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Talking Famous Female Suicide: The Right, Wrong, and Vice Way
June 19, 2013 8:45 AM   Subscribe

Vice's Women in Fiction issue contained “Last Words”, "a fashion spread featuring models reenacting the suicides of female authors who tragically ended their own lives." Jezebel called it "almost breathtakingly tasteless" and republished the photographs here after Vice removed them from their website.

Additional Commentary:
Talking Famous Female Suicide: The Right, Wrong, and Vice Way (New York Magazine)
Bait And Twitch: Vice Magazine, Suicide Glamour, And Not Staying Quiet (NPR)
Vice's suicide fashion pictures could be deadly (Guardian)
Sensitive Internet Forces VICE To Remove Suicide Spread (Gothamist)
A Response to Vice‘s Female Writers Suicide-Themed Fashion Spread (Fashionista)
The real problem with Vice’s suicide-themed fashion shoot (besides the obvious) (Globe and Mail)
Tumblr Post from Rob Delaney
posted by andoatnp (118 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow. Just... wow.

And Rob Delaney, you lost me with "Also, it’s fun when something makes people mad on the internet, since they’re often not really mad at the thing, they’re just using it as a target at which to fart their frustration with being alive on this rotten rock called Earth." Because I'm pretty sure that this thing is bad enough that people can be mad at it without it being a symptom of their frustration at life.
posted by Etrigan at 8:49 AM on June 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Jezebel called it "almost breathtakingly tasteless" and republished the photographs

I hate everything.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:50 AM on June 19, 2013 [56 favorites]


Fortunately Jezebel will still be able to get clicks on their website for them, even if Vice.com can't.

Isn't it just as bad that they're showing the pictures?
posted by themanwho at 8:50 AM on June 19, 2013 [21 favorites]


Vice is fairly shitty for doing this, but Jezebel (as fucking usual) is equally culpable for reposting everything to shit-stir for pageviews.

On the other hand, if this was done by an individual artist it would be fascinating.
posted by elizardbits at 8:51 AM on June 19, 2013 [21 favorites]


At some point I started following Jezebel on social media, and I think it was a "breathtakingly tasteless" idea on my part. What possible justification can they offer for republishing the photos?
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 8:51 AM on June 19, 2013


Selling ad space.
posted by elizardbits at 8:52 AM on June 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


I try to be diligent in NOT posting when I haven't read the links. But not today.
posted by dfm500 at 8:52 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Finally, suicide isn’t funny to me on its own, but the decision process that brought an all-female literary suicide fashion show to the screen of my phone is very very funny and made me smile in a supermarket.

What.
posted by phunniemee at 8:55 AM on June 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh you shitfucks, screw off.

[not you mefi!]
posted by oceanjesse at 8:56 AM on June 19, 2013


Cool, another thing for "Everything I Know About Feminism I Learned From Ad-Driven Lady Blog Content Aggregators" feminists to pat themselves on the back for decrying, while CeCe McDonald rots in jail for defending herself against a hate crime and Somali women are raped and tortured by US backed Nigerian counterterrorism forces.

I personally HATE the arguement that you can't be mad about something just because worse things exist, and I hate that I have to use it, but sometimes white middle class feminist handwringing is just so white and middle class and self absorbed and pop-culture based that I want to stick my own head in the oven..
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:58 AM on June 19, 2013 [80 favorites]


"Hey guys! They're still talking about us! Kick ass!!"
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 8:59 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


. . . equally culpable for reposting everything to shit-stir for pageviews.

rageviews sell more ads than pageviews, I suppose.
posted by Think_Long at 8:59 AM on June 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


On the other hand, if this was done by an individual artist it would be fascinating.

I hope that is sarcasm, because if the only thing that makes this "tasteless" "shitty" and "disgusting" is that Vice is a business entity rather than a precious artist. . .
posted by General Tonic at 8:59 AM on June 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Vice is fairly shitty for doing this, but Jezebel (as fucking usual) is equally culpable for reposting everything to shit-stir for pageviews.

I mildly disagree. No doubt Jezebel is happy with the pageviews, but I think its worthwhile showing people just how incredibly tasteless the photo spread was, instead of letting Vice simply expunge it and pretend it never happened. Sometimes pageviews stir up shit that is deserved.
posted by googly at 9:01 AM on June 19, 2013 [25 favorites]


I hope that is sarcasm, because if the only thing that makes this "tasteless" "shitty" and "disgusting" is that Vice is a business entity rather than a precious artist. . .


