As Far As I Can Tell

The Vice Magazine Agenda

Vice Magazine is starting to scare me. It used to just be annoying, since all I did was skim through, seeing the obnoxious and profane content but only paying attention to the latest sneaker ads. It’s a free magazine, so I didn’t feel bad just ad surfing. On the surface it’s yet another hipster lifestyle magazine with snippets of content sandwiched between Puma, Triple 5 Soul, and American Apparel full page glossies.

The slightest additional reading shows that the writers think being casually racist, homophobic, and misogynistic is hilarious. They do it all under the great forgiving umbrella of irony. It’s as if they think its okay to say “negro” if they employ a black staff member who is cool with it or acceptable to objectify women as long as their girlfriends don’t complain. The scary part is how many people buy into this idea that irony can whitewash hateful remarks, without looking at the real agenda of Vice Magazine. It would be bad enough if the editors held the attitude that they’re so progressive they can transcend political correctness because it’s assumed, but the goal seems to be more about pushing subversive conservative ideals than misguided liberal comedy.

Yesterday my temper on the issue was flared more than usual because of an article in the otherwise fine online design criticism website Design Observer. Nick Currie, aka Momus, posted an article on the latest issue of Vice, dubbed “The Design Issue”. He’s also an occasionally writer for Vice and you can find him being an apologist for their brand of humor on numerous message boards and his own weblog. This fluff piece preemptively forgives the off-color humor and gushingly provides Vice with more credibility than it ever deserved:

And could it be that Vice’s irreverence is something, you know, alive, its nihilist bile a sign that someone, you know, cares?

There is some backlash in the comments, but others are just giddy that they mentioned kerning. Michael Bierut might have put it best when he refrains from giving his opinion but provides an eye opening comment on the magazine:

Whether you love or hate Vice, they’ve nailed a very specific zeitgeist and their audience knows it.

That’s where the scary part is for me; could the Vice attitude actually be a prevailing summary of current youth attitudes? Vice cofounder Gavin McInnes penned a piece in The American Conservative entitled Hip to Be Square, It’s getting cooler to be conservative. He talks about how more and more people are defending the conservative viewpoints put forth by Vice, mentions the word “Hipublicans”, and ends with the following quote:

They are slowly but surely being replaced with a new breed of kid that isn�t afraid to embrace conservatism. I�m not saying I had anything to do with this newborn counterculture, but I do have this strange compulsion to start handing out cigars to all my friends.

A month after stumping for “The New Conservatives” in that article McInnes let’s loose some insightful quotes in a piece the New York Times did on Vice:

He actually leans much further to the right than the Republican Party. His views are closer to a white supremacist’s. “I love being white and I think it’s something to be very proud of,” he said. “I don’t want our culture diluted. We need to close the borders now and let everyone assimilate to a Western, white, English-speaking way of life.”

Additionally, in his Hip to Be Square article he brags of their Cassandra Report trend-spotting credibility which says that their “magazine is the number one read for women aged 19-24 and for men aged 25-30.” This reach and influence is where things get scarier. I believe that the mixing of ironic hipsterism with casual racism and conservative ideology is meant as a subversive conversation technique. The Vice empire is growing, with magazines oversees, a record label, a storefront, and more. As the publication reaches outside of the liberal strongholds it was started in the “oh so laughably ironic” comments are going to be seen and accepted more and more for what they are — just plain racist, sexist, and homophobic. What I�m worried about is that there will be no backlash and this mixing of hip and hate will have either a reflective or eroding effect on its readers — both of which are dangerous. Have you noticed how college campuses are becoming less and mess open minded? Did you notice all the Bush/Cheney stickers on young people’s cars? Are the Hipublicans really gaining in force? Are the young, hip, and apolitical being weaned towards conservatism through magazines like Vice?

I’m writing this because I wanted to compile the various links on the subject in one place, but also because I know plenty of people who read the magazine regularly. I’m asking you to think a little more critically about it, and question whether it’s worth picking up. I know that it’s free, but being seen with it is your payment to them. It survives because it’s popular with people like you and I.




if it helps, i have no idea what this magazine is. but as for youth being homophobic, sexist, etc., that’s not a new trend. kids have been using “gay” as an epithet at least since i was a kid.

Posted by: jim on January 31, 2005 9:42 AM

Actually within the context of this magazine the term youth is referring to 18-34 year olds.

Posted by: Simon on January 31, 2005 11:27 AM

Well put my friend. As you know my coffee table has been littered by Vice in the past. I had not really ever taken a serious look at content, more a glazing over. I will admit to laughing (sometimes hysterically) at the Do’s and Dont’s. Vice never elicited a positive or negative response from me until the “Hate” issue. It pretty much made me ill. I can take a joke, and am familiar with hipster-irony, but this made me want to puke, but maybe thats the point. One weekend we went to Sonotheque to see some djs (Chromeo). It was a Vice sponsored event and Gavin McInness was there. I noticed some kind of wierd fervor to find him. The hipsters had some strange urge seek him out of the crowd and I suppose talk to him or get his autograph? He was a celeb. The event sucked, and I heard, after the fact, that McInness did something “crazy”, or whatever. I don’t really understand “star f–ing” in the first place but it was so odd to see kids, that are usually too-cool-for-school, caught up in some strange worship-mode. Disturbing.

Posted by: ovidovi on January 31, 2005 11:39 AM

hmm. i would never consider anyone over MAYBE 22 to be “youth.” 18, sure. 30? Hell no.

