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Momus

The Vice Design Issue


I happen to be reading through the Vice magazine Design Issue while sitting in a wooden house in Hokkaido, North Japan, watching an NHK TV special celebrating the design work of Charles and Ray Eames. It's the perfect counterpoint. I glance up from my laptop to see the camera panning across objects the Eameses collected on their travels; a shot of a beautiful shell dissolves into an Eames chair. I'm deeply moved, in an almost religious way, by the implicit parallel between human ingenuity and nature, the organic and the engineered. Then I turn back to Vice and see another symbol of the harmony of humanity and nature - a gushing toilet.



Okay, declaration of interest. I occasionally write for Vice, the satirical youth magazine based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It takes some careful manipulation of tone--the magazine is gross and provocative, whereas I tend to be polite and enthusiastic--but somehow, once in a while, we manage to think the same way. I had nothing to do with The Design Issue, but I thought you might be interested in what it says. The cover is a bright white Terry Richardson snap of a flushing toilet spouting water upwards. That jet of water contains a promise: Vice intends to rip design culture a new asshole, flush its pretensions away, soil design then cleanse it. Assumptions will be challenged, affectations lampooned. We're in for a ribald carnival of design satire! Well, perhaps.

The opening editorial continues the cover's fecal theme. "Why does everything look like shit?" asks 'Chris Crinkle' (the Santa costume almost certainly conceals editor Jesse Pearson or publisher Gavin McInness). "The whole of culture is at an all-time aesthetic low... things have gotten so bad, we're taking advice from a bald fag with expensive sunglasses wedged on his head." Laying out the themes of the issue, the editorial concludes "If you want to see real design, check out the makeshift knife in your son's pants. Or the roach traps poor people make. Shit, just take a look at our living room. It's a thousand times nicer than yours, and we're broke." It seems that Vice is determined to prove that design needn't be the preserve of the rich and effete. Bertolt Brecht and the Good Soldier Schweik seem to nod their approval; after all, they're also satirists of bourgeois pretension.

The Vice approach is nothing if not consistent. There's an article about bidet toilets (with more Terry Richardson photos), a piece about a fake iBook supposedly fabricated by an inventive crackhead and sold on the street to an NYU student, an inventory of homemade weapons confiscated from kids at an Alabama high school, an illustrated letter from Britain about the replica guns made by young offenders, a workshop by one "Crazy Paul" detailing the best way to kill a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach (not for the faint of stomach; Paul opts for eating the insect). That's followed by an awards page for the best roach-killing designs, two tours of cluttered, tackily-decorated apartments, and "The Vice A-Z of Design".

Here the toilet humor gives way to some real wit. "What ever happened to Herb Lubalin, Grapus, Tadanori Yokoo, Ken Adam (the Dr. Stranglelove/James Bond set guy), Kate Gibb, Saul Bass, Shinro Ohtake, Keiji Ito, Willy Fleckhaus, and all those Polish poster artists?" asks Vice. "Being a designer used to mean you drove a Benz and you could get good drugs. Now it means you own a computer. What the fuck? You start out thinking you're going to blow people's minds with your incredibly unique take on the beauty that surrounds us all, and by the time you actually get your career in motion you're essentially a wedding photographer chained to a desk... Your ideas don't mean shit to the client. He couldn't be bothered learning how to use a computer, so what he wants to do is use you as a human paintbrush. Any idea you come up with, no matter how mundane, is going to be further bastardized by his shitty Guido taste until the final result is a perfect example of everything you hate. There, you got into design as part of the solution and now you're just another part of the problem."

Here's where Vice's real agenda begins to peep through the scatology, like a seam of lace under a crumpled Kleenex; behind the affectations of hoodlum and white trash style, the glorification of rural teenage delinquency and the cheap shots at NYU students, Vice is a magazine written by and for urban sophisticates, people who know quite a bit about art, photography and design and are actually highly invested in aesthetics. Vice's photo editor, seen holding a fake iBook in the iHustle feature, just happens to be Ryan McGinley, an American Photo Magazine Photographer of the Year and, at 25, the youngest artist ever to have a solo show at the Whitney. Could it be that behind the sophomoric, mischievous, dismissive, even nihilistic style, Vice is the voice of a twentysomething generation clearing the decks for a new aesthetic? Is the magazine's iconoclasm pure destruction or preparatory work for a new definition of the 'iconic'? Is the disgust directed here at design actually disgust at its co-option by consumerism, its low aspirations?

