By Tom Lynch
In 1999 Anne Elizabeth Moore decided to move to Seattle.
She was looking for a new city, a fresh start. She had just spent the summer in her truck driving across the States after a breakup here—some friends had already settled there, she remembered liking it. It wasn’t a difficult choice.
Three days later, the WTO protests commenced. The largest demonstration of its kind at the time, the number of protesters was estimated at 40,000. The “Battle of Seattle,” it was called.
Moore worked at a coffee shop, because it was a quick-fix job and, well, where the hell else are you going to work in Seattle. She found out later that the shop was corporately owned. “I was working in a coffee shop and the WTO guys were always outside the window—they would come in and I would give them free coffee,” she remembers. “We weren’t damaged at all—the activists would come in, and I would be like, ‘Look, I get off at six. Just crash through the fucking window and steal all the shit.’”
She pauses. “And they totally didn’t.”
Moore’s Albany Park apartment looks quite writerly—bookshelves slammed with various lit, a strong soup smell coming from the kitchen, a gray cat on the floor. Joanna Newsom’s “Ys” plays from her computer. Her walls are littered with framed illustrations, one of which is a Harvey Pekar original sketch, titled simply “Harvey Meets Anne,” clearly spawned from their work together on the Best American Comics series. One book stands out on the shelf, propped up and on display—William March’s “The Bad Seed.”
This week sees the New Press release of “Unmarketable: Brandalism, Copyfighting, Mocketing, and the Erosion of Integrity,” a terrific, jarring and informed account of underground culture’s infiltration by the corporate world. She’s published books already—2004’s “Hey Kidz, Buy This Book: A Radical Primer on Corporate and Governmental Propaganda and Artistic Activism for Short People” and “Stop Reading This: A Manifesto for Radical Literacy.” After college, she wrote for The Onion and The Progressive. She’s worked for Fantagraphics as the editor of The Comics Journal. She was a writer, editor and co-publisher of the much-beloved but now-defunct Punk Planet. She was an editor for Houghton Mifflin’s Best American Comics series, working closely with Pekar for one edition and, for the most recent, with Chris Ware. Moore, now in her mid-thirties, has done more than most people can dream of doing, yet its doubtful she sees it that way. There’s a rare humbleness to her, a Midwestern politeness, maybe, that screams that she feels lucky to have had these experiences, worked with these incredible people, but that there’s more to do. She chuckles a lot. She makes funny voices to emphasize her point.
It’s all a bit unexpected.
The activist, author, journalist, editor (and more) was born in Winner, South Dakota, to a doctor and, what she calls, a “doctor’s wife.” Her discontent started early. She was raised with horrific medical stories her father would come home and tell her—“I learned to think it was funny at a very early age,” she says. When her dad landed a position at a hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota, the family ventured there, where Moore attended high school (the same as F. Scott Fitzgerald, funnily enough). “It was quiet and upstanding,” she says of the city, “yet vaguely dissatisfying. I was pretty grossed out from a really young age. I don’t know how much of that was emotional—my family was really screwy—but I had this reaction to this class system that is really fucked up. That fact that I lived in this crazy, super-segregated city was really weird.”
She started writing at a young age as well—diaries, journals, poems, even created a “soap opera” of sorts with her friends with elongated story lines and developed characters, which she says “went on for years.” She read Harry G. Allard’s “The Stupids Step Out” series, which taught her the various uses of text and illustration.
Her first job was at a homeless shelter, where she convinced the powers she was old enough (she was only 15) to be there. She never worked at a Dairy Queen or a McDonald’s. “A pizza joint,” she admits, “[but everything else] was too corporate.” She read essays, listened to Trip Shakespeare and, of course, Prince. After high school, she was off to the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire, to study photography. “Interestingly enough I thought I would get over this writing thing,” she says. “For some reason I thought that I was going to be a visual artist. I had that stupid vision of myself wearing a beret and doing those kinds of things.” After continually adding more and more text to her art pieces, it became clear she was in the wrong medium. Her camera was stolen a few weeks after an exhibition, and she never replaced it.
In 1993 she started self-publishing—called “AnneZine,” a fanzine that was, quite simply, by and about people named Anne. “There was definitely no looking forward,” she says of the time. “I had no idea what the fuck I was doing at all. Once you figure out that you don’t need other people to put your work out there, you become much more driven.”
Shortly after, she moved to Chicago and got her MA in Art History at the School of the Art Institute. “It was an excuse to move to Chicago, go to the Art Institute,” she says. “How cool is that?” That’s when she ventured to Seattle, lived there for a few years, but the charm of the bohemian creative culture wore off. “Especially after September 11 happened, you know, between that and the dotcom crash, it was just rainy,” she says. “Just a rainy town where nobody had a job. The sort of promises of the WTO protest never really came to fruition. People got kind of bored, struggling to survive in a really difficult economic environment. [It] just wasn’t fun anymore. I also missed Chicago.”
She moved back to work with Dan Sinker at Punk Planet, who was planning on starting a family and needed help running the magazine. After thirteen years, the seminal DIY publication—famous for reviewing every record it received, as well as for its political coverage—closed up shop this past summer, the end of an era indeed, especially for those who grew up in Chicago and held the magazine close at heart. The Punk Planet online message boards lit up with stories from readers about how much the magazine meant to them, how it had changed lives, opened eyes, expanded the world. The closure was so disappointing for Moore that she’s now considering moving out of Chicago.
“The demise of Punk Planet made me frustrated with everything, naturally, and not because people weren’t supportive, but because there isn’t a baseline way of supporting creative culture autonomously, with the structures we have now,” she says. “Struggling to keep that going for some time was [difficult].”
