VICE, fashion, and what’s truly offensive

First, let me be clear about this: I’ve always liked VICE. I’m talking about the magazine here, not about…well, let’s not get into that. The magazine, originally from Canada, where it was The Voice of Montreal. That was in 1994. A couple years later they changed their name to VICE, and three years after that, they moved to New York City

VICE has published some serious journalism. VICE has also published remarkably trashy journalism. They’ve published amazing photographs and interesting works of serious fiction; and they’ve published photos just because they’re trendy, not to mention some really shitty fiction. But I like that. I like that they’re unpredictable, even when I don’t like what they publish.

vice - chang

I like VICE, but I don’t always like what they do. And I like that I don’t always like what they do. I like it when conventions are challenged. But over the last couple of years VICE seems to be pulling shit just for shock value. Shock value is almost always heavy on shock and light on value. An example? It was VICE that sent Dennis Rodman to North Korea. There’s nothing clever in that. Sending Dennis Rodman to North Korea is as clever as a twelve year old boy’s fart joke. It’s more about being able to say ‘fart’ out loud than anything else.

But that’s not why I’m pissed off at VICE.

The current issue of VICE is the fiction issue. But nobody is talking about the fiction in the fiction issue. Why? Because VICE also published a fashion spread. Of models depicting famous women writers. Who killed themselves. In the moment they killed themselves.

The caption of each photograph includes the name of the writer depicted, the date she was born, where she was born, the date she killed herself, where she killed herself, and how she killed herself. It also includes the fashion credits for what the model is wearing, in case you want to order the tights the model depicting novelist Sanmao is hanging herself with.

vice - plath

A lot of people are understandably upset and angry with VICE for this fashion spread. I’m one of them. A lot of people claim VICE is glorifying suicide. I don’t think they are, but I see their point. A lot of people are pissed off because the photographs all depict women writers, when far more male writers have killed themselves. They have a valid argument. Some people are irate because suicide isn’t a fashion statement. I agree. 

But those aren’t the reasons I’m pissed at VICE.

VICE has since pulled the fashion spread from their online magazine. They’ve issued the standard corporate non-apology apology:

The fashion spreads in VICE magazine are always unconventional and approached with an art-editorial point-of-view rather than a typical fashion photo-editorial one. Our main goal is to create artful images, with the fashion message following, rather than leading.

“Last Words” was created in this tradition and focused on the demise of a set of writers whose lives we very much wish weren’t cut tragically short, especially at their own hands. We will no longer display “Last Words” on our website and apologize to anyone who was hurt or offended.

That’s bullshit, of course. I expect VICE to be transgressive. I expect the magazine to occasionally be deliberately offensive and tasteless. I expect VICE to do stupid shit just to shock people. I expect to be offended by some of what they publish. But I never expected to be offended by the policies of VICE.

vice - sanmaoWhat I don’t expect — and what pisses me off most — is for VICE to be offensive, tasteless, and shocking for commercial reasons. The fashion spread is called Last Words, but it doesn’t include the last words of these writers. It doesn’t mention anything they wrote. Because it’s not really about last words, or about what these women wrote. It’s not even about these women at all, or that they killed themselves.It’s about selling shit. It’s about advertising income. It’s about monetizing the VICE brand.

That’s why I’m pissed at VICE. They’ve shown themselves to be the same sort of corporate swine they like to mock. If VICE wants to include a photograph of a model pretending to be Sylvia Plath about to stick her head in the oven, yeah I’ll certainly be offended — but I’d defend it as trangressive art. If they want to show a model acting like Iris Chang about to eat a handgun, damn right I’ll be offended and angry (I met Iris Chang and liked her) — but I’d still defend VICE for making art. But if they want to pull that shit just to sell a scarf and some silk tights? If they do that just to make a buck and sell more advertising? Then fuck VICE. Fuck them in the neck.

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