I think that context definitely colors the perception a little bit. That isn't to say that an artist doing a similar project would be free from criticism, it would have to be judged on its own merits.
posted by Think_Long at 9:02 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I can't remember who said it on Twitter, but it was a comment along the lines of "I'm shocked that Chloe Sevigny participated in this."

I wasn't.

I mean, I've never really cared for Vice anyway--too self-congratulory is just part of it--but this was just fucking ridiculous even for them.
posted by Kitteh at 9:02 AM on June 19, 2013


I'm obviously in the minority, but I don't think there's any point in arguing about the merit of art. I don't think suicide should be taboo any more than depiction of rape or murder should be taboo.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 9:02 AM on June 19, 2013 [12 favorites]


I'm not sure who's more obnoxious...

On the one hand, you have Vice, which tastelessly trolls for pageviews under the guise of edgy "culture."

On the other hand, you have sites tastelessly trolling for pageviews by manufacturing outrage and publishing "thoughtful commentary."
posted by Old Man McKay at 9:03 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, I am no fan of Jezebel at all, and I don't really regard them as a journalistic outcome of any standing, but:

It would be idiotic to talk about the photos without republishing them and showing them. Completely idiotic. It was a mistake of Vice to publish them in the first place, yes, but if people are going to talk about them (as I believe they should) then they ought to be available to look at. Journalism is not about censoring crappy things. Journalism is about recontextualizing crappy things so that people can look at them from a neutral space.

I don't pretend to like the Jezebel article, but "republishing them is just as bad!" is a terrible argument that doesn't follow from the facts.
posted by koeselitz at 9:05 AM on June 19, 2013 [34 favorites]


I hope that is sarcasm, because if the only thing that makes this "tasteless" "shitty" and "disgusting" is that Vice is a business entity rather than a precious artist. . .

No, I think elizardbits is right, because putting this sort of thing in (say) a gallery invites you to explore the ways in which suicide is glamorized, particularly for women. I mean, listing the designers? That's fucking mean, if you're being critical. It would still piss people off, and still possibly be tasteless and shitty, but it would at least be tasteless and shitty on purpose, for a reason.

The context of a fucking magazine, sadly, doesn't invite any of those questions. It's just tasteless and shitty because hey look!
posted by shakespeherian at 9:05 AM on June 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think Jezebel could have made their point by showing one, maybe two, sample photos.

But it is hard to justify photo after photo after photo of this crap. We get it, Jezebel. Hope the pageviews were worth it.
posted by vacapinta at 9:06 AM on June 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


The Taiwanese author Sanmao committed suicide by hanging herself with a pair of stockings. Vice includes a fashion credit for the tights.

Holy shit.
posted by lalex at 9:06 AM on June 19, 2013 [12 favorites]


I subscribe to the print edition of Vice, and was amazed to see the latest issue which shares this vomit-fest with some spectacular, subtle, beautiful fiction writing.

Similarly, some of the best on-the-ground reporting I've ever seen from warzones (first person in-the-shit not embedded, geopolitically and culturally aware, not afraid to take a non-'neutral' stand) has come out in issues which have necrophiliac porn reviews.

Vice is the little girl with a curl of magazines.
posted by lalochezia at 9:07 AM on June 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yeah, knowing why Jezebel posted the photos doesn't help, even if I do believe there are some contexts in which reprinting them would have been the best thing to do.
posted by koeselitz at 9:07 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I mildly disagree. No doubt Jezebel is happy with the pageviews, but I think its worthwhile showing people just how incredibly tasteless the photo spread was, instead of letting Vice simply expunge it and pretend it never happened. Sometimes pageviews stir up shit that is deserved.

Except the images themselves are not tasteless, at least in my opinion. The idea of using photos of female author suicide to sell tights is gross, but I think the images themselves are actually beautiful. And if it had been done not in the service of selling clothes, and not in the context of Vice, it could be interesting and thought provoking.

