From The Archives

1980-1989: From Counterculture to Culture — The Meaning of the ’80s

Here are letters between two seven-year-old girls about the ’80s. Their names are Zoozoo and Linda and they have parents.

by

From Counterculture to Culture, But Here’s No Culture, Fuck Ecology and the Death of Communism: The Meaning of the ’80s
January 2, 1990

1981

NYC

Dear Lin,
Today my mother met William Burroughs. She got, she said, invited to this dinner party that was all men. As the token woman. She said William Bur­roughs has the intelligence of the sharp­est knife she’s ever met. She stood against one of the dining room walls and watched him go to work. He likes ani­mals. She didn’t want to talk to him; she wanted to be invisible and watch. My mother wants to be a wall.

P.S. I’m not going to ever have anything to do with anyone.

SAN FRANCISCO, NEAR THE MISSION

Dear Zoozoo,
Life’s fine even though yesterday I got attacked by a bicycle gang. Seven black kids, they weren’t fucking older than me but they were fucking bigger, rode around me on their bicycles and they said that since I was a lezzy and a punk, they were going to kill me. I was lucky because they weren’t going to kill me now. I guess that’s why I’m alive.

Mom told me not to be upset about this NAUSEATING incident because the problem is political, not personal. She said I mustn’t ever mistake the political for the personal or else I’ll be selfish. “Better off selfish than dead” I know my father’d say, but I have no idea who he is. SHE said that the Mayor, in her (can a Mayor be a her?) effort to get rid of Chicanos and gays, is rezoning the city so that the gays have to move into the Mis­sion, the Chicano territory. The Chica­nos, who have a good form of machismo, have arms or are up in arms and are setting gay hangouts like “Rush” fac­tories on fire.

I’m a child and I don’t need this shit. I told mom I need education. She said she was now hanging out with these guys who do RE/SEARCH (magazine), they used to do SEARCH AND DESTROY! and those people know about all and the only things that are interesting here. Like about Mark Pauline’s computer-run monsters who attack gigantic photos of the Virgin Mary and someone named Reagan; like about real artists, artists of the body, tattooists. If I really want to learn, I could go out like her and find where learning is, rather than complain all the time. She said that if I think the system’s going to help me, I’m already dead. My mother’s too tough.

1984

SF

Dear Zooz,
I’m sick of your NYC punk. Here’s where the real violence is. Down in San Diego, the Chicanos are sniping at cars on the freeways. The Chicanos live in these tracks or gullies on the hills above the freeways. They don’t REALLY live in gullies; rather they sneak over the Tijua­na border and squat in gullies until they can earn the under-minimum-wage pit­tances the rich whites hand out for ser­vices such as MAID and gardener. But this is a lot of money in Mexico where their extended families are living. Chicanos have to have fun too; for fun, they set empty lots on fire and snipe at freeway cars. I’d do the same thing if I could, but you don’t understand violence.

That is ’cause you don’t understand real art ’cause your NYC art world eats money.

And as my father, who would say any­thing ’cause I’ve never met him, says, money isn’t where it’s at.

Speaking of violence, which I love madly except when it’s against me, I’m reading this writer William Gibson who’s in some ways better than William Bur­roughs and in some ways, not. Read him, fuckface. “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel, and a dead cock was coming out of it.” He’s the first writer I’ve read in a long time who talks about you and me. I’m going to be a writer. As soon as I learn to write. The ways I want to write. (Mom said it’s going to be hard for me to be a writer ’cause I’m a girl. She should know.)

NYC

Dear Linda,
I’m using your full name because if you want to be a writer, you’re going to have to get rid of all that counterculture crap, which is just provincial. San Franciscans are isolated. Mother says that if you want to be an artist whose work matters, you both have to be part of the large world and affect the large world. You can’t af­fect the large world if you’re using some weird language you and your friends in­vented and you wear clothes so full of holes, your tits show. It’s not your vio­lence I object to. It’s the provincialism and isolation that underline violence. You have to stop seeing only your side of things because your side of things is a gutter and you’re going to live in the gutter and never be a writer if you go on as your are going. Writers communicate; they are not autistic and everyone knows that the only reason people stay in San Francisco is because they’re mad.

What artists (I hate how you always use “real”) are now doing is repeating other points of view. Objects. We have to enter the world. And we have to make money. I’ve seen mother fuck with pover­ty and it almost killed her art. (Sex isn’t worth it.) Maybe you don’t see enough bums. Every day I see at least a hundred bums in the street. Maybe you don’t know what real violence is. Real violence is poverty and it does nothing but stink and so the art that comes out of it stinks too.