Ryan McGinley's own work--casual homo-erotic snaps of boys in Lower East Side apartments with their shirts off--didn't come from nowhere; it's clearly "school of Nan Goldin" as well as making common cause with Terry Richardson's Bacchanalian porno-aesthetic. (And it says a lot that, in "The Vice Guide To Design", K is for kerning, and gets illustrated with a badly-kerned setting of New York Girls photographer Richard Kern's name. Well, I chuckled, anyway.) The Vice Design Issue is not an anti-design tract, but the championing of an aesthetic that's already quite well-established, already wowing museum curators - a casual, trashy, porno-party style that celebrates tack, lo-tech and the good old bohemian values of sex, drugs and rock and roll. This salon des refuses, populated by people in their twenties, is well on its way to becoming a salon tout court.

Personally, I value having my design assumptions shaken up from time to time. I still love the Eames' vision of design, but I'm willing to see the Japanese TV show celebrating it as, essentially, religious broadcasting for elderly humanists. NHK seems motivated by a desire to render homage to saints long since canonised, to relive battles long since won. I'm willing to consider that their reverence for the Eames' work may contain a lot more respect for respect, legitimacy for legitimacy, than concern for the negotiation of living aesthetics. Mightn't there be a deep nihilism in that, some deep indifference to aesthetic values and aesthetic debates, some moribund, museumlike quality? And could it be that Vice's irreverence is something, you know, alive, its nihilist bile a sign that someone, you know, cares?

Perhaps I'm overstating the value of irreverence. But I'm quite glad there are design satirists around. It makes design dialectics a bit more extreme and colourful, even if, in the end, the aesthetic choices on offer are rather small and comfortable ones. The curators of the MoMA or the curators of the Whitney? Your parents' tidy apartment on the Upper East Side or your friend's messy loft in Williamsburg?

Posted in: Magazines

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Comments [38]
Reality check -- the Vice boys are not from New York.

They started here in Montreal (as did you, once upon a time). I knew people who were roommates with them.

More power to them, I guess, but I feel the reason for their success is really more due to the "Rebel Sell" factor -- forget about aesthetics, this is about selling the coolest, newest, stupidest (literally stupidest) things to people who are desperate to be different, in a cycle of competitive consumption.

And all I really have to say about that whole thing is eloquently summed up in this fabulous spoof article from New York Magazine - "The New York Hipster Exodus."

http://newyorkmetro.com/nymetro/urban/features/10488/index1.html
aj
01.24.05
09:23

I have to agree with a lot of you Momus, but also with the above comment - this quote about the evolution of NY in the last years from the article he mentions just sums it all up for me:

"It felt very progressive then. People would talk to each other. You felt like everyone was rooting for everyone else. Now it feels like everyone is rooting for everyone else to have an accident. And as you walk around, it seems like all anyone is doing is eating Thai food, or falafel, but in complete silence. It's also become, like, really, really white. I mean, it was always full of white people, but this is ridiculous."


Vice magazine and what it represents definitely has a big progressiveness close to its heart, one that is fresh and bold and knows its shit, but it's ultimately and indissolubly tied to a not-so-ironic fascism of the hip, a tyranic whiteness that's probably what's going to be left of it when the concept gets old enough to be part of the establishment.
mario
01.25.05
03:04

Mario -- wow, that's scary. I mean, that New York Magazine article was a tongue-in-cheek parody but we are living in the era where reality outpaces satire...you don't have to name names, but what sort of clinched it for you?

To me, Vice "jumped the shark" some time ago. Despite the occasional bits of urban journalism, Vice's pathological need to be provocative, outrageous or politically incorrect, to be anti-layout, or faux-lo-fi with pages of unfocused Polaroids (when it is produced on state-of-the-art Macintoshes) -- is less the articulation of any sort of movement, but more a calculated series of outrages in service of commercial goals.

As Thomas Frank, Andrew Potter + Joseph Heath note in their respective books, "hip" is a desirable commodity. And to be on the bleeding edge of hip, people instinctively look for "the next thing," in order to be always seen as a leader, an early adopter, to distinguish oneself from the Joneses. Even though the ad pages of Vice are full of 'alternative' brands, they're still brands, still businesses, with marketing plans and ads and all that.