Honestly, the whole thing is clickbait. Vice posts, Jezebel reposts, Vice retracts, Jezebel doubles down, Jezebellers no doubt flock en masse to chew people out on Vice, Viceroys retaliate with feminazi accusations on Jezebel. More clicks for every one!
posted by looli at 9:08 AM on June 19, 2013 [10 favorites]


Didn't Answer Me! do this a long time ago without the fashion aspect?
posted by josher71 at 9:10 AM on June 19, 2013


I find it impossible to believe that the staff of Vice are unfamiliar with Nathan Barley, and this really looks like a gag attempt to one-up sugaRAPE's 'molesting underage models' photoshoot, from the idea to the execution, via the predictable outrage and half-arsed defence. Yeah?
posted by jack_mo at 9:11 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, if this was done by an individual artist it would be fascinating.

I have to agree with elizardbits here - in that context, it could've been a huge condemnation of how the world of fashion treats women.

This here? Well, it's not tasteless. It tastes shitty.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:11 AM on June 19, 2013 [11 favorites]


What gets me here is-context is everything. The pictures themselves are actually breathtakingly beautiful. Which probably makes this whole thing that much worse.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:12 AM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


A pox on both their houses, Jezebel and Vice alike.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:15 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know, I have no love for the vacuous nonsense perpetrated by the fashion industry in general and Vice in particular, but I have to admit I'm struggling to see this as a big deal. There's nothing shocking about trying to contrive shock, and these images are really pretty bland. Bad taste? Possibly. So what? And the Guardian's attempt to suggest that these pictures might encourage suicides is sadly typical of the preposterous state of that once-great newspaper these days. Yeah, and violent video games cause murder.
posted by Decani at 9:16 AM on June 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


shakespeherian: "It's just tasteless and shitty because hey look!"

Do we do the tagline joke for other sites? Because this seems perfect for Vice.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:19 AM on June 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think it's pretty naive to interpret this as Vice being like "woops egg on our face haha nothing to see here!!" and then Jezebel bravely taking up the journalistic mantle and making sure this misstep wasn't lost to history. The whole point of a stunt like this is that there will be outrage, then they'll be forced to "apologize", then other bottomfeeders will post the pictures anyway so that people can know the horrible truth!! while Vice still gets its ROI.
posted by threeants at 9:19 AM on June 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


I love the wording of, "We will no longer display “Last Words” on our website and apologize to anyone who was hurt or offended." They're not apologizing for being completely tasteless jerks, just that people got upset about it.
posted by octothorpe at 9:21 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Vice was bad, Jezebel was kind of clumsy about how they responded, but, as asked above, it's not like Jezebel could describe the photos without showing some. One or two would have done the trick. Since I rarely patronize either site (or their advertisers), I am not sure what effective protest I can make. I would subscribe to a "Punch Vice Editor in the Junk" kickstarter, though. Maybe it could be for a women-oriented suicide prevention group, and that could be a stretch goal.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:25 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, if this was done by an individual artist it would be fascinating.

Or a different mag. Even Vice might've managed to pull this off with different framing.

I mean, I can see the piece working well as a satirical spread in a special fashion issue, framed by pieces on, I dunno, Vogue's disturbing habit of shooting models surrounded by unkempt 'native' children in exotic locales, the exploitation of young girls in the industry, a cataloguing of almost-as-dubious high concept shoots in the mainstream fashion press, &c.
posted by jack_mo at 9:30 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love the wording of, "We will no longer display “Last Words” on our website and apologize to anyone who was hurt or offended." They're not apologizing for being completely tasteless jerks, just that people got upset about it.

Offensive Photo Spreads and Insincere Apologies
I think a better choice would have been for the magazine's editors to sit down, do some hard thinking about the substance of the response it generated—not just "How do we deal with the fact that we're under attack?" but "Do they have a point?"—and then write an introduction that would accompany the photos on their web site. It could say something like, "When we decided to do this photo shoot, we knew it was provocative, but we now understand that we didn't put enough thought into it. There has been a strong response, and here are some of the most incisive critiques of our choice that we've seen." Then discuss the best arguments people have been making against the photo shoot. It's tempting to find the stupidest things people have said and respond to those, because that's easy. But looking for the most serious ones would show that you're not just being defensive or hoping the issue goes away quickly, but you actually want to hear what your critics have to say, with the appreciation that the critics might be right. And then finally, they could have said, "We've decided to leave the photos here on our site—they're all over the web now anyway—so you'll be able to look at them if you choose, and contribute to the discussion."

