Back Zine Reviews : June 2000
The Duplex Planet #156 Reviewed 6/25/00
by JPB

There have been one hundred and fifty-six issues of The Duplex Planet. Wow. It's going to take a whole paragraph to let the reality of that impressive feat settle in.

Anyway. In case you haven't been fortunate enough to cross paths with any of the one hundred and fifty-six issues of this zine that are floating around out there, let me fill you in. Editor David Greenberger visits nursing homes and adult centers in Portland, OR, and has conversations with the residents: Duplex Planet documents these conversations, and has for about twenty years (more?) now. There was a period where a number of underground cartoonists tried their hand at illustrating the results (Dan Clowes perhaps most successfully), and somewhere along the line a Duplex Planet book came out, but through it all Mr. Greenberg has just continued his visits and conversations.

The results, as you might expect, are often remarkable. If I remember correctly, Duplex Planet used to have a little more of an edge to it - Mr. Greenberger would ask questions like "Is there life on other planets?" and the resultant answers would be pretty weird and off-beat: they would come close to the realm of "outsider art." But it's grown increasingly apparent that Mr. Greenberger isn't interested in ironizing the elderly - that he's interested in them less because their answers are "weird" or "freaky" and more because he's genuinely interested in their perceptions.

In recent issues the warmth (love?) that he has towards the people he interviews comes through more and more clearly. In this issue he mainly just lets the interviewees tell their stories: they shape the direction that the telling will take; for the most part he contributes encouraging prompts and stays otherwise out of the way. (In Cornelia Richardson's piece, he remains entirely silent.)

A skeptic might think that this approach would result in a high percentage of boring Abe-Simpson-type rambles ("I tied an onion on my belt - as was the style at the time"), but the results are consistently interesting. For all our recent concessions to diversity, our national cultural discourse is still dominated by the voices of middle-aged (or younger) well-connected men: Duplex Planet is interesting simply because it provides a forum for voices located far outside of that sphere. They're the voices that largely haven't been heard before, and so the stories that they tell contribute towards an alternate understanding of the American metastory. Recommended.