Drifting in and out of consciousness (oxfordhacker) wrote,
Drifting in and out of consciousness
oxfordhacker

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Retro

It's only with the benefit of hindsight that I realise how up-fucking many of the things lying around the family house were, especially the reading material that my dad left in the loo. I vividly remember the true crime books with their grisly descriptions and appallingly suggestive black-and-white photos, and the Chick Tracts which Dad collected for their kitsch value and left lying around apparently unaware of or unconcerned about the effect that they might have on a young mind intent on devouring all the reading material it could lay its hands on. I've ended up collecting these tracts myself, and while I can't deny that I share some of Dad's ironic/appalled fascination with them, I'm also looking to exorcise myself. They're designed to be vivid, and it takes a sober adult rereading to contextualise those images as the crude propaganda that they are. I should count myself lucky, I suppose, that they always seemed too alien to be entirely convincing, though I do recall contemplating the sinners' prayer at the back of each and understanding that I was risking Hell by not saying it. I dread to think what effect these toilet-based existential crises have had on me.

However, I had intended to write about another, less damaging publication that I read under similar circumstances: The Fortean Times, named for Charles Fort. This was, and remains, a long-running collection of oddities of all sorts - cryptozoology, psychic powers, alternate history and pseudo-science - all presented in a tone somewhere between dryly ironic scepticism and open-minded acceptance. It was pleasingly mind-broadening, expecting and encouraging the reader to make their own assessment of the merits of each article. For many years I requested a subscription for my birthday, and sought out books covering the subjects that I found most interesting. Going further, in the early 90s I attended a couple of the Unconventions. They were the first conventions that I'd ever been to, indeed the first that I'd ever heard of, and they were an experience that I doubt I could ever recapture. The programme, like the magazine, was wide-ranging: intense people lecturing in painstaking detail about their particular obsession (UFO propulsion mechanisms, perhaps, or the true history of the colonisation of America), interspersed with fringe scientists, pop psychologists and performance artists with little indication of which to expect in any given talk.

However, the most fascinating area was the merchandising hall. It's probably just as well that I didn't have enough money to buy the lucid dreaming machines or the bizarre sculptures, though I did covet them. Instead I gravitated towards the tables awash with zines, read as many as possible, and bought the few that I wanted to read again. Some still resurface from time to time, in a box of paperwork or tucked into in a sheaf of comics, and I normally still endorse the tastes of my past self. These were the days before in the internet (as far as I was concerned, anyway) but they exemplified the things I still seek out today: quirky subjects, good writing, and/or unsettling art. Three very different ones stick in my mind, and I have since managed to track down websites for each. I doubt I could really convey (nor really understand) how they affected me at the time, so I will present them little further introduction:

Schwa - an unsettling comic parody of conspiracy theory and normality, unexpectedly resurfacing on Facebook after many years dormant.

The Journal Of Inconspicuous Design - a zine dedicated to overthinking overlooked aspects of commercial design.

Shark Fear, Shark Awareness - apparently taking the attitude that the only way out of a phobia is through.

This may explain a lot...
Tags: retrospective, web-log
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