'Print is dead' is dead

“‘Print is dead’ is dead,” says Kai Brach, founder of Offscreen magazine. I couldn’t agree more.

The revival of niche print media in recent years has spawned dedicated blogs, inspiring conferences and beautiful retail stores to support the ever-growing stack of great new magazines on the market.

News of the print renaissance has even made the mainstream media, featuring in newspapers that must certainly envy the ability of these magazines to draw audiences so dedicated to the medium. Even Vogue wants in on the action.

In fact, the recent rise of print has been so meteoric that the latest issue of my favourite magazine about magazines (yes, even that exists now) features a cover asking mag makers to tone it down a little bit.

“NOBODY CARES ABOUT YOUR OH-SO-COOL KICKSTARTED TACTILE MINIMALIST UNORIGINAL MAGAZINE,” screams the cover of Gym Class magazine.

Gym Class editor Steven Gregor told MagCulture blog: “The cover is a call to action… make magazines, and make them exceptional.”

But it is also a tongue-in-cheek dig at the magazines that so clearly derive their aesthetic from already established publications. Why bother making an indie mag if you’re just going to follow the party line?

While many magazines inspire adoration, and others criticism, there is perhaps no more divisive publication on the indie mag scene right now than Kinfolk. The magazine’s aesthetic of carefully arranged handmade homeware elements, washed-out photography and near-excessive use of white space is instantly recognisable, and being copied by many of the newest independent magazines. Meanwhile, its critics point to the reductive conformism of its design as a reason to steer clear.

Enter The Kinspiracy. With the tagline “making white people feel artistic since 2011”, the blog pokes fun at Instagram users who live out the Kinfolk aesthetic by posting photos in the style of the magazine.

Who knew it could be so entertaining to reduce a highly refined aesthetic to just four tropes? Cups of coffee, wooden backdrops, American flags, and the latest cover of Kinfolk magazine.

The blog’s founder, Summer Allen, explains that the blog was “born not out of spite, but out of a fascination with the redundancy of almost identical subject matter.”

What began as an idealised lifestyle playing out on the magazine’s pages is now an archetype that has even been recognised in the mainstream media. The Sunday Times Style Magazine recently commissioned illustrations for a piece on style tribes that included a character called the Kinfolk Man. What set him apart from the East London Dalston Pop-Up was a heavier beard, vintage cardigan, sandals and canvas tote filled with organic vegetables.

As Rob Alderson at design blog It’s Nice That put it, “Did the magazine create the culture of visual conformity, or was it just perfectly placed to take advantage of it?”

The debate continues to draw interest online.

It’s funny how much my experience of print is enriched by the online mag community and all the extra discussions and tools on offer there. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My favourite thing about magazines isn’t cracking the spine on a new issue, getting a whiff of the paper, or Instagramming my latest mag purchase (although I love all those things), it’s that they’re such a strong tool for building communities.

Lately I’ve been playing with a concept for a magazine about migration that would aim to break down that hierarchy of expats versus immigrants, connecting people through shared experiences.

If I’m lucky, the only thing my magazine will be able to be hated for is its ability to earnestly build solidarity. It’s a work in progress.

I vow to thee, my country

Ah, coming home. Eating mum’s food. That New Zealand smell. Seeing with fresh eyes.

After two-and-a-half years without placing a foot on my tūrangawaewae, at Christmas I took some time out to go back to Nu Zild. As I was wondering what it might be like to go home after all this time, people on Skype told me, “nothing’s changed, except everyone’s leaving”. At first glance it would be easy to believe that: none of my three closest friends were waiting at home to greet me, all having gone off on their own overseas adventures.

But plenty of other things surprised me as well:

  • Everything that tastes good now comes in salted caramel flavour.
  • Hilarious new shopping soundtracks thanks to changes in music licensing laws. Now that stores can only play music they have licensed, there have clearly been decisions made to reduce costs. The highlight: trying on clothes to a retro song about hating your mother-in-law.
  • That evil dude in the Hobbit riding in on a kune kune pig was an inspired use of local species. More GIFs please.
  • Beating around the bush is much worse than I'd remembered. In a restaurant I overheard a man pre-empt some criticism by saying, "with all due respect, mate, good on you, but...". I know this because my boyfriend and I spent the rest of the trip using that line wherever possible.

And there was more.

Are you being served?

Half of the notes from my trip are about customer service. This will come as no surprise to my Danish boyfriend who has listened to two-and-a-half years of my complaints about rude customer service staff in Europe.

Two experiences that made me proud to be Kiwi:

  • The elderly ladies and gentlemen volunteering as hosts at Auckland Airport deserve every accolade Monocle magazine throws their way. When we missed our flight out of New Zealand, a volunteer spotted our potential for meltdown, placed a gentle hand on each of our shoulders and asked us what he could do to assist. Unparalleled service - and he’s not even paid.
  • The Waiheke Island bus driver who helped us when we missed our stop, riding all the way to the other end of the island. Taking in a spectacular view for 10 minutes while she ate her dinner, we then hopped back on the bus riding back the other way - free of charge! Driver, if you’re reading this, you rock, and I’m sorry you almost ran me over. Totally my fault.