Instead, Vice offered up the same kind of apology we nearly always hear in situations like this, saying they "apologize to anyone who was hurt or offended." The trouble with this kind of rote response isn't that it's necessarily insincere, though it often is. The trouble is that it doesn't take a stand on whether you were actually wrong to have said what you said. That's a very hard thing to do, which is why people do it so rarely, particularly in public life. None of us think our own motives are bad, so we always have what seem to ourselves to be perfectly good reasons to have acted or spoken the way we did. The pro forma apology leaves us with no idea what the people at Vice now think about all this. And at this point, that might be the most interesting thing to learn.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:32 AM on June 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


So tasteless we decided to reprint them in super hi-rez!

Wallow in disdain while perusing these pictures that should never be shown to anyone!

Can you feel the just disgust right under your fingertips? You're with us now - the good ones.
posted by four panels at 9:33 AM on June 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yeah, exactly. Done as a vicious critique of the moneymaking sexualized exploitation of women in fashion and advertising, it would have far more artistic merit then it does as outrage for outrage's sake.
posted by elizardbits at 9:33 AM on June 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


Agreed. My previous comment lacked perspective.
posted by General Tonic at 9:36 AM on June 19, 2013


This is one of those instances where I seriously question what we're coming to. Is this what it takes to get a reaction from people? Or is this what fashion has become? And what about the suffering, the mental illness, the real human stories behind these unspeakable images?

This sickens me on so many levels I can't even.
posted by kinnakeet at 9:38 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have a feeling if you switched all the gender pronouns on jezebel.com, it would suddenly be the most sexist site online.
posted by four panels at 9:41 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jezebel called it "almost breathtakingly tasteless" and republished the photographs

I used to read Jezebel a lot back in the day, and am saddened to hear that it has adopted the Daily Mail stylebook.
posted by mippy at 9:43 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I Do Not Like The Vice but I do have the feeling that you kind of know what you're getting with it - superfluous swearing in a piece about an old video store, an article about glue sniffers in Chechnya, a photo spread of skinny white girls showing armpit hair poking through a purple mesh top ($245, Midwest Fuckface), someone writing about porn, someone writing about taking drugs, and on the back page an advert for American Apparel which causes one to need to cover the publication with a newspaper to prevent public transport embarrassment.

The UK website has some interesting pieces from John Doran and can't-remember-her-name who does Milf Teeth, but their modus operandi seems to be content that shocks your granny, and it's boring. This is notable for crossing the line from boring to actually genuinely offensive.
posted by mippy at 9:47 AM on June 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


Jezebel has been utterly vile and worthless for at least 3-4 years now.
posted by elizardbits at 9:48 AM on June 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


I agree that this was entirely, absolutely, egregiously tasteless.

(Still, it's hard not to be annoyed that Anne Sexton was not included, as she was one of my favorite poets. Is that wrong?)
posted by newdaddy at 9:49 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Speaking as somebody who wrote about this because it was so unbelievably gross and bothersome to me, I can promise you that I would happily, *happily* never get another click in my entire life *ever* from something like this. I can't speak for Jezebel, but if you think every pissed-off response to something like this comes from a cynical place of attention-seeking, you're mistaken. I won't convince you, but you're mistaken.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 9:50 AM on June 19, 2013 [10 favorites]


What gets me here is-context is everything. The pictures themselves are actually breathtakingly beautiful. Which probably makes this whole thing that much worse.

Yes. I found the depictions of Sylvia Plath and Dorothy Parker especially powerful - two instantly recognizable women whose work I deeply admire. In another context, these would be incredible.
posted by MissySedai at 9:52 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why am I remembering another magazine recreating the suicide of Evelyn McHale for a photo spread? And Faye Dunaway had done a similar photo at one point, yes?

Why is it always women whose inner torment is up for consumption like this? I've never seen a photo shoot done like this with males, but I don't read much about fashion, so there could be some and I just don't know about them.

Either way, I don't get it. Trying to convert human existential torment to just another facile image to off-load some schmatte is simply barf-inducing.
posted by droplet at 9:53 AM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't see anything wrong with the original. It's art. The target and likely audience is made up of well informed, educated adults who know the difference between endorsing suicide and portraying it.

