Notes on Tiger Beat Theory

This issue of Dilettante Army takes a cue from the long run of Tiger Beat magazine (1965–2020) to ask about the life cycle of the concept of the teenager, which is also a question about the life cycle of power: adolescence has not aged well. 

What was Tiger Beat? Tiger Beat was a publication that not only made fans out of teenagers, it made teenagers. They were the magazine’s most successful commodity. Along with other teen-centered pop culture magazines (we think of Sylvia Plath writing for Seventeen), Tiger Beat was instrumental in reaching pop and celebrity fandoms and in creating those social groups wholecloth. Tiger Beat manifested a material culture of adolescence with a short sell-by date: countless girls and queer teens have pinned up the magazine’s full-page photos of cute, young, male stars to their bedroom walls. (Although the publication tried to present a sanitized version of sexuality, this project was always unsustainable, since sexuality heroically refuses to stay clean.) Because adolescence was a passing phase, Tiger Beat relied on new emerging adolescents becoming the magazine’s consumers, which they did—until they didn’t. Ultimately, a 2015 relaunch of Tiger Beat (one of many life phases) failed to find a large audience. 

As we see in Maya Man’s essay, torn pages from Tiger Beat were part of many girls’ ideological education. The magazine was meant to be ripped apart, its frame falling to the background as teenagers separated out the bits that had meaning for them and used these raw materials to construct their own subjectivity. Tiger Beat Theory aims to put together those torn pieces of the magazine, not in hopes of reconstructing the magazine but in hopes of capturing the feeling of having lived in its world. 

The adolescent experience of collaging is purposely loose, the materials easy to take up and easy to discard once you are finished with them. This is both the best and the worst thing about Tiger Beat: the palette of available identities is easy to access, but it is restricted in range. Engaging with its palette requires a lot of creativity—presented with limited options, an adolescent reader needs to read closely and against the grain to collage together the pattern of themselves. This is détournement as a rite of passage from girl to woman, the artistic construction of the situation of gender. As Simone de Beauvoir said, “Woman is a historical situation”; we add, “Woman is a historical Situationist.”

The creativity that teenagers have invested in Tiger Beat stretches outward, connecting this admittedly weak or shallow text to bigger things outside readers’ own frames. The traces of those relationships cannot be found in the text, and so the research presented in this issue is more social than hermeneutic. Because there is no Tiger Beat archive (yet), Tiger Beat Theory is a project that lacks indexicality. But even if we could get our hands on a physical archive of the magazine, it would not represent our experience of it, nor give a sense of its significance. 

However anodyne its articles, traces of paratextual relationships may be found in the magazine’s back pages. From its earliest days, Tiger Beat listed addresses where readers could write to celebrities, connecting fans directly with their parasocial paramours. The publication’s business model, too, depended on material objects other than the physical magazine—Tiger Beat’s novel approach to making money was to advertise fan club merchandise within its own pages. Dedicated readers could send away for photos, records, and lunch boxes that allowed them to hold a totem from their idol and signal their allegiance to other fans.  

In order to engage fully with the model of Tiger Beat, we have created the Dilettante Army Surplus Store, where you can buy your very own Tiger Beat Theory merchandise. This merch, designed by artist Benjamin Lignel, makes material DA’s identity crisis at finding itself a (mature or decrepit?) ten years old, grasping for youth with its babyfied hands. (Plus: stickers!) Intended as half-art project, half-joke, and 0% actual commercial enterprise, this store asks the question: what if Dilettante Army had a uniform?


In this issue:


Through “Cut and Paste: Teen Magazines and the Collaged Self,” Maya Man constructs a hodgepodge case for the “girlishness” of collage, pulling raw material from the movie bedrooms of teen girl protagonists, magazine covers, typography in feminist text, and contemporary collage art, all of which communicate the self not as a fixed concept but as a constant project. Man’s visual analysis of Tiger Beat, a magazine famous for its collage suitability, concentrates on its wildly varied fonts—a style echoed in Tiqqun’s approach to their theory of the Young-Girl. The same formal approach to collage appears in work by contemporary artists like Maggie Lee and Molly Soda, whose styles convey “the girlish plasticity of both the digital image and the internet-entangled self.”

In “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon,” the marked time of internet countdown clocks gives form to fans’ protracted desire for the day when teen stars will finally be sexually available. Katherine Fusco surveys the media landscape that anticipated Lindsay Lohan’s eighteenth birthday like a Toyotathon sales event—a press machine that hummed its desire for Lohan but muffled any talk of Lohan’s own desire. Down the timeline, Shirley Temple’s legally curious childhood sets the precedent for a Hollywood audience’s awkward embrace of a star who is not a girl, not yet a woman. As these noisy commentaries around Temple and Lohan crescendo, a single question resounds: what’s the use of you?

In his poem, “At the Grave of Patrick Kelly,” Derrick Austin captures the flamboyant ease of the fashion designer Patrick Kelly’s lavish, celebratory, unabashedly queer designs. Kelly, one of the many casualties of the AIDS epidemic, died in 1990 and was buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Making a pilgrimage to pay tribute, Austin reflects on how Kelly gave him “a world to imagine / without dullness or ignorance,” marking how Kelly’s work resists nostalgia and embraces a vibrant futurity. 

Why is it so hard to reconcile the desires of the selves we have been with the selves we are? Why is it so hard to convey the nuances of how experiments in gender can call to us as an experience of attractive force and aesthetic possibility as well as a corrective to potential dysphoria? Joely Fitch’s “Contradiction Study” takes this question up with regard to their younger self’s adventures in girlhood and polaroid photography. Fitch’s archive of photos structures an essay that grapples with how the genders and the longings we’ve moved through in the past leave legacies in the present.

Chloe Turner examines the contradictions of academic stardom and the way the mythic status of the celebrity theorist can sometimes drown out the potential of the theory. Her case study in “Berlant, Academic Stardom, and Devotional Publics” is the work of Lauren Berlant, most famously associated with the concept of “cruel optimism,” in which objects we cherish become obstacles to our flourishing. In the wake of Berlant’s passing, their work, Turner argues, has been subject to a cherishing that has become an obstacle to the flourishing of its legacy. 

Meleena Gil’s analysis in “Evading Capture: TikToks and Zines as Postmodernist Genres” forges links between DIY zine culture and TikTok, where cultures of riffing, duets, and bricolage prioritize the mutual influence and community potential of the mediums. As Gil contends, these author- and concept-destabilizing genres are capable of promoting transgressive critique, both working through complementary strategies. While some activists turn back to analog zines to escape the restrictions and exploitations of social media companies, other TikTokers find creative ways in-platform to escape the surveillant eye of authority (witness zinetok!).

Finally, in “Teen Dream: Merch Machine” Christine Elliott traces the history of the American teen as a social and economic identity and matches readers up with satisfyingly niche pieces of DA merch. Her quiz is built around the exploration of cultural texts in Teenage Confidential: An Illustrated History of the American Teen,, which touches on everything from films to pulp magazines to Top Forty hits. A cursory review of three decade’s worth of textual artifacts reveals that while particularities of the American teen may change over time one thing remains constant: the teenager’s viability as a consumer.

All these contributions have been illustrated by artist Courtney LeSueur, whose primary colors and vibrating Tiger Beat-esque typography bring the frenetic feel of youth to the virtual pages of Dilettante Army. (Plus, again: stickers!!)