Pleasure With Pain For Leaven


From the disenchanted perspective of the 21st century, the brief floruit of the 'zine Mennonot is frequently viewed as an aberration, an abomination, a mildly diseased symptom of the Mennonite world's fin de siecle decadence. By now we've all heard the story of the nascence of the concept "Mennonot" in the lurid imagination of Sheri Hostetler, exploding like a delirious toadstool in her fevered brain at a soiree in a neighborhood crack bar in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.

"Mennonot"! Of course! Why didn't I think of that? For almost a year, the concept reverberated among the best minds of a generation of Menno outcasts in the big city and Holmes County, Ohio. The strangled cry arose, "What is a Mennonot?" Valiant attempts were made to defy logic and provide a satisfactory definition. Interviews of "Mennonots" from flesh-piercing performance artists to wannabe poets at provincial Mennnonite colleges were published, exemplifying the psychic qualities of that elusive quantity. Sometimes the magazine hit the bullseye, sometimes it went wide by a mile. Eventually the gnawing question arose, "Who really gives a shit?"

Recent studies have attributed the demise of Mennonot to faulty marketing technique. Certainly the initial campaign, in which every issue was mailed out with a 3.5" floppy disk containing the complete works of Menno Simons was a disaster; financially it set the magazine back about three years, and merely puzzled, rather than stimulated, the subscriber base. The seemingly brilliant stratagem of placing coin-operated boxes on every intersection in Kidron, Ohio foundered when no one ever had exactly $2.50 in coins to put in the slot to retrieve the publication, even had they had sufficient curiosity and the sense of adventure to purchase what looked vaguely like a homemade pornographic newspaper. The nefarious scheme to smuggle Mennonot out as an insert in Festival Quarterly collapsed just on the eve of the collapse of Festival Quarterly.

Eventually, as we have all come to acquiesce in the triumph of rampant world capitalism, a mist has lifted from our eyes and we recognize the truth of the dictum: "It's the economy, stupid." In baldest terms, there simply ain't enough Mennonots in this world to subsidize the publication of a magazine just for them. Even had the number of subscriptions ever soared above the peak figure of 27 (#9, sometime in early 1998), there would not have been enough.

Because the plain fact is that, boys and girls, there ain't no Mennonots. The feverish drug-inspired concept that exploded in Sheri Hostetler's brain remains just that -- a feverish drug-inspired concept. Because, to put it in the simplest terms, there are Mennonites and there are Mennonites, and then, there are people who are not Mennonites. There is not, except in your dreams, a fence-straggling intergendered category of actual people who are both Mennonites and not Mennonites.

Science has demonstrated that the sense of Mennoniteness vanishes after only one generation away from the church. Ex-Mennonites in the big city often like to think they're Jews, participating in a tangible ethnicity even though they're completely secular. No such thing. And that's why there's no market for a publication aimed at vaguely sentimental ex-Mennonites. Because there is no market. No Mennonots.

As Amos Stoltzfus, the Amish Druid, used to say: "You're either on the buggy or off the buggy."

I'm sad to see Mennonot go. Of course, I got my copy free, by virtue of writing some nonsense for every issue. But if it had been a choice between spending my $2.50 on Mennonot and a bottle of Thunderbird, there would have been no choice at all.

Mennonot, R.I.P.

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