Reading a 1977 Zine in 2014: Zebra Three

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Title: Reading a 1977 Zine in 2014: Zebra Three #1
Creator: Intrigueing
Date(s): October 5, 2014
Medium: online
Fandom: Starsky & Hutch
Topic: Zines
External Links: Reading a 1977 zine in 2014: Zebra Three #1, Archived version
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Reading a 1977 Zine in 2014: Zebra Three #1 is a 2014 dreamwidth post by Intrigueing.

Some topics discussed: fanon, casefic, Starsky & Hutch, Zines, the zine Zebra Three, Served in Combat and Starsky's Military Background, Hurt/Comfort, and meta on memorable emotionally intense scenes in source material and fanfiction. It also includes long and detailed reviews of the stories "Bomb Scare" and "Mojave Crossing."

The author describes herself as a second-generation fan who was not yet born when Zebra Three came out, and says she used itself to research fan history and the Starsky & Hutch fandom. She also reflects on fanfiction concepts from the perspective of a fan from the internet era reading and describing an influential early zine for the first time.


Before the internet, fans would type stories and then either keep them privately for themselves or hand them around to personal friends, or send them in to zines. Published zines operated by an editor (or an editing team – which I suspect just meant three or more nerdy chicks who had experience with their school paper in high school or college) who was a fan with access to a mimeograph or whatever the hell other mass-printing technology existed in the 1970s and had the time, connections, and know-how to solicit stories and artwork from a number of authors (usually via personal connections or advertisements in other amateur zines), edit, copy-edit, format, compile, print, bind, advertise, and distribute to a mailing list of fans willing to purchase the stories. Sometimes they did it by committee, in a big party. Really, I never appreciate the internet enough until I’m reminded of how hard it is to do things without it. No seriously, if you're at all intrigued by old fandom history or fan culture, read those pages I linked to. They are the most amazing fandom-related things I've ever seen and it makes me grin happily until my face hurts just thinking about it. Fans are so awesome.

The Zine Itself: Let’s party-post like it’s…uh…1977... All the stories here are gen. As far as I can figure, during this period, people were throwing bitchfits in Star Trek fandom over various topics of fanwank bait, particularly slash. Both sides of the great war of IT MUST ONLY BE GEN/SLASH AND EVERYTHING ELSE IS A BLIND/PERVERTED LIIIIIIEEEE drowned out all the “hey, that’s good too, but don’t diss what I like” and "but isn't elasticity and breadth of interpretation the best part?" people in the middle. So probably to keep things peaceful, the guidelines were “no AUs, no slash, and no deathfic.” (IMO "deathfic" has a bit of One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others going on, but that's just me, because of the M*A*S*H thing.) This is okay with me -- I love both gen and slash but I love gen even more, mostly because I'm more interested across the board in stories about friendship than in stories about romance. However, in my fanfic-reading experience, it's harder to write a compelling and satisfying gen fic than a compelling and satisfying slash or het fic of the same length because the former takes a lot more imagination and has a lot fewer templates to go off of (romantic storylines and tropes cross-pollinate between all genres and canons with minimal translation. Other types of stories? Takes a lot more work to adapt). And I know plenty of writers who write amazing shippy fic but who can't write a good fic about anything else to save their life. So I tend to be a bit more demanding about good gen. Both long stories - "Bomb Scare" and "Mojave Crossing" are really, really good gen, which is especially impressive in the case of Mojave Crossing, which is all about love confessions and revelations without feeling either incomplete or suggestive because of the honesty of the writing. Actually, it's extremely gen, not just technically gen -- the mechanisms and revelations are entirely platonic, and sincerely so; no insecure, anxious little "no homo!"s to be found. There's a difference, IMO, between platonic-ness defined as the presence of a particular kind of love and platonic-ness defined merely as not-romance. The former is vastly better and much harder to capture.

