Cambodian Grrrl: Self-Publishing in Phnom Penh: By Anne Elizabeth Moore By Kevin Dunn

Jul 27, 2012

In 2007, Anne Elizabeth Moore travelled to Cambodia to live in an all-female college dormitory and teach first generation female students about self-publishing and zine-making. This little book is a result of her time there: part memoir, part investigative journalism. But there is so much more going on within these ninety-six pages. For example, Moore grapples with the horrors of the Khmer Rouge’s genocidal rule as well as most Cambodians’ active unwillingness to deal with this sordid chapter of their recent history. Moore does an excellent job reflecting on why the students she befriends have little-to-no knowledge of the events that scar their society. And she does so with thoughtfulness, compassion, and humility. Indeed, there is not an ounce of the self-righteous paternalism that often accompanies travelogues like this.

But, then again, this is not your usual travelogue. Moore uproots herself in order to spend a semester teaching a group of total strangers halfway around the world the importance of zine-making, a medium the students have absolutely no conception of before she arrives. The ideas of self-publishing and DIY cultural production are almost unknown in Cambodia, especially given its history of government repression and violent social engineering. But informed by her riot grrrl-roots, Moore understands that impoverished first generation female university students are ideal agents of change. These young women are interested in social justice and equality (and giggling and dancing). You want a revolution girl style now? What better place to start than in the Harpswell Dormitory for University Women in Cambodia?

Moore’s DIY credentials are impressive. She was co-editor of the now-defunct Punk Planet, author of several books including the essential Unmarketable: Brandalism, Copyfighting, Mocketing and the Erosion of Integrity, as well as Hey Kidz, Buy This Book: A Radical Primer on Corporate and Governmental Propaganda and Artistic Activism for Short People and The Manifesti of Radical Literature. And in the spirit of full transparency, Moore is also a friend of mine. I’m even mentioned at the end of the book when she puts a handful of American zine-makers into contact with her Cambodian students. But I would be singing the praises of this book regardless.

Moore is one of the sharpest thinker and cultural critics bouncing around the globe today. In a few short paragraphs, she can explain the political significance of photocopying and distributing your thoughts far better than any scholarly work ever could. What she accomplishes in less than a hundred pages is stunning, as she deftly and intelligently weaves together women’s rights, globalization, democracy, corruption, genocide, ethics, and self-empowerment. Moore’s writing voice is humorous and compelling, especially as she never casts herself as an authority of anything, but honestly shares her own doubts and self-criticisms. But, most importantly, she uses this book to amplify the voices of the young women at the center of this project. Make no mistake, this book is DIY punk put into action. I’d never be so pretentious to call a book “vital,” but I suspect you’ll end up buying and giving away several copies of this book after you read it yourself. It is that good and that important. (Cantankerous Titles. 2011. 96 pages. $7.95)