For that matter, if this had been gender neutral, would it have stirred more or less outrage? Hemmingway and Cobain were probably well styled right before they ate 12 gauge.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 9:54 AM on June 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


putting this sort of thing in (say) a gallery invites you to explore the ways in which suicide is glamorized, particularly for women

I don't think the context of a gallery changes anything. Are you saying that because it's in a magazine the images are incapable of having this effect? That galleries somehow put images above glamorizing suicide or that magazines do the opposite? Because to me, having the fashion items on display printed on the same page as these images drives home "the ways in which suicide is glamorized" pretty hard. It certainly doesn't look like a typical "let's move these clothes!" fashion shoot to me.
posted by Hoopo at 9:55 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


One of my friends writes for Vice (full disclosure, I'm an irregular photographer for them), and part of why she's on hiatus is that Vice has swung back to being more broish in the last couple months (replacing their cool, female music editor with a stereotypical skate dude), and outside of their foreign reporting, their domestic stuff has gotten more conservative. They've always had a weird, liminal relationship — they were pretty much the go-to for "ironic" racism over the last decade, but as they become more corporate, there's less of an outsider mischief justification, and more of a reification of the racist/sexist status quo.

Her comment on all this is that this is a shoot that she could have seen setting up on some of the mags she's worked for, but with Vice as it is now, it was a pretty dumb mistake.
posted by klangklangston at 9:57 AM on June 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


I have a feeling if you switched all the gender pronouns on jezebel.com, it would suddenly be the most sexist site online.

Hmm, let's not.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:01 AM on June 19, 2013 [15 favorites]


I don't see anything wrong with the original. It's art. The target and likely audience is made up of well informed, educated adults who know the difference between endorsing suicide and portraying it.

"Beauty for beauty's sake" is a peculiar defense of art, not least because the definition of beauty is imbricated with a wide range of cultural practices, both material and intellectual. I'd hope that for "informed, educated adults" aesthetics raises a lot bigger and more important questions than are solved by the resort to bare, a priori ideas of "beauty."

We can certainly ask and should certainly ask if this art effectively links female artistry with self-destructive urges, whether aestheticizing even suicide is a symptom of the reduction of women's bodies in any and all circumstances to objects of desire or aestheticization, whether these images reduce the lives and works of serious artists to either a salacious moment of suicide or a pathology, and so forth.

If art and beauty matter at all, it's because they do cultural work. We should therefore always interrogate the cultural work a given work or category of art does.
posted by kewb at 10:02 AM on June 19, 2013


On the other hand, if this was done by an individual artist it would be fascinating.

I was just thinking that I hate this project, but that if it were done by a drag troupe I would find it campy and delightful.

My elations are a mystery even to me.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 10:04 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


fourpanels: “I have a feeling if you switched all the gender pronouns on jezebel.com, it would suddenly be the most sexist site online.”

shakespeherian: “Hmm, let's not.”

You know what would be fun? We should switch all the proper names to "Hitler," and it'd be the most Nazi site online.

Switching pronouns proves nothing, and sexism is not a matter of which pronouns you use. Jezebel is awful, but it isn't because they're man-hating feminists. It's because they're click-baiting and divisive.
posted by koeselitz at 10:05 AM on June 19, 2013 [19 favorites]


There is definitely a role for transgressive art in exploring new and frankly uncomfortable ideas. By inspiring such a visceral reaction of "this is fucked up" the photographer gets you thinking about a whole host of issues that many people have already brought up in this thread.

Was it smart for Vice to commission this from a business perspective maybe not but I don't necessarily think that transgressive art should be exiled from magazines simply because it makes people angry or squemish.
posted by vuron at 10:07 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why is it always women whose inner torment is up for consumption like this?

In general, societal expectations and gender norms are to blame.

Vulnerable, victimized women = sexy and alluring, might need to be rescued by large manly man
Vulnerable, victimized men = weak and contemptible, unmanly, icky feelings
posted by elizardbits at 10:10 AM on June 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


they were pretty much the go-to for "ironic" racism over the last decade,

I think that was down to the Dos and Don'ts guy they had, though, who left in a dispute and went on to post a picture of a young Asian woman on his blog with the caption 'I'd like to go Paki-bashing in her vagina'. That's not even ironic racism, that's just...eesh.
posted by mippy at 10:11 AM on June 19, 2013


I've never seen a photo shoot done like this with males but I don't read much about fashion, so there could be some and I just don't know about them.