In my view, the success of Vice is less among the people already living in Urban Hipster areas, but more among the people living *outside* the hipster enclaves, in the burbs, small towns, wherever they can get it. They desperately want in, and when you can't afford to go to RISD so you can start the next Talking Heads, the closest you can get is the local Hipster Emporium to buy the T-shirt...
aj
01.25.05
03:59

Many people already believe that Vice, as a design entity, has failed against it's own standards. They convey a message of apathy, while becoming more vigilant against people who don't share the views of the magazine. Which is fine, if it's done well, but it's not.
They're so bad that they're good routine doesn't really work for me, sorry to say.
Interesting reading, Gavin defending Vice: http://exclaim.ca/index.asp?layid=227&csid1=2410
Anthony Brennan
01.25.05
06:45

I don't know much about Vice, but have flipped through the issue reviewed here. It reminds me that the so-called counter-culture is, in most respects, pretty conservative. And that more than advocating any real change, attitudes like those expressed in Vice reflect an ardent dissapointment in change itself and its consequences. Like a teenager who demands "leave me alone" while desiring mostly to be taken care of, the cry of "everything must change" is often a lament about how disturbing and unsettling change actually is.

While I'll hand it to them for trying and for being brash, I find Vice generally depressing because it doesn't seem to offer more than attitude. And I can't see what's new about the attitude.

The point about the Eames on NHK is very well taken, though. Reverence is not enough.
Trent Williams
01.25.05
10:02

Trent, that's a great observation. Potter and Heath, in their book The Rebel Sell (aka Nation of Rebels in the US/UK) make the point that counterculture is really just the leading edge of consumer culture -- the one could not exist without the other.

Mario -- great animations, btw!
aj
01.25.05
10:24

Just finished reading this post, the VICE design issue online, and some of the comments here and after VICE design issue articles. This is the first time I ever visited VICE, so I decided to check out their About Us page. It is here where I learned the most:

"VICE has become much more than a way for three guys to get laid. It's become a lifestyle; a degrading and disgusting lifestyle of sex and drugs and rock and roll and death. This site is a collection of the irreverent, hilarious and downright scary gonzo journalism that brought three losers from the crack houses of Le Plateau to the deluxe apartments of Manhattan."

So I guess when it comes to "Your parents' tidy apartment on the Upper East Side or your friend's messy loft in Williamsburg?", you can both if you have the money.
Steven K.
01.25.05
10:58

For those of us who live in New York Vice is the best free magazine in the city. But I would never pay for it. Reading Vice is a lot like going to a down and out strip club —the bawdy raunch you were expecting turns out be depressing social tragedy.

I am disappointed that (like seemingly everyone else) Momus is willing to let Vice's bullshit racism, homophobia, and sexism slide. At least you were honest about the fact that you work for them, but I'm really bored of the defense that "It's so irreverent and funny!" No, it was funny about five years ago before Vice became a behemoth with film, publishing, and music arms and started spreading their trucker-hat jock culture all over the world. What was once a great zine is quickly becoming the Maxim of America — no longer revealing the rough edges of our culture but perpetuating some of its least attractive aspects.

The problem is, people forget that the "irreverent" thing about Vice is that it's free. People come to New York and see people reading it and think, "Wow I guess casual racism and gay-bashing are hip now. Finally, finally, me and my frat buddies' sense of humor is cool." I mean what exactly is a "bad fag"?.

The "Vice boys" love it when people like me try to call them on basically being jocks. They say how boring it is to be polite and trot out the PC straw man quicker than Rush Limbaugh. But the fact is, if they want to act like adolescents, they should expect to be treated like adolescents.

There have been absolutely great moments in Vice. A few years abot they did a piece about whether a black guy or a white guy could withstand heat better by conducting a simple experiment: they put one of each in a sauna and cranked it up until they said uncle. What made this more than a juvenile prank was the writing which was fearless but also subtle in its handling of a geniunely tough issue. Their issue on the mentally handicapped struck a similar balance between being obnoxious and thought-provoking. And their brilliant "fashion do's and dont's" have been poorly copied by every lifestyle magazine in the world. Unfortunately, their "punchy" "irreverent" writing style that peppers in racial slurs and requires a maximum use of the words "fag" and "gay" has also spread to other magazines.

I'm not proposing that Vice become in any way like that other free New York read The Village Voice with its overbearing earnestness, but walking that line between shit-talk and content is hard and Vice needs to hold themselves to their own standard. That's why any piece about Vice, especially one written by a thoughtful person has to have at least a couple of paragraphs of accountability. I know its hard to talk shit about your boss but come on.
Dmitri Siegel
01.25.05
02:49

I am incredibly bored with this "movement" in design/art/whatever. Calculated apathy is a good word for it. Acting like you just don't give a @#!*, when really you feel that you are sooo right about everything that makes you want to scream.

In the information age having an opinion and being cool is a fleeting and difficult thing to do. You can't have a cool collection of rare things (vinyl, shoes, toys, etc...) because chances are any schmoe with an internet connection has seen it before, and is buying it up himself.

You can't have unique thoughts and opinions because one quick Google search and you find tons of people with interests and opinions just like yours, and they are busy having annoying arguments about them with other hipsters on their blog.

