Culture Shot: VICE’s Lady Fiction Issue Spurs Controversy

What’s everyone up in arms about this time?

WHAT: VICE magazine’s latest Fiction Issue is entirely devoted to female writers. Note VICE didn’t call it the “Women’s Fiction Issue” or the “Writers With A Vagina Issue”–just the Fiction Issue. (In the year 2013 that’s still semi-revolutionary.) Even cooler, stories by lauded authors like Mary Gaitskill and Joyce Carol Oates are thrown in with work by first-timers like Hannah H. Kim and Anna Noyes.

The issue also includes “Last Words,” a photo spread with models reenacting the suicides of well-known writers including Virginia Woolf (filled her pockets with stones and waded into the River Ouse), Sylvia Plath (head in an oven), and Iris Chang (gun). After much outcry, VICE apologized and pulled the images from its website. 

VERDICT: Is the photo spread in bad taste? Yes. Is it offensive? Undoubtedly. Is it bad art? No.

Using suicide to sell anything (the photos are helpfully captioned with the name of the designers and the prices of the clothes) is dreadful. But good art is sometimes dreadful. Art should not bound by convention or morality. It should be impolite, confrontational, shocking, repulsive. It should make you uncomfortable. We glamorize death in millions of ways in this culture. Why not be honest about that and exploit the macabre romanticism associated with the literary life?

On a side-note: The dirty little secret about VICE isn’t that it serves up the young male demographic that advertisers drool over (that’s obvious), it’s that the indie-bro lifestyle brand churns out some of the boldest and most grownup journalism around.