The artists here, including mother (father went off with some rich dealer, but he never mattered) utilize mirroring tech­niques. They simply re-represent various parts of the future. With none of that hippie moralism that sent our parents raging into punk; without the stylistic pyrotechnics — prettiness — your William Gibson wears like a pink dress. Only drag queens are allowed to be pretty. Here’s literature, by a guy named Richard Prince, who’s principally an artist but can make anything:

He could never imagine what it must be like to spend an entire day without ever having to avoid a mirror. And where he lived, he made sure, never had a reflec­tion, and any surface that did so, got dulled or rubbed out, and any surface that became stubborn and kept its polish, got thrown in a bucket.

Clean.

1986

LONDON

Dear Zoozoozoo,
Fuck you darling, mother and I are in London. New Yorkers, my dear, are so provincial; they live in that death that is New York and never know there’s a whole world outside their island culture.

The GLC (Greater London Council) (Americans are so vulgar and stupid one has to explain the simplest things to them) runs this city. Londoners enjoy mugging-free clean tubes (subways), ex­cellent and free medical services, and of­ten live in government-financed lesbian communes. Everything here is fun! Every night I go to this club Taboo and a big, gay beauty who’s actually American! throws me around and everyone takes off some or all clothes. Rachel Auburn, the club’s DJ, who also designs clothes, usu­ally wears a tutu and gold pasties. Every­one’s bi and no one fucks. They do other things. That’s the English way. Style. At five o’clock in the morning, we all go home. I’m stylish now and I’m never go­ing to suffer again.

Mother says that life here is good for women only because feminism is so strong. But the English feminists are strange because they believe that a wom­an has to be a lesbian to be a feminist and to be lesbian is not to sleep with other women, as back home, but not to want to sleep with men. Since many of the lesbians here aren’t doctrinaire femi­nists, most of the feminists don’t have sex. Mother isn’t having as much fun as me, but when I’m an old woman, I’m going to be an eccentric so I can have lots of fun. Because I’m going to be a writer, and if you don’t have fun, you can’t write well. Americans don’t understand.

As for art. Art as in Artforum. Really. Everyone here, I mean everyone on the streets, communicates through music, tattoos, and clothes. All of us’d do any­thing for Jean Paul Gaultier. None of us earns money. So who needs New York City art, the Mary Boone stock market game?

NYC

Dear Lin,
Mom and I do what we can. We keep all the Levelors closed so that no light enters the apartment. Mom doesn’t want any lover to penetrate her territory more than three times and I never want to be touched. I don’t give a damn whether or not you understand. Mom is a famous artist and beginning to make money. They say that the ’80

s is about empti­ness. But. This is real style.

1989

LONDON

Dear Zoozoo,
I’ve watched a country go to hell in four years. It’s probably taken longer than that: when I first came over here, I was so American, I couldn’t understand that I was living in a foreign culture. Much less that the culture was almost dead. Perhaps due to a triple multiplica­tion; a class system times a woman named Margaret Thatcher times a longing for both the days of the Empire and for 19th century trade unionism.

I’ve seen about half of our friends go out on drugs or die from AIDS. Now I’ve watched a nation die. I’ve seen how, when a political economic structure turns from civilized social welfare to a poor imitation of American postcapitalism, every single person’s life radically changes. The rich and successful here are basking in their form of death or boredom. The others, like James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, an American film, would go any­where if they had anywhere to go.

I want out now. I don’t know what to do with my life, but I won’t live in this death.

P.S. That stupid wall which anyone could have gotten over is down: the whole world has changed.

NYC

Dear Lin,
Come here! Because the idiots in our government tried to pass a censorship bill, and perhaps will, all the artists who, I agree with you, are provincial and ego­tistic in their provinciality, finally out­raged, are battling. Now the city is a lot of radical and good art and homeless oc­cupying the parks and sidewalks and pipes rising like snakes up through pave­ments and buildings. Makes William Gib­son into an outmoded writer. While this city’s decaying artists and blacks and even others are fighting back. Minimal­ism’s gone to hell. The blacks’re leading our way. So get your ass over here. We might as well go to battle for joy as hard as we can because whether we fight or we elect to live like zombies, we have to die anyway.

Get your hot pussy here, girl. ■

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Crime as Entertainment: A Necessary Evil
By Teresa Carpenter

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