So, I really think that this calculated apathy is is just a way for people to protect their "coolness," and to not let it be distilled by the super-fast spread of ideas we witness everyday. If you don't care about what you are doing, and don't have any enthusiastic opinions, then none of the losers can criticize you for it. You can always remain a step ahead, cause you never bought into the hype anyway right?

The porn aesthetic this crowd adopts ties into this idea well because it is another means to turn away the masses and get them to only comment on the obscene element of your work. Those people who "just don't get it," will never be able to look beyond the shocking to really notice your total lack of original concept. Safe from critique yet again.

That said I do enjoy occasionally reading Vice. It can be pretty silly and fun at times.
Nat
01.25.05
03:32

Vice used to be real trash and that was interesting. Now it's faux trash... much less interesting. everyone always ends up leaving montréal, I think its time I move back.

aj had it right in the first comment.

rebel yell, rebel sell, rebel yawn....
Kevin Lo
01.25.05
05:54

Momus is willing to let Vice's bullshit racism, homophobia, and sexism slide.

If I thought the magazine was genuinely racist, homophobic or sexist I wouldn't have anything to do with it. Vice is actually heavily staffed by gays, lesbians and people of colour. Its music section pays more attention to black music than most publications, and Vice Records releases black artists like Dizzee Rascal.

What I like about Vice (and this is why it contrasts so well with that NHK show about the Eamses) is that it's a place where values (and words) are constantly being questioned and re-negotiated. Nothing is sacred. It's very much against the idea of comfortable consensus, although it does by now have a recognisable house style. It's constantly carrying out that Nietzschean project, 'the revaluation of all values'. If certain themes keep recurring, it's because it's still a very personal project, reflecting (publisher) Gavin and (editor) Jesse's personalities. And yes, Gavin is a bit crazy.

I actually use the phrase "magical faggot" in a forthcoming article for Vice. The context (and it's just a literary device to make some facts in the article more interesting) is that the article's narrator decides to go gay. The article is George Bush's worst nightmare, a promotion of the homosexual lifestyle as something acceptable and attractive, and a playful endorsement of the paranoid right wing idea that homosexuals are 'recruited'. The article is a mere scuffle in the 'culture wars'. But I doubt that Maxim would have allowed me even that tiny provocation.
Nick Currie
01.25.05
06:44

Kevin Lo's comment that 'Vice used to be real trash and that was interesting. Now it's faux trash... ' sums it. I've read the mag inconsistently for a few years. It's hard for me to take anything they say seriously. Nice breakdown Momus.
Michael DelGaudio
01.25.05
10:33

While I read Vice somewhat infrequently, I was quick to get a hold of this issue. While I have no love for Terry Richardson's work, the concept of the Vice team taking on design seemed too good to pass up.

Regardless of the contorversy they cause through other articles, this issue couldnt help but put a smile on my face. What magazine—much less what free magazine—really talks about design? And especiially the design of their own magazine. "The Vice A to Z of Design" is worth it alone (is there worth asscociated with free? I guess in spatial worth) The irreverancy toward Quark, kerning and the "endless pursuit of the" New will at least put a smile on your face when youre under stress. And while I don't necessarily like vagina illustrations in design, the ideas they pose make you think for at least a minute. better than a lot of design magazines...
Derrick Schultz
01.25.05
10:49

Nick, you said:

"Nothing is sacred. It's very much against the idea of comfortable consensus, although it does by now have a recognisable house style. It's constantly carrying out that Nietzschean project, 'the revaluation of all values'. If certain themes keep recurring, it's because it's still a very personal project, reflecting (publisher) Gavin and (editor) Jesse's personalities. And yes, Gavin is a bit crazy."

I agree with the aims of that -- of course we need to question everything. It's just that I question whether Vice really does that, or whether it's dealing in guaranteed-to-annoy-parents shock value to endear itself to impressionable youth.

When they started out they were more apt to do their satire more recognizably, or pose their culture-questions straight-up in an article.

If as you say it's all a big art project, or some sort of elaborate camp joke, that intention isn't coming through. I fear that people are taking the shock value at face value.

What you haven't touched on at all is the fact that they are a successful business; they are very much a commercial-product-making machine, tied in with other makers of cultural products and consumer products. As with any successful magazine, the content gets the eyeballs, but the very carefully targeted product ads pay the bills. They even have their own PR and events firm, who literally promise to give your product launch event hipster cachet...

