There is an invisible grid hovering over the controversial suicide-fashion spread released in Vice’s 2013 Fiction Issue, kind of like the one you can use on your iPhone to make sure your bar photos aren’t crooked. There are so many intersecting institutions, people and ideas that convene around the photographs, now immortalized in print, and somewhat online.
The spread has received heated and unified backlash, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s merely an issue of right and wrong. The big question is what is it about our society today that enough people thought this was a good, artistic, monetarily viable or worthy idea to print, and also that so many people after the fact are reducing the issue to an extreme lack of judgment on Vice’s part, rather than putting the whole hoopla into cultural perspective.
On the one hand I want to say, really? Y’all are surprised? But on the other hand I once was incompetent enough to drink the Vice kool-aid too. Not only did teenage me always make it a point to grab a free copy while picking up a new rayon leotard from my local American Apparel, I also was convinced to pose topless for Vice my sophomore year of college. A friend of a friend who worked for them saw the impressionable shimmer in my eye at a Brooklyn bar, and it only took two shakes of a lamb’s tail to get me to sign my breasts away. That photograph now lives on in infamy on the backlogs of their website. It also was fun (not) recently receiving a text from a friend who was perusing a book store and found the picture in a book of Richard Kern’s photography, because of course I don’t own that photo, and of course he can legally put it on a billboard if he really wanted to. The point is that I do understand the pull of a lifestyle brand like Vice on young people, and for them to haphazardly glamorize suicide is a shameful misuse of their status.
The question we really should be asking is, are they just that stupid, or did they think we were all that stupid. Did Vice earnestly think that the fashion spread featuring recreations of famous female authors’ suicides was meaningful art, or did they think that we cows would just moo for their thoughtless contribution to society? By the likes of their apology, which now takes the place of the photos on their website, it seems to be the former. It appears that the good people of Vice are actually so deluded by far too many years of unchecked alternative-ness that they foresaw applause for their editorial genius. The apology also suggests that no one there is savvy enough, or cares enough to craft a thoughtful apology that takes any real responsibility other than “It’s art you philistines, sorry if you got your panties in a bunch. Le sigh, poor people.”
Proving further that they really have no modicum of taste, Vice also deleted the hundreds of critical comments that amassed in just hours of the photos being up. If the publication really wants to rest on the explanation that they are thy one and only Art, why would they be so afraid of a little cultural discourse? Or do they just not want non-metallic-painted, un-kino-flo-ed perspectives gracing their fine internet walls?
There are a lot of questions that haven’t been answered, and until one of their coke-bloated interns writes a memoir that will probably be called “Vice Grip,” they probably never will be. There are a lot of facts though that we don’t need Vice’s help to point out. In the quest for high fashion to always be cutting edge high art, fashion as an institution is ominous and influential, and that always will have consequences. From Anna Wintour, to Karl Lagerfeld, to John Galliano, the great minds of fashion are known for being offensive, because pushing the envelope is ingrained in their industry. Also the internet has maybe ruined everything. From over validating everyone, to entirely undermining any chance the younger generations have at a levelheaded existence (something that was noted very well in this article), it too is an institution that has influenced the kind of culture that could conceive the sort of filthy fashion art that Vice had in mind.
We the people also have to take responsibility. The internet has been buzzing about Vice’s new HBO series for the past couple of months, and I’ll admit it’s beyond captivating. But the documentary series is exploitative at best. Even though it’s far more informative than any television news program we’ll ever see again, and I’d rather the world be watching that series over any other form of reality TV, it’s still very obvious that Vice is no stranger to capitalizing off of social ills, and up until this point we’ve lauded them for it.
Now the point is that this time they misguidedly decided to use one of those social ills as a way to promote clothing lines, but I honestly don’t think there would have been such a reaction if there hadn’t been fashion captions under the photographs, or if they’d been in a gallery. Making light of suicide is never okay, but if they had never called it fashion would we still be so mad at them for it?