There are a couple I can think of off the top of my head (not specifically like this but with men being portrayed as the "weaker sex") and they are always, always presented as wildly subversive and edgy.
posted by elizardbits at 10:12 AM on June 19, 2013


I don't necessarily think that transgressive art should be exiled from magazines simply because it makes people angry or squemish

I agree, but I don't see what's so transgressive about using dead-looking women to sell clothes. It's not like nobody's ever done it before.
posted by rtha at 10:14 AM on June 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


This seems like a good moment -- as a counterweight to Vice's pervasive, shallow suckiness -- to recommend Kate Zambrano's book Heroines which came out recently. It's mostly about Zelda Fitzgerald, Jane Bowles, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Vivienne Eliot, Jean Rhys, and others (with some personal memoir folded in). It's about what it means to be creative -- what it means to work, and in particular write -- in an environment where it's made very clear that your experience and your perspective doesn't matter. It's about the reality of some of that frustration and denigration and the role it played in some of these real tragedies.

(Ignoring anything related to Vice and any property connected with Nick Denton immediately makes life online much better.)
posted by the brave tetra-pak at 10:15 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


> And the Guardian's attempt to suggest that these pictures might encourage suicides is sadly typical of the preposterous state of that once-great newspaper these days. Yeah, and violent video games cause murder.

I note you simply mock the Guardian without providing any form of corroborating evidence - or even a good logical argument.

There's a lot of evidence that suicide is, in fact, contagious.

If you're going to make claims about some very grave subject like suicide, might I politely request you take a few moments to look at the literature and at least address its claims rather than spreading what might well be serious misinformation?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:22 AM on June 19, 2013 [12 favorites]



posted by jeffamaphone at 10:23 AM on June 19, 2013


The thing is, Vice and Jezebel (and their ilk) need each other. The Vice spread is bog-standard provocateurism, which doesn't work without someone to take the bait. Jezebel is (largely) about self-righteous outrage, which doesn't work without something to be outraged by.

It reminds me of the cheesy, over-the-top Satanic imagery of 80s metal bands, and the pearl-clutching response of religious conservatives. They feed on each other. And both of them are kind of gross.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 10:29 AM on June 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


I agree, but I don't see what's so transgressive about using dead-looking women to sell clothes

Only one of the images appears to have anyone looking dead. It's mostly depictions of people in the act of committing suicide. It's pretty disturbing, to me at least.
posted by Hoopo at 10:31 AM on June 19, 2013


white middle class feminist handwringing is just so white and middle class and self absorbed and pop-culture based that I want to stick my own head in the oven..


I'll probably regret putting myself out here like this, but what the hell.

So, there's this pervasive concept out there, about glorifying, beautifying, romanticizing, and exulting the tragic deaths of women. Especially pretty women, especially artistic and intelligent women. I think this idea is a big problem, and not just some pearl-clutching pet peeve of the grossest brand of spoiled white feminists. (Although, I will definitely agree that the death of a white woman is farfarfarfarfarfarfarfarfar more likely to be romanticized thusly.)

When I was a depressed, artistic kid, this concept powerfully affected me. I sure was a white middle class girl (although neither pretty nor spoiled). I was also very depressed, and being actively abused. This concept made my suicide ideation problems seem like something bizarrely okay. Because I was a isolated child without perspective, experience, or any helpful allies.

My thinking went along the lines of, "It's acceptable that I am very mentally ill, and that I am constantly legitimately suicidal. Because the world has told me that it's romantic and artistic to suffer this way. It's an identity I can attach my pain to. And I probably won't survive this pain, because that's how it works. And if I do kill myself, I'd just be fulfilling some beautiful archetype that's greater than myself." It's almost embarrassing to admit to that now, but yes, I sincerely felt that way. Nor was I the only girl I knew who felt that way. It's almost a coping mechanism... until it isn't.

This photo shoot's whole intention is the glamorization of the tragic suicidal woman artist. "Look how pretty all the colors and clothing are! Look at these female writers and poets who went out in such a beautiful, tragic way!" It's not the worst example of the worst problem in the world, but real problem for plenty of young women. I feel comfortable wringing my hands about it.