Heck, Nick, have you thought that maybe inviting *you* to write for the magazine is a calculated move to attract whatever demographic segment your fan base represents...? Judging by the company you keep - jet-setting, transglobal culture makers who rarely seem without gadgets or cash - that's a very desirable demographic indeed.
aj
01.26.05
12:48

Well, aj, I accept what you're saying - of course Vice thinks about money and marketing, even if it's a free magazine. Design Observer is also keenly conscious of its demographic - who its readers are, whether there are more or fewer of them this week, what items they're buying from Amazon.com, and so on. Every publication has to think about things like that.

But to think that money and advertising and demographics and marketing and promotion are all a publication is about would be a mistake. That way madness - or at least a sort of reductive cynicism - lies. I believe magazines also have personality, mind, soul, just like people do. The money stuff is just the legs or the digestive system. They keep us alive, get us from A to B. The important thing is what a mag is saying, especially when it seems to go beyond the call of duty. Especially, in other words, when it's somewhat eccentric, as I believe Vice is.
Nick Currie
01.26.05
01:44

That's only one small example though. Now i have 3 days left to impersonate this uber-hipster who has something incredibly witty to say about wiggers so i have to concentrate.

Surely the appropriate way to complete this assignment is by photographing your accountant friends in FUBU and making up the text? If Vice are really true to their creed they'll appreciate you putting the joke on them. I'll happily contribute some faux ebonics to the cause.
Noel Welsh
01.26.05
05:02

I wish you could see me and Mario wobbling around Berlin on bicycles, too poor to go to the cinema...
Nick Currie
01.26.05
08:28

Nick, I accept that Vice is not all about money, they do have some great writing. But is their aesthetic really as thought-out, or as high-minded as you make it out to be? The artists in the original Salon des Refusés - or the later Refus Global movement, well worth looking into - started within accepted tradition craft and then made conscious choices to explore new directions. They started inside the establishment and then broke out; not the other way around.

I wonder why so many of the commenters here seem to have a negative opinion of the direction Vice has gone in since its inception. It certainly isn't that Vice sold out -- it seems more that, in the absence of any sort of redeeming features, maybe we have outgrown it. Like a hard-partying college acquaintance who always does things to push people's buttons, always pushing the edge, either they grow out of it, or you stop being friends with them...

Redeeming features to me might mean occasionally dropping the cynicism, offering a glimmer of hope, an admission occasionally that something outrageous actually is satirical, or even a more explicit explanation of what it is they're challenging, why, and what New thing they propose to replace the Old....
aj
01.26.05
10:50

Some food for thought -- Gavin MacInnes writing for The American Conservative about how Vice is actually part of *conser vative,* big-R Republican counterculture. And he seems proud of it.

How to mesh this with "You will not bomb Iran?"

http://www.amconmag.com/08_11_03/feature.html
aj
01.26.05
11:19

Unless, of course, that's just Gavin punking the GOP. Is he being serious? Or is it satire?

OK, I've said enough for today...
aj
01.26.05
11:20

"...'wiggers' (white hip-hop fanatics)."

Oh, thanks for clearing that up for me. I was under the understanding that the "igger" in that word came from somewhere else.

Am I right in thinking that 'moron' can also be used in place of 'witty über hipster'?
Andrew Montgomery
01.26.05
03:33

To move away for a moment from the issues of class, cash and morality that tend to jam up discussions of Vice magazine, I'd like to speculate that Vice is a lot closer to fine art than design. Contemporary art tends to 'problematize' the things it examines, and to leave out any moral perspective. Nobody expects Paul McCarthy or Matthew Barney to "drop the cynicism, offer a glimmer of hope... or even a more explicit explanation of what it is they're challenging, why, and what New thing they propose to replace the Old..." It would considerably weaken their work's power, its otherness, if these artists sat down and attempted to 'be positive' or spell out their hopes and fears for humanity. It would also be tremendously uncool - like seeing the school delinquent giving a sermon.

It seems to me that design still does something that art has long since been too cool to do; it lays out visions of 'the good life'. Design does have a utopian program (one which mystifies and exasperates Michael Blowhard, apparently), and it does believe that things like responsibility and utility are virtues. Even Vice seems to acknowledge this in its "A-Z of Design", if only to use design's noble aspirations as the springboard for bathos.
Nick Currie
01.26.05
04:19

Nick, I agree on the separation between art and design; that's a great observation.

Why do you think Vice is "fine art?" It's certainly challenging, but I personally don't find a lot of 'otherness' in it.

Matthew Barney's work reminds me quite a bit of David Lynch, in itself drawing on traditions of surrealism and symbolism, and McCarthy's work, like Stelarc and the Machine Sex Group, plays on our visceral notions, ideas of the body, ideas which have emerged from edgier corners of modern-primitivism, dance and performance art.

