Thanks to Twitter, Facebook and other places that algorithmically recommend things one should be interested in, I read an article on the Vice media empire. The headline: “Can Vice Get 20-Somethings to Watch the News?” The most intriguing quote was from Vice co-founder Shane Smith on some of the inner workings of the Vice machine:
“Most of the people who work here are 14 years old. They sit two inches from each other. We only employ millionaires’ children.” And later calls Vice “a sweatshop for trustafarians.” Simultaneously a hilarious yet poignant comment on what defines much of today’s culture.
I thought not much of it, finished the article, then went into the backyard to do some seasonal gardening. Tomato plants: gone. Mealy dogwood: uprooted. Hula hoop and toy shovel: stored in the garage. Yet as I worked the article resonated with me. I thought, if engaging the youth in current events is the goal of Vice today, then back in the mag’s early years was it more to get the bored 20-somethings of the late 90s to care?
When sitting back, pondering the genesis of hipsterdom, I often trace it back to Vice, and the importance they laid on the concept of “cool.” I mean, Vice didn’t invent it, they just presented a pre-existing sub-culture in a consumable format. And yeah: back then, I understood what Vice was because I was living it. Watching one of the guys that started the mag drink his own piss on the patio at Foufounes, or letting someone smack my bare ass at a bar in exchange for more beer — these things are what young people do. In your 20’s, getting messed up and having fun is serious business. It wasn’t #YOLO it was punk rock. You don’t fuck around with that. You write about it.
But it’s not 1997. Fifteen years have passed, and my lifetime subscription to the magazine has long been revoked. After having a kid, I was admittedly nervous about having a full-colour, glossy magazine showing stylized images of syringes, used condoms and blood-soaked models lying around the house. In 2008 I posted on my blog a comparison of Vice to the Economist, calling one “stupid” and the other “smart.” At the time, I found it ironic that I held subscriptions to two diametrically opposite magazines. Soon after this post, Vice stopped coming. An independently wealthy intern must have caught it.
Little did I realize that the two magazines were converging, and now I am fascinated by the concept of non-ironic, hipster investigative reporting. And I have to commend the concept of fearless fieldwork and its promotion of xenophilia to a young population that is otherwise totally living in a self-obsessed, social-media infused bubble (see #RKOI as an extreme example).
Today’s culture is at a tipping point, much as it was back in the 90s: we’re waiting for the next Grunge to topple the current mainstream “regime.” The romanticized, nicely packaged version of reality in which we float about must be torn down, and we need to remember that our heroes, and the people and places that influence our very existence, are never perfect.