Art censorship/oppression is bad. I don't like art censorship, even of stupid, cruel, destructive art. And I dislike what Vice did here (although the concept could probably be done well, under other circumstances). These women were real, and there are surviving families that should have been considered for five seconds before they went ahead with this garbage. But there's plenty more of this grossness where that came from. This tide isn't stemmable. We love to glamorize the deaths of women. If it were even possible to take these Vice photos off the air, it would be just a drop removed from the bucket.

And this isn't really about the censorship of this particular instance of art. This is about the perpetuation of a seriously problematic sort of "ideal" that actively hurts real women who are mentally ill. These ideas DO matter. Whether we can effectively root this ideal out of our brains, or protect any vulnerable people from it... ha, I doubt it. It'd be nice if depressed girls and women didn't have to carry the baggage of romanticized female death, but I don't see it going away any time soon. But this is a real problem, even if it's unfixable.

The Iris Chang photo actually makes me sick to my stomach. And they even went to the trouble of neatly arranging Elise Cowen's dress so you could see far up her thigh. Lord.

Re: how this would go it it were male artists in this photo shoot: I would hate it just as much.
posted by Coatlicue at 10:40 AM on June 19, 2013 [42 favorites]


I really liked the NPR piece. Thanks, Linda_Holmes.
posted by jaguar at 10:40 AM on June 19, 2013


This photo shoot's whole intention

How do you know what the creators' intention was?
posted by escape from the potato planet at 10:45 AM on June 19, 2013


Because they put it in the name of the magazine.
posted by koeselitz at 10:47 AM on June 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


This photo shoot's whole intention is the glamorization of the tragic suicidal woman artist.

... to sell clothing. (not disagreeing with you, just pointing out that it's actually even worse than you are describing!)
posted by elizardbits at 10:49 AM on June 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


Agreed, koeselitz and elizardbits. Yes, it was actually even worse than I said. So many gross little details.
posted by Coatlicue at 10:51 AM on June 19, 2013


Cool, another thing for "Everything I Know About Feminism I Learned From Ad-Driven Lady Blog Content Aggregators" feminists to pat themselves on the back for decrying, while CeCe McDonald rots in jail for defending herself against a hate crime and Somali women are raped and tortured by US backed Nigerian counterterrorism forces.

Has Jezebel conspicuously not reported on CeCe McDonald and Somalia?
posted by kmz at 11:19 AM on June 19, 2013


On the other hand, you have sites tastelessly trolling for pageviews by manufacturing outrage and publishing "thoughtful commentary."

And then you have sites where the manufactured outrage is publicized, and it and the "tastelessly trolling" sites all get more pageviews.
posted by ambient2 at 11:31 AM on June 19, 2013


Re: Jezabel: The odds are that the majority of us would not have seen the pictures, were it not for Jezabel refusing to let Vice "disappear" it. And without the pictures, no conversation about them could have occurred. Is Jez problematic in other arenas? Sure. But focusing on that website instead of the topic of the post just seems beside the point.

Re: The photographs themselves: They are stunning. But, in agreeing with what Coatilcue so brilliantly said above, it is a further entrenching of the concept of the "romantic female death". It was Edgar Allan Poe who mused that the death of a beautiful woman was "unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world"...and this photo spread is just a continuation of of that romantic ideal.

Vice didn't include any works by the women being portrayed; not quotes, not lists of titles, not referential information about their lives or how they impacted culture. What they did was make them sex objects even in death. This spread says that the only value these women had was because of their romantic deaths. They have dehumanized these cultural icons and reduced them to beautiful manikins upon which to drape price tags.

This is what sexism looks like.
posted by dejah420 at 11:33 AM on June 19, 2013 [31 favorites]


Whether we can effectively root this ideal out of our brains, or protect any vulnerable people from it... ha, I doubt it. It'd be nice if depressed girls and women didn't have to carry the baggage of romanticized female death, but I don't see it going away any time soon.

True. When I hear "romanticized female death" my first thoughts are of Shakespeare's characters Ophelia and Juliette and how that is often required reading in high school.
posted by Hoopo at 11:36 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


The odds are that the majority of us would not have seen the pictures, were it not for Jezabel refusing to let Vice "disappear" it.

Jezebel published their article before Vice removed the photos, as can be seen by the "Update" at the end of the Jezebel article.
posted by 0 at 11:38 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Vice didn't include any works by the women being portrayed; not quotes, not lists of titles, not referential information about their lives or how they impacted culture.