What separates an artwork from a regularly-published commercial magazine with ads in it? It's the intention. What is the intent of Vice?

I don't want to confer too much importance on Vice all by itself -- like many things in the so-called 'culture wars' people tend to get caught up in symptoms and surface issues vs. the deeper, unspoken assumptions of our society. To me, it seems pointless to debate what pretty young people are wearing when we are paving the earth, draining all the aquifers and killing the soil with chemical fertilizers and pesticides -- which could put an end to all culture!

But then, I'm a designer, and hence, a utopian dreamer :)

aj
01.26.05
04:45

But is their aesthetic really as thought-out, or as high-minded as you make it out to be?

An enterprise can have a thought-out aesthetic without being high-minded, artistic, or anything else. It just needs the involvement of some strong-minded people with a unique point of view.

Every great magazine expresses an internally coherent world view, whether it's Henry Luce's Time or Harold Ross's New Yorker back in the day, or Tyler Brule's Wallpaper or Dave Eggers's McSweeney's a little closer to home. Whether you love or hate Vice, they've nailed a very specific zeitgeist and their audience knows it.
Michael Bierut
01.26.05
05:12

Michael, all very true. An aesthetic, or in this case, more accurately a sensibility/, doesn't have to be artistic.

Surely, however, fine art does have to be, well...artful? Ecstatic, in the original Greek sense of the word -- as Nick says above, full of Otherness that shakes you completely out of the here and now?

aj
01.27.05
01:53

"Not genuinely racist" seems like a pretty narrow ledge to me, but we have had more my prescribed several paragraphs of moralizing. The reason I even take the time to critique Vice is that the zeitgeist Bierut is talking about is my zeitgeist too. I am glad that the art/music/design subculture I subscribe to has so vigorously dispensed with prudishness, but at the same time I think people make art, or music, or move to New York, or read Vice magazine partly to escape from the anti-intellectual, anti-aesthetic, xenophobic Wal-mart they would otherwise be confined to. Vice has been quite clever at pointing out some of the things that we shouldn't leave behind as we flee the trailer park: beer, rock, whip-its, forts, reckless disregard, etc. Just because the difference between a redneck and a "redneck" (however clear it may be clear to the guy in the trucker hat) is a distinction that fades as trash culture moves from 23th street to Main Street doesn't mean that I have to head down my own slippery slope. I am no more interested in being Jerry Fallwell than Vice is in being NASCAR.
Dmitri Siegel
01.28.05
12:06

We're probably way past all this now... but I can't resist.

Ah yeah, Vice. Kinda brilliant, kinda stupid, mostly irritating. And -- viewed from a great distance -- surprisingly inspiring.

Brilliant: that's it's free of charge and distributed all over the place. That some of its story ideas are so good (even when the execution is lacking). That it's occasionally super funny. That it's making its own rules.

Stupid: too many ways to mention.

Inspiring: that it even exists. That the folks behind it are working hard and making a living from stuff that's a lot of fun.

Irritating: in the same way any hipster reeling on too much cocaine is irritating.

Which, to me, pretty much sums up Vice: the print incarnation of a coke-addled scenester, complete with momentary (if superficial) lapses into sublime provocation between endless bullshit jabbering, belligerence and, sporadically, humor. That gets old by the second round, at least to me.

But I guess, if nothing else, it does provide a valid perspective of a certain state of being. And it's undeniably entertaining, if empty and overall kinda annoying.

Other stuff:

1. So they did a Design Issue. Big deal. They needed something relatively easy and familiar to write about, something that might beef up their robust advertising base.

Will it really change the way any of us do our work? Nope.

Does it reflect how the more astute members of its readership feel about the discipline? Maybe.

Was a it a good excuse to put a toilet on the cover? You bet!

2. At its very best moments (which are few), Vice reminds me of a cross between 1970s-era MAD Magazine and '80s-era Thrasher -- both of which resonate highly with me and my pals. That's high praise indeed.

At its worst, from my standpoint, Vice veers somewhere between a typically execrable skinhead zine and... well... Vogue. (For the high-gloss stock, big-name ads, fashion "tips" and self-important style pontificating, if nothing else).

In other words: litter.

3. I always wondered if some particularly half-assed substrate of punk would ever veer down a sleazy, self-obsessed conservative path.

Indeed it has, judging from Vice -- though I never would've thought it would be while a war-mongering, deficit-inflating, silver-spooned, born-again zealot sat in the White House.

I guess those Vice guys aren't as countercultural as they'd like to fancy themselves.

4. Every time I pick up Vice, it makes me miss Grand Royal (scroll down here to see covers and stuff) -- the Beastie Boys' publication, in conjunction with later-to-be-famous-director Spike Jonze, among others -- all the more.

