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The Grape in Print: A Love Letter to Physical Media

by Saffron Forsberg

Arts & Culture Editor

[originally published summer 2021]


I’m not sure if you were aware of this, but you can hold The Grape in your hands again. And not only that; you can hold The Grape in your hands before thrusting it on a friend so they can hold it in their hands as they grunt affirmatively in response, promising to continue reading about, say, The Gay Politics of Marg Night or What Your Choice of Wilder Sanctum Says About You, at a later date. Yes, our dear snide—sole—college publication is back in the flesh. And what a joy it is to hold something again that so earnestly speaks to the bounding energy and color of the Oberlin experience; one that at once takes itself entirely too seriously and just wants to print and distribute physical images of your peers’ boobs. Indeed, the floating physical existence of The Grape on Mudd counters, and coffee tables, and dorm room floors has been a real-world marker of an Oberlin spirit that is usually difficult to place or document, one that is sincere and facetious, completely absurd and utterly serious. The newest splashes of whatever has made its way to the front cover peer up at you from a resolute stack in Azzy’s or King, reminding you of where it is you’ve decided to be. Sure, to write for a website is still to write. But to share a link is not to distribute a paper.

If you’re a loyal Grape reader, you may be grinding your teeth reading this. Saffron, don’t you know that the Letter from the Editors in The Grape Volume 69 Issue 6 features several paragraphs on how special it is to be back in print after being relegated to the soulless confines of WordPress for over a year? Are you disrespecting the Wickline-Avery administration? Do you even read this publication you so gush over? (Answers: yes; never; and yes, of course…sometimes. Respectively). Hear me out, frothing reader! Of course I realize that The Grape being back in print isn’t the most cutting-edge of observations. But, why are we so eager to be back in print? Why is it so important to hold The Grape to our chests as we distribute its bounty, when a wider audience could probably be reached on a web browser? Isn’t the fate of the newspaper one already receding into the distance? There are many questions to be asked but what I can tell you right now is that: The Grape in print is an example of the beautiful, dying thing that is physical, tangible media. It doesn’t take a Record Bro or a Blockbuster Head or a Grape Arts & Culture Editor to speak on the glorious thing that is physical media, but only a person who can hold.

I remember holding the first Grape I was published in. I guess it wasn’t so long ago, but I reminisce on it fondly as though it were. The Grape was the first thing I got involved with on campus—the September I was 18, vibrating with anxiety in Burton Basement because, god, everyone here is so cool. The collegiate hum of the special little Grape room with its old copies strewn about enchanted me; it felt so uniquely Oberlin in its goofy zest. And when publication day came and my funny little name was physically printed somewhere and flung around campus, I buzzed with a First-Year overseriousness I recognize now as a relish for being acknowledged through the physical. SAFFRON FORSBERG |CONTRIBUTING WRITER. To be held felt like being heard. Walking around campus and seeing people I didn’t know holding a publication I was in?! That had never happened to me before! My high school had no semblance of a Grape—or even a Review. To be printed in The Grape was to feel, for the first time, like a person who could pitch something, and write something, and have it printed somewhere other people could see it! It instilled in me a new and electric confidence that, though it feels silly to admit now, helped me grow to understand myself my first year at Oberlin. No web browser could give me such a headrush. I’ve been loyal ever since.

In conjunction with The Grape, I’ve made many brilliant friends. Copies have been passed from hand to hand to hand. I own stacks of film photographs taken my first year of college—yes, I am one of those people—many with the latest issue of The Grape lounging in the background. They sit in a box along with all the issues they capture. Upon returning to my childhood home in Texas for the first time following my Fall ‘19 semester, I fetched the stack of copies I had packed in my suitcase, and presented them to my bewildered parents, hardly hiding my pride. My father, as though on instinct, immediately flipped to the trusty centerfold. “They let y’all do that over there?” he wheezed, trying not to meet eyes with some 21-year-old ceramicist’s nipples. I guffawed, forgetting this wasn’t normal, as he bemusedly flipped through the rest of the edition.

You see, the physicality of The Grape is inherent to its charm. Those who have befriended me, crushed on me, and connected with me have admitted, a rare glint of Obie sincerity in their eyes: I’ve read all your pieces in The Grape. I found them in Stevie. Funnily enough, too, the first person I dated in college found me through The Grape. They swiped a copy from Mudd, read my first Opinions piece on growing up working-class, low-income, and not from a major city, and contacted me. In their eyes, I was a writer. It didn’t matter that The Grape was—is—a small publication belonging to a small college; I was a writer. And what I had written sat somewhere other people could find it, could hold it, and keep it, and find it again. Just when I think I am merely shouting at the sky, I am met with a plaintive “I really liked your last piece in The Grape. I found it in Peters.” No pasting of a hyperlink could bring such color to my cheeks!

This being said, I must admit something; I was born and raised to enjoy the specialness of physical media. Having grown up in the used bookstore for which both my parents were employed, the smell of .99 records and disintegrating paperbacks haunts my dreams. I’ve hated Amazon since before it was cool to hate Amazon—Jeff Bezos, to my father, being a name for He Who Kills the Small Bookseller...or maybe just Satan. Thus, my hippie-ish parents despised modern technology when I was growing up. We read the newspaper and wrote in spiral-bound notebooks, flip phones in our pockets, well into the release of the iPhone. We burned CDs and rewound tapes and wrote letters and developed our disposables at Walgreens and adjusted the antennas on our portable radios. I took up painting and never stopped, my hands always busy, always hacking away at something tangible. A new edition of The New Yorker on the kitchen table could fill me with a visceral glee on par with a post-fourth-grade Happy Meal. Indeed, a majority of my birthday and secular, Wicca-adjacent Christmas-Yule gifts have been novels and records and lined diaries with the used bits ripped out, wrapped as though new video games. In my used bookstore household, to hold media was to love it, and to love media was to be alive. And I’d ask for nothing more. In writing for The Grape, I could find myself in the rows and columns I so pored over—well, kind of. In an Oberlin sort of way.

And so here you are, reader, holding The Grape once again. I hope this first Summer Edition is just as spirited, silly, snide, and sentimental as all the others. I hope, too, that you notice that great smell of newsprint hanging in the air. Did you notice the satisfying weight of The Grape in your hands? What about the way it spreads on a table, and needs no charge, and never, ever notifies you of a Tinder match? It’s part of the experience.

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