Re/Action magazine #1 (Winter 2010/11)

Cover of Re/Action issue 1Re/Action self-describes as a feminist magazine dedicated to reviewing and analysing pop culture, devised as a frustrated response to the inherent assumption in most mass media that its default audience is white, male and hetero. In the words of Homer Simpson: “I’m a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are.”

Two disclaimers: firstly one of Re/Action’s editors is a friend of mine, as are several contributors, and secondly I’m a white heterosexual male aged 18 to 49.

The Winter 2010/2011 issue is the magazine’s first, and demonstrates a generally tight adherence to its editorial agenda – without exhibiting too narrow a focus. Its pleasing to see articles ranging across much of the media spectrum, from an interview with Internet Forever’s Laura Wolf – “I’ve found it hard to adjust to being in a band that is not overtly DIY or feminist in nature” – to the perhaps obvious article on where Sex & the City went wrong, or the less obvious article about writing women for games.

This last is particularly interesting to me, primarily as games are a subject I’m deeply immersed in but also because before I’d reached this article I was mentally compiling notes for something very similar. D’oh! Still, Kirsten Campbell has done a better job than I would have, opening with an anecdote of her own blindness to gender parity in writing, questioning how this may have occurred, quoting various writers and games producers to paint a picture of why gender unbalance and sexist portrayals of both women and men are rarely addressed within the industry, and concluding with various arguments as to why this should not be the case. It’s a good piece that hits all the requisite notes, although I do wish it had been longer.

I’d level a similar criticism at the reviews section: needs more. Maybe it’s a side-effect of my days reading punk ‘zines with review pages printed at ridiculously small sizes to jam in more content per inch, but three short or one long review per A4 page is a bit disappointing. The reviews are good, with the longer ones displaying more feminist analysis than the quickshot pieces, but they are so very few. The bulk of what’s reviewed is also rather mainstream with only a few more obscure selections (including NFI faves Iron Chic, hooray). Whilst I’m hesitant to play backseat editor, I wonder if an approach that coupled deeper feminist criticism of mainstream releases with suggestions for alternatives that avoid similar mistakes might be more in keeping with the editorial agenda? Or perhaps just more reviews would be nice, introducing more obscure music/films/TV as a positive side-effect. Oh, and books are conspicuous by their absence, which is rather a shame.

Anyway, criticisms concerning length and review coverage aside, Re/Action is well worth a read. There are other great articles which I’ve not yet covered, including a fascinating piece about the rise of “scary girls and monstrous mothers” as horror archetypes (Sarah Dobbs), an article about the presentation of women in hip-hop videos and how things are changing (gist: slowly – article by Kat Stevens), & an amusing and illuminating piece about the absence of gay characters aged between 30 and 70 in most TV comedy and drama (Andrew Mickel).

The latter article’s presence is great, indicating an outward- rather than inward-looking feminism in Re/Action’s political and cultural focus. It’s also a good article in itself, highlighting the worst crimes in gay stereotyping as well as those shows and writers who have gotten it right. A similarly-structured article by Anna Martin discusses objectification and feminisation of men in various summer blockbusters, and helpfully includes various box-outs articulating key concepts like objectification and feminisation. The latter is great as it serves as a useful entry point for those unfamiliar with the dialogues, arguments and ideas that constitute the history of any social or critical body of theory.

For the most part Re/Action succeeds in being an accessible yet informative collection of cross-media criticism and reviewage, both providing entertainment and provoking thought. It would be interesting to see longer, more in-depth pieces included – although this may just be my own predilection for exhaustive cultural criticism shining through – as well as more content overall. I do wonder whether there’s a conflict at the heart of Re/Action, with its expressly feminist stance (not mentioned on the cover, in fairness) a potential turn-off for non-feminists, but its generally quite light application of feminist theory and ideas proving dissatisfying to those with more prior knowledge. But there I am guessing at the audience, a somewhat pointless endeavour, rather than commenting on the magazine itself, and the latter I think is a great piece of work. I look forward to future issues.

Re/Action website | Order issue #1

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