Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Despite, or maybe because of, its decreasing speed as a target, I've been reluctant to have a go at Vice magazine. There are a lot of reasons for not getting stuck into them, but few of those reasons have anything much to do with whether they deserve it or not, which they of course do - setting themselves up for nitpicking killjoys with aplomb you can only admire. For me it's around being bothered I guess, but their sorry state has been niggling at me because there was a time, and there must be a lot of folks who feel like this, when you really did feel Vice was that rare media outlet which conveyed how you felt about anything, even (especially) when you hadn't worked out how you felt yet.
I have no issues with their expansion or the fact they're becoming more mainstream and well known. I feel disappointed there's less to love.
Time was, Vice was full of words that managed to be acerbic and cutting and funny and angry at the right things while remaining hugely compassionate and hopeful, always avoiding the descent into fist-pounding empty rhetoric by, more often than not, adding something positive to whatever debate they were entering into. Their articles did everything you wanted a magazine article to do, and made you care about things and feel angry and appalled and stirred into action and sometimes even overwhelmingly glad because there were these other people who cared about people and had the balls to be responsible for how their actions impacted on others, even if they were fucked up on pcp.
For the past year, when not running terrible photos of their (celebrity and otherwise) friends, telling people what to listen to and wear or alienating any readership outside an apparently rigorously-defined demographic, their rage has been empty. Their newer readership is expecting sass, so when Vice editorialises about something that really matters the impact is lost. Current issues remind me nothing so much as the kid watching Homer perform at Hullabalooza, and going 'pffft. That's cool.' When asked by his friend if he's being sarcastic, the kid looks suddenly forlorn and says "I don't even know anymore."
Vice Australia launched last year, and I was stoked. I was surprised that I didn't know who was behind the move, but they held a few great parties and in the main just reprinted the US version of the mag but with local ads, so I wasn't complaining. Today I found out why I hadn't heard of the people behind Vice Australia, when pointed in the direction of this.

"... (Michael Slonim) has undertaken research projects, guided brand strategy and developed communications for a range of advertising agencies and clients. Michael worked with Nintendo on the strategic development for the launch of Gamecube, and ... conducted a major research study into the role of brochure merchandising in business banker communications at National Australia Bank.

Michael is also the publisher of VICE magazine. He discovered VICE in New York City on a trend-hunting expedition, and instead of reporting on it decided to launch it in Australia. Michael negotiated a joint venture arrangement for the Australasian region and successfully introduced the Australian version of the magazine in May 2003, boasting an advertiser list including Diesel, GeneralPants, Zoo York, Asahi and Rockstar Games."

I don't know Michael Slonim and I'm not interested in casting aspersions about him. He is a strategic marketing consultant and clearly good at his job. He recognised Vice for its marketing potential and put together a pitched based on that potential, which the owners of the magazine went for because he proved there was a ready advertising base for their product.
I don't use the above to excuse the downturn in Vice's editorial. Becoming wildly popular and making lots of money is no excuse for being less essential, credible, good. The Onion has shown you can sell out, go well and truly mainstream and make out like bandits while still retaining something of the integrity, humour and charm that drew people to your publication in the first place. Vice is on the fence, and has been for some time. It seems the only reason they haven't toppled the wrong way quite yet is that to most of their audience (here, at any rate), they're still relatively new, and the coolness associated with a new find is yet to wear off.

It's one more magazine to fall by the wayside, but Vice matters to me because for awhile, I believed them.

*Late addition: Excellent post
here with vastly better reasons to be irked by Vice
(Courtesy hiphopmusic)


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