The death of the adored publication was devastating for all involved. “Not because it was the loss of one thing, for me or for any individual involved,” she says. “We were all putting our personal resources, social networks, financial resources, creativity, energy, all our personal relationships, all our emotions, everything we had into making this go. That’s just the way you operate, what it takes to make it work, to make anything important or different in the world. And then there was a time when it became more difficult, and all of a sudden it wasn’t enough. There were maybe a couple things we could’ve done along the way that would’ve changed the timeline of the demise, but at a certain point it was like, ‘This isn’t gonna happen anymore.’ For me, that was the end of my career in self-publishing, or at least the end of me making that be my career focus.”
”Unmarketable,” according to Moore, truly began to take shape in 2005, when Nike SB, the skateboard division of the shoe company, launched its promotional campaign for an East Coast summer tour, titled Major Threat. Problem was, the poster the company was using had imagery based on the cover art for seminal hardcore band Minor Threat’s self-titled 1981 record. With everyone extremely pissed off, Nike eventually pulled the campaign and issued an apology, but it was only after, of course, every “Minor Threat fan alive knew about the Major Threat 2005 East Coast Tour,” Moore writes. The mere pairing of the staunchly anti-corporate, Ian MacKaye-led band and the Nike behemoth, however unauthorized, was sure sign of the changing “underground” aesthetic. She wrote a piece for Punk Planet on the growing concern, which was the launchpad for the book.
“After an amount of time of all these things building up,” Moore says, “I was feeling uncomfortable about them, and having nowhere to go to complain about them. At some point a structure emerged—the response [to the Nike ads] happened so quickly, it was obvious there was an overarching plan for how they devised that campaign. I was thinking about that more, studying that more, thinking about the way images are used in culture and the way that marketing has changed…But seeing that structure of cultural cooptation of the anti-corporate culture into the corporate world, it was at that point really evident to me and it needed to get out in every way.”
It didn’t start with Minor Threat. The term “sell-out” has been part of creative culture’s accusatory vernacular for years. For some—like Moore, who documents it in her book—it takes some root in the marketing of and whoring off of Nirvana’s success in the early nineties. Even Green Day. Record companies were looking for the next reclusive genius, hiding out in his Seattle garage, crafting the best undiscovered pop songs of our time. And, of course, as the underground is stripped of its identity, integrity is compromised, creativity is debatable, accommodations are made. Every time Modest Mouse is in a car commercial, pockets are padded, a far cry from the band’s original existence, screeching and wailing in venues with roach infestations.
And yet, it’s becoming more and more common. “I think it’s deliberate moves on the part of marketers and marketing firms to get in on kids’ lives earlier and earlier,” Moore says of the shift in mindset. “I think that ended up affecting people in my not-kids-anymore generation, but if you look around and you talk to audiences—in my case my audiences are younger than I am—you’re like, ‘Oh my God, isn’t it crazy? Brand X shoes offered a bunch of money to whoever.’ When those kids go, ‘Oh, awesome,’ that’s when the cultural shift is happening. It’s more acceptable.”
Also documented in the book is Moore’s latest activist jaunt, when she embarked on a shopdropping (leaving items in a store instead of taking them) trip to American Girl Place. She replaced the “wish cards” the dolls carry with more realistic, sensible requests, like for self-confidence, a healthy body image, effective birth control and free tampons. She was busted, but she held her ground. One cop even told her to “Keep her freedom of speech outside of American Girl Place.”
“I got in trouble,” she says, “but I still said what I wanted to say. And from someone who is kind of short and giggles a lot and dresses like a 12-year-old girl, that’s always a big question. When it comes down to it, are you gonna have the goods? Are you gonna be able to walk the walk?”
On December 1, Moore is taking a trip to Cambodia to explore an underground comics scene few have heard of in order to gain insight to the country and its government. She was invited to live in an all-women dormitory, set up by the Harpswell Foundation, dedicated to educating Cambodian women. Moore will be a Leadership Resident, and plans to stay at least two months, initially. (You can read about her trip at camblogdia.blogspot.com.) “I’m very frustrated with the U.S. media right now,” she says. “I think I say that somewhere in the book. Oh yeah, on EVERY page. I think finding out more about how we can use independent media to fight really entrenched systems of oppression is the deeper core reason why I want to go, but also those lighter, more personal reasons of, like, I really just need to find people who are doing good work that is effective in the world. Not that there aren’t amazing people in the U.S. doing really amazing shit, but the structure in which we’re all operating in right now is making it harder for us to find those things, and making it hard for them to be effective.”
Jobless—“totally unemployed,” as Moore charmingly puts it—she has to raise some funds first, at least to cover the $1,500 plane ticket. She’s finished with Best American Comics, as the current edition will be her last. “Things are changing in that world fast enough that I don’t want to do it again,” she says. “I love comics people, I just don’t want to work with them anymore.” With that project put to sleep, as well as Punk Planet’s unfortunate demise and the finishing of “Unmarketable,” she now has the time to go.
And she’s still uncompromising. “I’m [not] going to compromise about certain things. Those things are like, who I’m going to take money from when I’m prepared to take money for doing work again. Yes, I still believe that, but I’m starting to realize that it’s becoming a survival issue. And that’s not because I’m changing. That’s the scariest thing and that’s why I wrote the book. Because it’s not because I’m changing, it’s because culture is changing and forcing me to consider accommodating things that I find reprehensible.”
But she’s still optimistic. “I’m not a depressed person,” she laughs. “I’m probably ridiculously optimistic. I honestly believe saying, ‘Hey, Nike, cut it out!’ will actually work. Maybe that’s not optimistic, just stupid. But I’ll try it.”
Anne Elizabeth Moore celebrates the release party for “Unmarketable” November 4 at Hideout, 1354 West Wabansia, (773)227-4433, at 8pm.