Scam: The First Four Issues!
Is it punk to drink when you’re flat broke? Is selling plasma or sniffing glue revolutionary? Is throwing shit off a Macy’s rooftop ever cool? Nearly twenty years after his zine was released in a series of diatribes about scamming the system and living on the edge of society, Erick Lyle’s writings as zinester Iggy Scam have been edited and bound for the masses. His collected works, Scam: The First Four Issues!, makes you question the very idea of “punk” and who gets to decide exactly what that means.
The best parts of Scam are the little things you don’t expect. Reviews of Beverly Hills, 90210; specific books, and generalized analyses—“Cars aren’t very punk. Roller skates are punk.”—are wickedly funny, provided you’re not taking Lyle seriously. Interviews with hardcore band Born Against’s Sam McPheeters or writer William Upski Wimsatt appropriately date the anthology and offer a window into the media Lyle was consuming in the mid-1990s. Pranks like Xeroxing 1,200 Starbucks coupons and handing them out are amusing, if only because you know Lyle didn’t get caught.
Much like Abby Hoffman’s Steal This Book, Scam is full of ways to rip off companies and The Man—most outdated and some more obvious than others. To get free unlimited copies at Kinko’s, swipe a paper clip in the copy machine credit card slot. To let loose free sodas and a bucket full of change, spray salt water into a vending machine dollar bill slot. Need new tunes? Sign up for introductory offers from now-defunct services like BMG Music. Hungry? Buy a soda at Wendy’s and hit the salad bar for free when no one is looking. Ask for a student discount any chance you get—whether or not you are one. Some of those little tricks were and are useful, if also deployed by not-so-punk suburban kids like me.
Some of Lyle’s exploits are awesome: house shows, hanging out at Food Not Bombs, and even protests are hallmarks of a youthful punk lifestyle. Running a pirate radio station and stealing electricity from street lamps can even be viewed as radical acts. Other aspects of Lyle’s so-called punk existence are markedly less glamorous, sometimes outright questionable, and littered with unquestioned privilege.
Take one of Lyle’s hitchhiking experiences, when the guy giving him a ride masturbated in front of him. Unhurt and not assaulted, Lyle walked away from the incident with a laugh—hardly what might happen if he were anything other than a young, white, straight male who thought it was more funny than frightening. In the same way, eating out of dumpsters, while arguably a way to reclaim perfectly fine discarded food, is also an act reserved for those not afraid of being harassed by law enforcement or arrested, as well as those who are well enough to risk food poisoning for a bit of free grub.
Some of Lyle’s stances, like his hatred for straightedge, are never explained. On several occasions, he advocates violence like smashing windows without particular purpose, seemingly because he understands violent acts to be related to anarchy, and thus punk. Granted, I’d never want anyone dissecting stuff I wrote when I was eighteen, but at times, it’s tough to read Lyle’s work as more than chaotic adolescent rants about how to destroy shit rather than effect change.
If nothing else, Scam is an interesting historical document from a time when eighteen-year-olds were listening to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the radio and watching the Gulf War on TV. If you can make out the scrawled handwriting, comics about graffiti and postage fraud, and care to read about hustling free condoms from STD studies at university hospitals, you’d do well to pick up Scam.