The zine ends with a great essay about the appeal of Starsky & Hutch. In all different long-running fandoms, it's awesome to see how similarly fans at the beginning saw the canon compared to fans nowadays. The essay is mostly ideas I've also seen recently -- about how friendship is something lots of people value deeply but culturally don't know how to express very well, and how hurt/comfort unearths the depth and extent of a friendship by making the characters prove it. What made this essay different from today's opinions was that it was contemporary – the authors talked specifically about how the 1970s and the social upheaval and rising divorce rates, delayed marriages, frequency of single independent living, increased geographical mobility, etc, was a good thing overall, but it also caused loneliness and alienation, with people often not having close ties to their family or hometown anymore, combined with cynicism over Watergate, a major recession, etc, so shows portraying close, trustworthy, satisfying friendships were kind of wish fulfillment for then-current viewers. That was really cool and something I hadn't thought about before. Another part that fascinated me were the little in-joke-y cartoons. Not just about the show itself, but also about the fandom and the process of zine production. It's like the 1970s equivalent of a gif-filled picspam party post. The medium changes, but fans never change. ;)

Mostly, [ Bomb Scare ]'s a casefic -- plot-focused, about an investigation, with a setup similar to an episode. Casefic is a weird animal. Lots of fans like it in theory, but it's very difficult to do well. But I don't think many fans want their casefic to feel exactly like just another episode of the show. I'm one of those fans who tends to enjoy fic that gives me more of the things I see in the canon show, but the keyword here is more. Most casefics need something more than what a canon episode can provide. A fic that is "like an episode" usually isn't satisfying if it reads like an episode script tweaked into narrative rather than script format. It needs some kind of extra element, usually an It's Personal for the main characters, or worldbuilding, or added background or context for the canon events: say, it's like an episode, but it's like a special episode centered on a crisis with a main character (eg, in the S&H fandom, The Fix or Pariah or something.) Or it has a meaningful or illuminating personal subplot (not necessarily a serious one, mind you). Or it's like an episode event-wise, but with an added layer of personality when it comes to how the main characters observe it or talk about it or are affected by it. Fanfic, even casefic, has different strengths and priorities than episodes. The element that, in fanfic for movies and TV shows, is the biggest and most satisfying advantage fic has over canon, is probably POV narrative. Whether third person omniscient, third person limited, first person, or even second person, in a fic, the thoughts and motivations and observations of characters can be described and explained, and can do so without being rushed and structured to move at the speed of real life or faster. Bomb Scare uses this very well in the last part of the story to dwell on the characters' thoughts to create suspense and depth.

The [ Starsky's Military Background ] fanon itself also ties in with what the aforementioned essay said about how the contemporary cultural upheavals and issues of the 1970s influenced the fans' appreciation for Starsky & Hutch. Starsky & Hutch is a really intensely post-Vietnam show, culturally/socially/politically speaking. It's even moreso a post-Watergate show – it's possibly THE most intensely post-Watergate show I've ever seen in my life – but it's also distinctly post-Vietnam.

The other long fic was "Mojave Crossing" by Connie Faddis. This is gonna be a long review. My excuse is, hey, this fic isn’t online. I have no idea how many other people who are active in fandom have read it, or can read it, much less are willing to review it now. AND all the reviews I’ve seen of it are decades – emphasis on the plural – old. So, I guess if I never do anything else, I’ll at least contribute a nice long damn review to the Starsky & Hutch fandom.

Anyway, as I said, this is a fic I'd already heard a LOT about before from ancient 1970s-80s reviews quoted on, and they were all raves: omg, this fic is so good, omg, the h/c is so beautiful. Omg this is so much better than that tiresome contrived cloying crap in other fandoms. Etc. I was very curious to read it, because it was history, but I was also pretty damn certain that "well, this is the first zine in the fandom ever, it's not like they had much basis for comparison back then" and so I lol'd politely at all the fangirling and took it all with a heap of salt.

Uh. Okay. So there are fics that are highly-praised and popular because they appeal to a big lowest common denominator, rather than because they are good. There are also fics that are well-loved by fans because they were The First Big Thing Ever and are perpetually seen through nostalgia goggles. And there are fics that are really good, but are so overhyped that they wind up being a huge letdown.

Mojave Crossing, to put it mildly, is not one of those fics. Everything hyped about it was woefully inadequate, not hyperbolic.