Two that didn’t:

  • It’s possible that I have inflated my idea of Kiwi customer service while overseas. Or maybe I have lowered my standards – suddenly, at home, constant service seemed a bit over-the-top. By the fourth time a staffer at Plum Café asked, “is everything ok?”, I was starting to wonder whether I supposed to notice that something was not ok. It was, as we say, tumeke.
  • A waitress in Wynyard Quarter reminded me of a certain misogynistic jokiness I had gladly left behind. She returned to our table to announce that, “we can’t make your drink because we’re being raped up the a** by five black guys”. As if we would know what this means. When my boyfriend asked her to repeat what she had said (bless his non-native-English-speaker ears), she repeated her sick explanation word for word, all with a straight face. In my book, “rape” will never be a synonym for “too busy”.  We do not live in a video game. (I know this example totally contradicts what I said about beating around the bush. It takes all kinds).

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Two elderly ladies who I love floored me with their brilliance.

  • When I told my 82-year-old grandmother that feminism has re-entered the popular discourse, she told me she was so happy, she didn’t know what to say. Gran always has something to say.
  • Her friend Toni, aged 96, greeted me by saying, “Vanessa, it’s been so long. I see you tweeting occasionally. I can’t read what they say, but I know you’re still there.” Toni, I cannot wait to read your memoirs. In the meantime, tweeting has taken on renewed purpose for me.

My greatest success

  • After five weeks of gruelling dinner table discussions about feminism, and having borrowed my copy of Lena Dunham’s book (then refusing to give it back), my mother finally outed herself as a feminist on our last evening in New Zealand. In our family, identifying with feminism had been one of those traits that skipped a generation - until now. Welcome to the fold, Mum.

Questions remaining

This trip did leave me with two questions I was unable to answer:

  • Why are there two Countdown supermarkets in Napier right across the road from each other? How does one choose between them?

And:

  • If it is possible to spend a night on Waiheke Island drinking pear cider while dancing to a Balkan band, then what does Europe have left to offer me?

It wasn’t true after all. So many things about home had changed. I flew back to Berlin - finally! - already looking forward to the next trip home.

Air New Zealand: Kiwi when convenient

I’ve been really enjoying watching Maori Television’s Native Affairs news programme recently. Mihingarangi Forbes has been on fire ever since she was fortunate enough to land the most ridiculous interviewee of all time, Alasdair "my wife says I’m not a sexist dinosaur" Thompson, and now she’s right at home taking the nation to task on affairs Maori, indigenous, cultural. I love it.

I am voting for her as the new mother of the nation.

Actually, the rest of the show is hot too. The documentary segments are the best I’ve seen on New Zealand tele in forever, the content is fresh, engaging and important and I am so pleased to see publicly funded broadcasting thriving on at least some screens somewhere.

Tonight Native Affairs interviewed an aspiring air hostess whose application to national airline Air New Zealand was rejected on the basis of her having a visible ta moko, or traditional tattoo. Their policy does not distinguish ta moko, as this woman had on her arm, from tattoos, banning any potential cabin crew whose tattoos would be visible while wearing the Air New Zealand uniform.

This is despite the airline using a distinctly Maori motif in its livery since the 1970s and various Maori imagery in advertising campaigns.

It seems ta moko patterns are acceptable for use on the cabin crew’s uniforms but not on their skin where they traditionally belong.

Even the buttons on the latest uniform feature the koru motif.

Air New Zealand, which was last year named the world’s top airline for the second time, has long worked its cultural charms to impress its customers, both domestically and internationally. Tonight the Native Affairs producers took great pleasure in rummaging through the archives to expose the airline’s most memorable 'Maori moments', none of which had aged gracefully.

The koru tail-wagging airline, which declined an appearance on the programme, said in a statement that “some international travellers think tattoos are intimidating and frightening”.

It seems that Air New Zealand has forgotten its roots.

My own experience speaking to Danish school children about New Zealand culture last year showed me that people may be surprised to learn that facial moko is not only legal, but sacred. I’ve found most people I meet along the way are open to cultural differences and the ones who aren’t are not really the kind of people we like to welcome to New Zealand anyway.

(As an aside, if Marie Krarup had been welcomed on to an Air New Zealand flight by a woman with a moko, wouldn’t she just have turned around and stayed at home? This could have saved everyone a lot of hassle and embarrassment).

For many incoming passengers, their Air New Zealand flight is the first Kiwi experience they will have. Why not take the opportunity to make this both a world-class experience and a genuinely cultural one?