Judy!: 1993 Judith Butler Fanzine Gives Us An Irreverent Punk-Rock Take on the Post-Structuralist Gender Theorist

Judy! One

Punk rock and its accoutrements—including the hand­made, Xerox­ed ‘zine—pass into his­to­ry, replaced by Tay­lor Swift and Snapchat, or what­ev­er. But as a piece of his­to­ry, the ‘zine will always stand as a mark­er of a par­tic­u­lar era, of the 80s/early 90s explo­sion of crit­i­cal con­scious­ness fos­tered by young kids read­ing Niet­zsche, Fou­cault, and Camus, then form­ing their own bands, labels, and net­works. Cru­cial to the peri­od is the emer­gence of Riot Grrrl bands like Biki­ni Kill and their assault on oppres­sive gen­der pol­i­tics, in punk rock and every­where else. And cru­cial to many such punks’ under­stand­ing of gen­der was the work of crit­i­cal the­o­rist Judith But­ler.

“Riot Grrrl didn’t her­ald the begin­nings of third wave fem­i­nism,” writes Sophia Satchell Baeza in Can­vas, “we’ll give that to the emer­gence of post-struc­tural­ist Queer the­o­ry, and the work of Judith Butler—but it did help define it aes­thet­i­cal­ly as much as for­mal­ly for a new gen­er­a­tion of indig­nant fem­i­nists.” An essen­tial part of that aesthetic—the ‘zine—spread the tenets of Riot Grrrl anger, deter­mi­na­tion, and irony to cities far and wide. And, in 1993, a group of intel­lec­tu­al scen­esters cre­at­ed the ulti­mate punk homage to Butler’s unde­ni­able influ­ence: Judy!, an hon­est-to-good­ness Judith But­ler fanzine, com­plete with murky, mimeo­graphed pho­to spreads and ser­i­al killer type­script. (See the cov­er at the top, with pho­to of Judy Gar­land.) “Let’s talk about that real glam­our gal of the­o­ry, Judy But­ler,” begins one free-form intro­duc­to­ry essay.

She’s espe­cial­ly good to see live, if you can. Her per­for­mances are rife with wit­ty repar­tee about her mom or what­ev­er and the three times I’ve seen her, she’s been sport­ing lit­tle tai­lored black jack­ets. She’s a bit Gap but she’s still a fox.

This cav­a­lier hip­ster tone hides the voice of a like­ly grad stu­dent, who men­tions M.L.A. (the Mod­ern Lan­guage Association’s con­fer­ence), and oth­er post-struc­tural­ist the­o­rists like Gay­a­tri Spi­vak, Eve Sedg­wick, and Julia Kris­te­va. There are foot­notes and ref­er­ences to Butler’s clas­sic Gen­der Trou­ble amidst much more irrev­er­ent, cat­ty rhetoric like “Judy is the num­ber one dom­i­na­tor, and the only thing you or I can do is sub­mit glad­ly.” It’s great fun, if that’s what you’re into—and if you get the com­bo of ‘zine aes­thet­ic and aca­d­e­m­ic fem­i­nist the­o­ry. There’s even a quiz to test your knowl­edge of the lat­ter’s high priest­ess pro­fes­sors and inscrutable argot: “are you a the­o­ry-fetishiz­ing bis­cuit­head?”

As much as it know­ing­ly pokes fun at itself, in both form and con­tent the arti­fact rep­re­sents a per­fect hybridiza­tion of street­wise mid-nineties punk rock and chal­leng­ing mid-nineties high fem­i­nist the­o­ry. Cen­tral to the lat­ter, Judith But­ler chal­lenges cul­tur­al norms in ways that very much inform our pop­u­lar under­stand­ing of gen­der and sex­u­al­i­ty today. And ‘zine cul­ture, though it may appear most­ly in muse­ums and ret­ro­spec­tives these days, lives on in spir­it in the work of hip, cul­tur­al mavens like Rook­ie’s Tavi Gevin­son. Above, see But­ler dis­cuss her the­o­ry of gen­der per­for­ma­tiv­i­ty. And Read the entire issue of Judy!, the fanzine, here.

Judy! Two

via Pro­gres­sive Geo­gra­phies

Read Chez Fou­cault, the 1978 Fanzine That Intro­duced Stu­dents to the Rad­i­cal French Philoso­pher

44 Essen­tial Movies for the Stu­dent of Phi­los­o­phy

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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