The thing that impressed me the most, I think, is that [Mojave Crossing] accomplishes the sublime in an incredibly powerful and memorable way, but with a very modest framework – I mean, dude, it IS a fairly straightforwardly-plotted zine fanfic for a 1970s network cop show. Lots of big literature experts way smarter than me and with material a lot more sophisticated than cop show zine fanfic write loads of essays trying to define “sublime,” so I’m kind of out of my element here. But my personal way of explaining it, back when I was first discussing the Latin cathedral rant scene in the The West Wing episode “Two Cathedrals” was to compare a sublime fictional scene to a) clouds of hydrogen fusing into helium in a protostar and becoming luminous, and b) a bit of metal being suspended in mid-air by the fields between two magnets.

So basically, the scene is more than the sum of its parts – it causes the viewer to make leaps of understanding and feel emotions that aren’t explicitly spelled out in the text and/or cannot be described in a shooting script or transcript, and are invoked through invisible interactions between different elements of the story written by a good enough (or lucky enough) writer. I'm sure a lot of people say that this only counts in “highbrow” works and would be huffing You Keep Using That Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means, but the people who made up this rule in the first place were pretty much a bunch of pretentious classist exclusionary ivory tower elites who didn’t believe that it was possible to write well if you weren’t educated expensively enough to articulate exactly what you were writing beforehand, and they're all dead now, so well, fuck them. I mean, not that the stuff they liked wasn’t brilliant, because it was, but it wasn’t the only stuff that contained brilliance.

It's 99% subjective, mostly just labeled as such by common agreement, so not everyone will react in the same way. But I’m sure everyone has had experiences with a fictional moment that makes a viewer/reader break out in goosebumps, or a tightening in the stomach or lungs, a lump in the throat, a hot flash, chills, a claustrophobic sensation, or a burning sensation in the eyes, or a painful pulling feeling in the chest – for reasons that you either can’t completely encapsulate or can’t precisely pinpoint. Or in a less physical sense, feeling that the experience of watching a scene was so intense that you don’t want to re-read or re-watch it because the first-impression effect was such a delicate, unreproducible experience. More universally, in my opinion, it’s a scene where not just the events, but also the things the events made you feel, stick in your head for a long, long time, even after you’ve forgotten the details.

I think a scene doesn’t have to be nearly as epic or ambitious as that The West Wing scene to be sublime. In Starsky & Hutch itself, That Scene from “Gillian” is a prime example of a much rougher and more modest version that’s just as powerful and unforgettable (the fact that I can refer to it as "That Scene" and everyone who's seen the show knows exactly which scene I mean is a pretty big indicator ;) ). And this may be arguable, but IMO, it’s theoretically easier to create a sublime moment in fanfiction than in original fiction, because you already have the canon material to work against, and you know your readers are all holding the canon material in their minds as they read, so there’s a lot less you have to spell out for your readers. Like explaining a joke, spelling out the wrong things tends to ruin the effect in a story, and even moreso in fanfic. This is very pronounced for fandoms like Starsky & Hutch where the intangible but unanimously understood spark between the main characters is the central point of the show.

There’s many S&H fanfics with sublime scenes – my favorite is probably the blinding moment in the last part of “The Thousandth Man” when Starsky suddenly remembers the newspaper cartoon he had stashed away – but nowadays, it’s hard to do it in a hurt/comfort scene because hurt/comfort fanfic is so...well...overdone. No1curr if you threaten the character’s life or not, because everyone’s seen it all before. Not just in S&H fandom, but in all fandom, everywhere. Doesn’t mean brilliant hurt/comfort isn’t possible, but that luminous, suspended sublime moment is hard to write if you have too much of the 287573 other hurt/comfort fics you’ve previously read for these particular characters floating in your mind, because it’s very hard to be caught off guard by it – to be caught off-guard, the writer has to be unique in how they write it, not just what they write.

Maybe the reason this fic managed to hit me so hard, in such a fresh-feeling, unpredictable way, is because it was one of the first ones in this fandom (and a change from the most common style of early Star Trek h/c), and so it was written just a little bit differently, and the writer’s thoughts while writing it were just a bit different, than the gajillion hurt/comfort fics written in the decades afterwards, enough for the aura of freshness to carry over 35 years later.