Last week I did the media report for The Paper Machete, a live radio magazine podcasted for WBEZ. I talked about the recent launch of Rookie Magazine, which my thirty-six-year-old self is totally in love with in the same way my fifteen-year-old self was in love with its predecessor, Sassy. Also: kids are the shit and adults should spend more time listening to them.
This week marked the launch of a new online magazine called Rookie. Granted, online magazines are a dime a dozen, but Rookie’s turning out to be a pretty big damn deal, having been covered by countless power-punch publications including The New Yorker, The New York Times, The LA Times, Time, and on and on, all of them saying that what makes Rookie unqiue is that it’s aimed at an untouched demographic in the current market: the other high school girl. The girl who is not a cheerleader. Who doesn’t shop at Amerbcrombie and Fitch. Who wears excessive eyeliner and reads Sylvia Plath and very well may own a Bikini Kill album on vinyl even now, in 2011, when the typical high schooler looks at vinyl the same way a typical thirty-something looks at Beta Max.
It’s also important to note that nearly all of these articles about Rookie, including this one, are written by women in their mid-thirties. The other kind of women in their mid-thirties. The ones who are not soccer moms. Who don’t shop at Anne Taylor. Who wear excessive eyeliner and read Dorothy Allison and most assuredly still have their Bikini Kill album on vinyl even if they no longer own a record player because, really, you can get whatever you need from Pandora, am I right?—the kind of women who, in the early 90′s, were all reading a magazine called Sassy.
Sassy’s founding editor was then 24-year-old Jane Pratt, who had a staff of three that she referred to as Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll. They were cool. You couldn’t decide if you wanted to hang out with them, or be them. They wrote about things you weren’t supposed to talk about in high school, like pain, and punk rock, and masturbation. They included limited edition Sonic Youth records in the pages of the magazine.. They had an inhouse band called Chia Pet with lyrics that went like this: I was just walking down the street minding my own business/this construction worker said nice tits/cab driver asked me for a date/guy on the subway grabbed my ass/hey baby hey baby—compared to the Debbie Gibsons and Tiffanys of that time, this stuff was Beethoven.
Sassy was, according to an NPR profile, “less a teenage moment and more of a feminist movement. It was the antithesis of the homecoming queen, please-your-boyfriend culture. It published articles about suicide and STDs while Seventeen was still teaching girls how to get a boy to notice you.” It’s fair to say that thousands of the other high school girl found a voice in those pages, and when you’re fifteen, what are you looking for if not a voice? Take a sec here and think back to your own fifteen-year-old self. Who did you listen to? Watch? Read? Who spoke to the kid that you were? My dad would say Henry David Thoreau. My mom would say Simon and Garfunkel. For me—and 400,000 other other girls in the early 90’s—it was Sassy.
Sidebar: if there are any guys reading this thinking Blahblah girl’s magazines, know that Pratt also gave Sassy a brother publication called Dirt, edited by a very cool pre-Beastie Boys Spike Jonze, so rest assured, this is about you, too. This is about all of us—our crazy, lonely, longing fifteen-year-old selves.
Sadly for me and maybe for us all, Sassy went under/imploded/was destroyed by “The Man” in 1995, but its job had been done: those other types of girls grew up and started Bitch, Bust, Venus, and Jezebel—all publications that other types of women read today. But, for the past decade, the question has remained: What about the girls? The ones still in high school, with all the angst and bullying; fun and freedom; joy and crap that high school entails? Who is their voice?
Here, we jump back a few years to Oak Park Illinois, where a then eleven-year-old girl named Tavi Gevinson started a blog called thestylerookie. Jump forward to today: That blog is read by millions of people. Tavi has met Karl Lagerfield, interviewed John Galliano, and covered Fashion Week for Vogue. In V Magazine, Lady Gaga even gave her a shout-out: “If they’re not careful, the most astute and educated journalists can be reduced to gossipers, while a 14-year-old who doesn’t even have a high school locker yet can master social media engines and, incidentally, generate a specific, well-thought-out, debatable opinion about fashion and music that is then considered by 200 million people on Twitter. Take Tavi Gevinson. I adore her, and her blog is the future of journalism.”
Last year, Tavi gave a talk at Idea City called How We Can Apply What We Learned from the Teen Girls of the ’90s (More Specifically, Those Who Read/Interned at/Worked for Sassy Magazine) to Create a Good Magazine for Teen Girls Today, Also, This Is a Really Long Title.
She got a standing ovation. Then she got backing of, yes, Jane Pratt. And now, as of this week, fifteen-year-old Tavi Gevinson is the CEO of Rookie, where she both hired and presides over, according to the Telegraph: “A team of 37 writers and editors with backgrounds ranging from British Vogue and LA Times to Saturday Night Live and HBO” (including my friend and colleague, the very awesome Stephanie Kuehnert).
Like Jane before her, Tavi is cool. You don’t know if you want to hang out with her, or be her. The fonts on her magazine are copies of her own handwriting. At thirteen, she dyed her hair electric silver. She wears batman capes with couture free-bees. Also: she’s got some profound things to say to teenagers, and, in my opinion, human beings in general. In a recent piece on Rookie about girls hating other girls, she said, “I’m not saying we all have to be sunshine, lollipops and rainbows with each other… a good dose of angst is healthy. But hating people is stressful. Negativity is tiring. Causing drama is dumb. Some people are worth hating, but energy and time and brainpower are too valuable to waste on general shittiness.”
Based on other things happening in our country this week, there are some adults in Washington who could benefit from this advice.
In fact, there are adults everywhere who could benefit. When you read through the hundreds of comments posted to Rookie in the past week since they launched, it’s amazing to see how many adults are finding inspiration in Tavi’s words.
“Hate does not pass with age,” writes Eve. “I still see it at age 40. I want to xerox this post and plaster the world with it.”
And, from caringserene: “I just started law school at age 28 and it’s EXACTLY LIKE being a freshman in high school all over again.”
So take a second here and imagine yourself now; your grown-up, adult self. Who did you listen to? Watch? Read? Who speaks to the adult that you are? Henry David Thoreau? Simon and Garfunkel? Maybe old copies of Sassy or Dirt—they’re going for upwards of $100 these days on eBay—or maybe, just maybe, the greatest advice comes from the least likely place—a kid.
In all those articles in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The LA Times, and Time, they say Tavi is one-of-a-kind. A child prodigy, and while maybe that’s true—the girl is fucking awesome, in my opinion (TEAM TAVI!)—there’s also a profound sense of clarity and common sense in many kids today. What might happen if we took the time to better listen to their point of view?
As another child prodigy, thirteen-year-old Adora Svitak, said during her 2010 Ted Talk What Adults Can Learn From Kids: “When was the last time you were called childish? For kids, it’s a frequent occurrence. Every time we make irrational demands, exhibit irresponsible behavior, or display any other signs of being normal American citizens, we are called childish, which really bothers me. After all, take a look at these events: Imperialism and colonization, world wars, George W. Bush. Ask yourself: Who’s responsible? Adults.”