Posted by: jim on January 31, 2005 1:20 PM

This is a revelation to me. While I’ve always been uncomfortable w/ their epiphets I thought Vice was being blazenly ironic on other fronts; i.e. their applause of extemist fashion culture. I have yet to pour over your links but this entry seems like investigative journalism to me. I will be done with Vice. Something about this reminds me of Suicide Club.

Posted by: bill on January 31, 2005 10:37 PM

Yeah, I’ve had the same weird feeling of the magazine over time. Actually, I’ve been growlingly uncomfortable w/ “hipster irony” for some time. It often struck me as either A) dishonest (claiming to be ironic, but really meaning it) or B) vapidly unintelligent (irony, after all, must serve some sort of purpose or it loses any meaning, and is therefore not “ironic” anymore). BTW, this post wraps up the argument against this kind of “hipter irony” better than anything I’ve yet seen/heard on the subject.

Posted by: miguel on January 31, 2005 11:54 PM

You know I hate hipsters. There’s another problem here. When someone ‘hip’ is being racist or stupid, then it is UNhip to speak against that. No one wants to be the party-pooper who says “Dude, that is not cool.” Thank you, Simon, for eloquently pooping this party.

Posted by: josh on February 1, 2005 9:54 PM

simon: would you mind if i were to link to this article specifically for my students in 105 (critical thinking about politics) to think about? not sure if i *would* use it, but if i decide to, i certainly would want your permission first. it’s an extremely well thought out piece on a subject very worth thinking about for young people.

Posted by: miguel on February 2, 2005 12:14 AM

Not at all, that would be great.

Posted by: Simon on February 2, 2005 8:47 AM

I picked up a copy last summer. I wanted to finally see what all the hype was about. I looked at it and read it on the toilette. By the time I was done, it was a fitting place to read such a magazine. C’est la vie Vice. You are trash.

Posted by: Naz on February 2, 2005 11:51 PM

You might be surprised to hear that I actually agree with some of your sentiments here… for instance, I’ve said in the past that the magazine that comes after Vice might be terrible to behold; a magazine that cops its style tics without adhering to its mission to shake people up and make them rethink their convictions. You said: “What I�m worried about is that there will be no backlash and this mixing of hip and hate will have either a reflective or eroding effect on its readers � both of which are dangerous.” I’m not sure how you meant ‘reflective’ there, but to me that’s exactly the effect Vice should have on its readers. It should make them reflect. You don’t make people reflect by uttering bland truisms or vetted platitudes, you make them reflect by provoking, by speaking the unspoken, by releasing the repressed, letting the genie out of the bottle. And yes, reflection is dangerous, as “Fahrenheit 451” showed.

Posted by: Momus on February 9, 2005 8:37 PM

“By releasing the repressed…” in this statement are we to assume that the repression is the containment of racism, sexism, and homophobia. I despise the notion that white middle-class hipsters need to be freed from the social responsibility of respect and tolerance. I don�t understand why Vice thinks it is revolutionary in persuading white, Christian, heterosexuals that they are superior to all others and therefore need not respect them. The practice of using humor to subvert hate speech was used in the caricatures of Japanese Americans during the WWII internment, and the comics of the Third Reich that portrayed Jews as comically evil and greedy. Both examples used dark humor to clarify who was �normal� and who was �other,� successfully gaining public support for racial supremacist programs. Although Vice likes to think it is as cutting edge as a new Marc Jacobs skirt, the magazine as a whole seems to be taking an irresponsible, a-historical stance.

Posted by: meredith on February 9, 2005 10:37 PM

By reflection I didn’t mean “the act or process of thinking”, but rather an “imitative reproduction”. You seem to agree that with my concern when you talk about fearing what might come _after_ Vice. The opinions put forth by Vice act as validation for racists, homophobic, and their ilk.

Posted by: Simon on February 9, 2005 11:02 PM

Wow. I know this is pretty old, but I felt the need to comment. I stumbled upon this while looking to see if Vice had an RSS feed, as I do find the magazine quite funny. At first, I thought you were going to be a puritanical wanker, but you’ve really changed my opinions completely. It’s not funny if they’re not kidding. Thank you.

Posted by: Jeff on June 1, 2005 11:25 AM

I though I’d put in my 2 cents and say that I think Vice is one of the best mags out there. Cheers!

Posted by: Johannes on March 23, 2006 7:00 PM

Hi, I just found this post online while researching the “vice agenda” myself. Hipsters aren’t the first subculture to be cruelly ironic. Think about the “politically correct” driven society that we live in. Fighting against something that has become the social norm has been one of the key factors of all countercultures ever since the youth decided to rebel. Just like how the punk rockers freely used the swastika, Vice is openly offensive in order to remove the shock from overly-weighted words and ideas. As human beings, we do not need to be afraid of the language that we have created. Also: I’m not sure if this was written far beforehand, but it has come to light in the past 2 years that McInnes was toying with the New York Times interviewer. Vice and the New York Times have been bashing heads for quite a while now. I think that this is an extremely well thought out argument against the sometimes overly cruel humor of Vice magazine, but you may have been too quick to point the “conservative” finger. Let’s keep the discussion going if we can.

Posted by: Greyory Blake on June 24, 2007 2:14 AM

i doubt it’s either “liberal hipster irony” or “subversive conservatism.” that’s taking the debate to a level much higher that it needs to be. i think it’s just plain old “assholery.”

Posted by: emily2 on June 28, 2007 1:42 PM

As far as who can tell?

Chicago, IL

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