drew heavily from—was in fact largely inspired by—materials archived at Fales’s “Downtown Collection,” as Stosuy discusses at length in this great interview.
At what point does this become ridiculous?
Why look down your nose at this? It seems perfectly reasonable to me that this stuff would wind up in a library. You can’t study feminism in 2010 (or 2005 or 1995, for that matter) and not talk about Hanna and the Riot Grrrl movement. For better or worse, it was the public face of feminism for a significant amount of time, and that alone makes it worthy of closer examination. I’m sure the folks at Evergreen State College would be happy to have it in their library.
I thought a bit about this last night, too–I guess it becomes ridiculous at some point, but not this point, assuming by “it” you mean the increasing (and, though I don’t mean this as a bad word, relativist) emphasis on pop culture in the academy.
Several of the best anthologized papers I read as a cinema studies major dealt with television narrative, production history, and viewership/fandom via the close study of soap operas. It was fascinating, and arguably the kind of perspective sorely missing from most discourse on the subject.
Then again, I’m also sympathetic to the argument, similar to many I’ve made about lots of other stuff, that if we give ourselves permission to take too many frivolous things (though for reasons Mike articulated quite succinctly I don’t include the Riot Grrrl movement in this category) too seriously, we risk diverting ourselves altogether from the drier, weightier work we needed a break from in the first place.
So, I guess, it becomes ridiculous at the point when NYU acquires The Miley Cyrus Papers for their Tween-Pop Collection.
An important tenet of Third Wave feminism, which was arguably ignited by Bikini Kill, other Riot Grrrl bands, and the accompanying Riot Grrrl feminist movement, is that there is no one Truth, no objective position from which one can claim authentic academic pursuit, or “authentic” anything for that matter. Does the academy also not take post-modern thought (another important tenet of Third Wave feminism) seriously?
The DIY, Riot Grrrl, and zine movements were a revolution for feminism and activism, and mobilized at least part of the punk scene in to politics. Many young people became educated about contemporary feminist theory through these movements, which also promoted learning about prior activist and feminist movements in history. What’s ridiculous about that?
I applaud the NYU Library for taking feminist movement and theory seriously, and am thrilled to see such a crucial part of my history, and countless others, illuminated by critical thought and inquiry. Not because we need the academy to validate who are…but because it’s an historical moment in time worth knowing about.
The political and intellectual movements of women, girls, queers, trannies and other often marginalized people are worthwhile. That’s ostensibly what we’re arguing about, right?
Why would this be ridiculous, because these papers aren’t professionally bound and published? That’s like writing off the Caroline Healey Dall collection as a housewife’s frivolous diary.
This is just about the best idea ever and anyone that doesn’t understand it needs to go to the exhibit.
I work as director of an archives, so I feel qualified to say this: the material in question is not ridiculous…it’s quite important! Ephemera (like zines and handbills) is often the only record we have of activist/underground/DIY groups. In fact, a lot of important civil rights documentation is caught up in ephemera, and who knows how much of it has been lost because someone deemed it “ridiculous”? I think Kathleen Hanna displayed a lot of foresight regarding her role in DIY/feminist culture when she donated her papers…I just wish I got to be the lucky girl to process them!
The Third Sex was okay I guess…
What is by far more ridiculous is the majority of what you will find in any given library; literature written by or about white men and their fake oppressor history. Let’s build a whole zine wing!