It ceased in 1997, and I -- along with many others -- really, really loved it.

It was sorta like Vice's precursor -- except with an encyclopedic knowledge of the last two decades of pop/street culture; a genuine and endearing eccentricity about it; the presentation of a dizzying and uncategorizable array of subject matter; and an unflagging, if odd, sense of underlying sincerity. And little, if any, of the spuming vitriol.

I've kept every issue of Grand Royal, and still pour through them now and then.

Can't say the same for Vice.

5. As has been stated here previously: if Vice weren't free, it probably wouldn't have made as much of a splash. Which is a great testament to how well they're marketing a product that can't be bought.

Indeed, they're selling an entrance -- a manual, almost -- to a consumer lifestyle and attitude that can be adhered to... and a few cheap chuckles to pass the time.

6. Michael's point about magazines rings quite true. In fact, I'd go one step further: I've always felt that if a movie could be considered an artform, so could a magazine.

Unfortunately, there are few, if any, examples that would live up to such an ideal. Any come to mind?
Jon Resh
01.31.05
03:40

Jon, good points. The cocaine-fuelled hipster is one we've all come across in our lifetimes. He's exactly the sort of person that British comedy writer Charlie Brooker satirized in his character Nathan Barley, from the ruthlessly mocking, endlessly rudely hilarious UK TV Guide satire TVGoHome (www.tvgohome.com).

Momus himself notes on his iMomus blog that the Barley character is getting his own real-life TV series. Check out the mock hipster magazines in the image gallery. Look a little familiar? Reality so outpaces satire these days...

Will it really change the way any of us do our work? Nope.
Does it reflect how the more astute members of its readership feel about the discipline? Maybe. Was a it a good excuse to put a toilet on the cover? You bet!


Jon, did Donald Rumsfeld possess you for a moment there? :)

aj
02.01.05
01:17

Dmitre, you nailed it. Couldn't have said it better.
jefrey
02.01.05
04:28

oops, jon's post. that was the most clear headed summary of that entire affair. right on...
jefrey
02.01.05
04:32

Jesus Christ this is pathetic. Don't get me wrong. I love criticism. I yearn for someone who knows what they're talking about to give me some food for thought. Of course, it's always the same uninformed juvenile platitudes: they got rich pushing trucker hats and frat shit to the world. Yawn. Can you give me a specific example please you fucking boobs? Is the fashion shoot with overweight women, the "I'm dying" column by a woman dying of breast cancer, the victims of hate crimes, the time we bought a dirty bomb... is all that Maxim? Of course, you've never heard of those features because you don't know the magazine. All you know is that we're successful. Hey, you know who else bases all their criticisms on how much money people make? Born Agains. Why don't you just say it's easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than it is to run a credible pop culture magazine?
For the record, vice survives because we don't follow that baby boomer business plan of 50 people doing the job one man can do. Check our masthead. It's one tenth as large as Spin's and that is precisely why Spin loses one million dollars a month.
But that's not what we're talking about here. The depth of our pockets has nothing to do with our content. You think it's all a big corporate game? Have you even run a lemonade stand before? We've lost hundreds of thousands of dollars because of our content. You think advertisers want to see dicks and racial slurs? Try it.
I defy anyone out there (and I've asked this a million times) instead of sitting on your ass and throwing out clichés like "Jumped the shark" try to give a fucking example. Show me where we were "shock for shock's sake." Find me a clear example of racism or homophobia. Oh, and while you're at it, find something untrue in the American Conservative. I'm no republican (those words are for baby boomers) but we're at a point now where the left are so lazy and hysterical we have to go to a bunch of humorless conservatives to learn what's really going on in the world. You should all be ashamed of yourselves. You are intellectually lazy and that is exactly what's wrong with the modern world. Momus is one of the softest guys I've ever met but sometimes I worry he's the only person that truly gets
Vice.

[email protected]
02.09.05
08:23

I'd like to apologize about my above comments. I realize i've caused unnecessary damage to people i didn't want to cause it to...i was actually bullshitting most of the time. I didn't actually spend that weekend with the Vice staff, only met one of them at the Rio party... I don't know what got into me. I'm sorry.
mario
02.09.05
08:39

Some other things
-Don't know who Mario or AJ are but if they work for Vice they don't anymore.
-Grand Royal was about mullets and lowriders and Vice was already 5 years old when it came out.
-The New York Hipster Exodus article is a little too sophisticated for most, including perhaps, the writer. It was meant to be about the absurdity of the claim that NY is over (a claim that goes back to the 40s). Unfortunately, the gag was lost on almost everyone she interviewed.
-and finally, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see how bad the general state of design has become. Cars, for example, look like cough drops becuase the boomers were too intellectualy lazy to do the numbers.
http://www.viceland.com/issues/v11n11/htdocs/what.php
[email protected]
02.09.05
08:49

Gavin, taking all of your points at face value -- as stated here, in the similar Vice thread over at Exclaim.ca, and elsewhere -- Yes, maybe we don't give Vice enough credit for the truly interesting, stimulating and thought-provoking stuff published over the years.

