Before it was bought out by Viacom, Vice Magazine held some attractive qualities for me.
On the minus-side, there is some sort of business or personal partnership between the magazine and the American Apparel clothing line -- their clothes and advertising are one of my biggest cultural pet peeves. I HATE the type of T&A used in their ads, the barely legal and unhealthily skinny women, so blandly counter-culture (wow, she has tattoos and is mixed race, what a powerful political statement!), so passé. These ads are on the back of every monthly issue of Vice, and pretty much typify what I hate about the magazine – a bunch of paint-by-numbers edgy fashion shoots of women engaging in mildly deviant behavior.
However, there used to also be really interesting articles in Vice; I still remember one from a few years back about the porn king of Mexico, and it was fascinating to learn about this popular porn in which traditionally unattractive non-actors screwed and the films were really popular. The word “vice” suggests deviant behavior and immorality, and at its best, the magazine and it’s dvd’s have used an amoral voice to write exposes and conduct interviews free of a hidden agenda or latent judgment – realistic, truthful portrayal of fringe cultures and previously unknown global horrors, related without any outraged editorial asides. The "Vice Guide to Travel" dvd is even somewhat revolutionary: young people traveling to other countries to expose dangerous rituals and realities that I can only assume most of us here in the US of A knew nothing about beforehand. One of the episodes, TheRadioactive Beasts of Chernobyl, is of reporter Shane Smith “hunting for mutant wolves in Chernobyl’s Red Forest – the area that got the highest doses of radiation after the nuclear disaster in 1986.” Another Vice reporter visits the slums of Rio and gets shot at. “Bulgarian DirtyBombs” is about some Vice journalists attempting to buy nuclear warheads in Bulgaria and having no problem locating sellers of these devastating WMD’s (as George Dubwa liked to call them). “Gypsies of Sophia” is a tour through the fetid garbage dump Bulgaria’s Gypsies are forced to live in (synopsis and photo courtesy of the ViceTV site):
While I get frustrated at the recorded and obnoxious repackaging a genuine lived moment experiencing vices first-hand that is Vice Magazine, I do appreciate the cultural relevancy of much of their investigative work, which was so brave on the part of the journalists who explored these ugly pockets of Earth at the risk of personal harm.
Then there’s the funny side of Vice. Especially when Gavin McGinnes was one of the main writers, Vice was a compendium of some of the funniest and crassest observations of vice-filled trends infiltrating casual sex, current trends in lightweight-deviance (like pretty women crouching to pee in public places). Most popular, and funniest, is the “Do’s and Don’ts” feature of what’s hot and not, lauding the fashion sense of a fat man asleep on the subway with his balls hanging out of his pants, for instance, and lambasting a pretty Eastern European woman whose cleavage is wearing an Armani Exchange shirt and a false butt. These are not actual examples, but they capture the gist. The rightfully revered Do’s and Don’ts feature is/was (before the buy-out) the type of reading that I laughed out loud to. I don’t appreciate the writers’ consistent criticism of a proud set of hairy armpits on a woman, but …. I usually just feel sorry for these quip-writers for not having experienced the erotic experience of smelling and nuzzling the downy paradise of a confident woman’s hairy armpit.
This crass humor is at the heart of my examination on whether these men’s appreciation/over-scrutiny/infantile fascination with the female form is advantageous to the powerful woman. My decision is that there is something helpful to us girls in the inclusion of wild women in this publication. There are/were woman staffers just as adept at writing disgusting and original gross-out articles. The article, “OVUM EASY, PLEASE: IS VAGINAL DISCHARGE THE BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS?”, for example, documents one woman’s mission to prepare he vaginal discharge as one would prepare a breakfast of chicken eggs.
There is a place for feminism in this often purposely degrading magazine, in that the female staffers are allowed all the disgustingness of their male counterparts.
I recall reading an article by Vice writerAmy Kellner, recounting the time she excitedly approached her interview withradical riot grrrl band Bratmobile. The the summary is that the members of Bratmobile, clearly coming from a good place, let Kellner know that they dislike Vice, putting Kellner in the position of having to defends her magazine. She didn’t want to do this; yes, she was raised a riot grrrl, a true Bratmobile fan for years, but she did not want to have to pretend to dislike Vice, a magazine whose editors hade never censored her writing.
My final impression of Vice Magazine is that it’s often a celebration of unabashedly offensive humor about every embattled facet of society, including Black people, women, gays, the mentally and physically challenged. However, it is a magazine whose staff abounds in members from each of these traditionally vulnerable subcultures, in an inclusiveness that suggests offensive humor as a means of normalizing differences in people that currently cause avoidance and discomfort in mainstream society.
Though it’s hard for me to admit to the possibly culturally therapeutic benefit of such cocky and intentional shock value, it seems to reveal a clear faith in women to buck the demure and supportive role of traditional gender roles. It’s irritating to flip through the pages of a hackneyed photographer’s “artistic” photo shoot (Richard Kern and Terry Richardson, you shits, I’m looking at you), but it’s nice get to the next page (this is in the bygone Vice, mind you), where Lesley Arfin is wistfully recalling fist fights and promiscuities from her youth, or, in the fiction issue, to see the profusion of female fiction writers including the widely respected Mary Gaitskill.
In summary, then, I have to say (with a ton of qualifiers) that I feel Vice in some ways contributes to the feminist cause, or, more accurately, to a version of feminism focused on a woman’s right to make the worst possible choices if it so pleases her. In its glorification of vice, the magazine to some degree supports a recklessness, even a death wish, and in fact several friends of Vice (artist and frequent contributor Dash Snow, for instance), women are allowed to play Russian Roulette as well, if it so pleases. While it is brutal to have reached an age where the meaninglessness of it all has become so obvious, it is, in its own way, good for women to be able to join in the nihilistic cult that is Vice.