You are right to be proud of those pieces. However, it seems that Vice isn't run for re-election on its record, but on its scandals and misunderstandings.

Why, almost universally, does your magazine leave so many people the impression of it being exclusively about, as you say, "trucker hats and frat shit?" Yes, there is some really good signal in Vice, but the noise floor is also pretty high...don't you think?

I know that a lot of the 'racism and homophobia' people see in Vice is really a kind of knowing, ironic, turn-it-on-its head condemnation of those very things. But if we are meant to read Vice with "Irony Shields Up, Captain," how are we to discriminate between these very good, thought-provoking pieces and the button-pushing, fratboytruckerhatJackass stuff, even if it is really a satire of same?

It's one thing to have feature articles interspersed with one's "Modest Proposals." But if the satire is so subtle as to be undetectable by 99% of its target audience -- Momus excepted -- it's just not effective.

Moreover, the constant context-switching between journalism and satire is wearying: I mean, if The New York Times and the Onion were mixed together -- and the writing styles started to merge -- the news would be dismissed as gonzo schtick and the satire misinterpreted as fact. This is, I suspect, exactly what has happened.

Gavin, it's not easy to start a magazine, it's harder still to run it and for that I have great respect for you and the Vice team. But you can't just say "You don't get it," over and over and over again. I'm starting to think you don't *want* us to get it!

So how about making the next issue the Sincerity Issue and doing, just once, something hopeful, joyful and irony-free? I double-dog dare you.
aj
02.11.05
09:24

I'm digging the attacks on baby boomers, but that's what Punk was, & that was a hundred years ago. The formula still works for a large, stupid, navel gazing audience apparently... but at the same time, humorously, New York & America are both "over". The vast expanses of Canada are the new New York. I hear some cynical Uruguayan Gen Y'ers are starting a magazine there. It's called "Maple Leaf Rag" using extreme Canadian Nationalism to goad a nation of limp-wristed Gen X cold bottoms into a state of permament war with the United States. The Generation Y Uruguayans feel that because Generation X merely provided a fertile land for "Extreme Marketing" & an American president resembling Alfred E Neuman with the attitude of Bart Simpson to be seeded, they should all be stuffed into cannons & shot at one another.
Norstein Beckler
02.12.05
02:29

Best comment so far!
Nick Currie
02.12.05
09:48

AJ, didn't we already fire you? At any rate, I never said 99% of the audience didn't get it. I said YOU don't get it. People on this site and at Exclaim call Vice a "ubiquitous trucker hat lad mag" because they don't read the magazine. In fact, people don't read anything anymore. Does that mean we have to pander to them? On the contrary, I think we should ostracize them.
"The Worst Issue Ever" was a great divider of "us" and "them." Like Crass' "Christ the Album," it ostracized the perfect amount of people, about 35%. That's a good thing. Too often people are desperately trying to cater to the masses, to "fool all the people all the time." Cars look like shit because baby boomers want safety and hard edged tough cars like the Chevy Nova don't convey that. Well, fuck mini vans. It's not our responsibility to make a magazine with air bags.


Oh and for the 4,000 th time: please give me ONE example of trucker hats, lad mag mentality, homophobia or racism. Please.
[email protected]
02.13.05
07:41

Who killed Bambi? The reason so many people don't "get" Vice is that they were never Punks! They don't know what it's like to be shit on by everyone, regardless of their political or racial or cultural or national affiliation, or more appropriately, they're too wrapped up in their lives to notice how absurd & pathetic their existence is. Vice uses basic elements of Punk Rock; absurdist humor, social realism & the occassionally profound political notion to deliver a consistently controversial magazine. The point of controversy is to stir up shit & get people thinking or at least reacting. When Punk became more than a basic "Bleeeeurgh" reaction & became a subculture, it was ready to be indoctrinated with the most moronic ideological platforms & so padded with the politics of safety, the initial McLarenist conceptual art of "Cash from Chaos" & "The Great RocknRoll Swindle" were forgotten. So forgotten in fact, that some Canadians were able to build a Trojan Horse with Vice, & do the same thing all over again.
Norstein Beckler
02.14.05
04:21



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