About ten minutes after I made this post, I realized that I did the same thing.
posted by andoatnp at 11:44 AM on June 19, 2013


The Iris Chang photo actually makes me sick to my stomach.

Same here. I saw this on Vice when the spread was still up, and that picture in particular made me angry. WTF Vice.
posted by homunculus at 11:53 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Journalism is about recontextualizing crappy things so that people can look at them from a neutral space.

So in other words Gawker, err, Jezebel is just trolling for pageviews and not doing journalism.

VICE really hits home for me; they do serious groundbreaking stuff, they do tone-deaf offensive stuff, self-congratulatory stuff...to me they almost epitomize the condition of the angry smart white man. And overall I like what they do, thought they do many cringe-worthy things. I've read some good stuff on Jezebel too and I don't blame them for reposting a few images, but it seems like VICE has a right to say "oh shit, sorry about that" and Jezebel is just stirring shit up by re-publishing the entire things. But it's all good, everyone can do whatever they want and we'll make our own judgments.
posted by lordaych at 11:56 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


True. When I hear "romanticized female death" my first thoughts are of Shakespeare's characters Ophelia and Juliette and how that is often required reading in high school.

Romanticized female death is definitely a thing, but focusing on those two characters as examples when each is in a play featuring piles of male corpses seems strange to me.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 12:09 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Old Man McKay: “On the other hand, you have sites tastelessly trolling for pageviews by manufacturing outrage and publishing ‘thoughtful commentary.’”

escape from the potato planet: “Jezebel is (largely) about self-righteous outrage, which doesn't work without something to be outraged by. It reminds me of the cheesy, over-the-top Satanic imagery of 80s metal bands, and the pearl-clutching response of religious conservatives. They feed on each other. And both of them are kind of gross.”

Hm. Well, there are shades of meaning here, and I don't want to impute positions to people that they might not hold – so please take it as given that the two comments I quoted above are a jumping-off point.

However:

The hatred of Jezebel is a funny thing, and what's funny is that I get the feeling people dislike it for vastly different reasons. I mean, we have folks like (I think) elizardbits and me, who feel like it represents a betrayal of a movement and a set of viewpoints that deserves representation – a betrayal in the sense that it turns that movement and that outlook into a mechanism for clickbait and subsequent money-making.

But – some of these criticisms I'm not sure about. I don't think any outrage had to be manufactured here; the spread in Vice was outrageous, and Jezebel was actually at fault for exploiting that outrage. And I don't think it makes much sense to characterize Jezebel in parallel with "pearl-clutching... religious conservatives." The issue is not that they have moral scruples about an offensive photo spread; the issue is they've demonstrated that they lack moral scruples by exploiting an offensive situation for clicks and to get attention. (Although I guess maybe one could mean that those religious conservatives were attention-grabbing hypocrites?)

I don't know – like I said, I'm not actually sure anybody here is doing this at all; I just know that, quite often, criticism of Jezebel veers off into a more general criticism of supposedly whiny, hysterical feminist harridans. And when I say I don't generally like Jezebel, I want to make it clear that that's not what I mean at all.
posted by koeselitz at 12:14 PM on June 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


(It's all of that, plus a specific incident in which Jezebel behaved in an extremely repugnant manner towards an anonymous mefite. I think the people at Jezebel involved with that situation are legitimately terrible human beings and I wish them ill.)
posted by elizardbits at 12:19 PM on June 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Jezebel should be kind of embarrassed that, on a good day, Kotaku can put out better articles on harassment/objectification of women than they can.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:27 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Journalism is about recontextualizing crappy things so that people can look at them from a neutral space.

You meant 'should be'. And Ed Murrow would agree - only he and his ilk have vanished like Brigadoon.
posted by Twang at 12:29 PM on June 19, 2013


The reason this isn't entitled to the same benefit of the doubt as art is that, while art can do all kinds of different things, fashion spreads are always aspirational. If they didn't make what they portray look desirable, they wouldn't be doing their job -- after all, the point of putting the designers' names in the corner is to let readers know how they could go about looking like the picture. You can't help glamorizing something if you're trying to sell its accessories.

Also, what exactly is so bad about shit-stirring in this context? It's a problem that Vice produced these pictures as part of a fashion shoot, but what makes it wrong, as such, for people to look at them? It's not morally wrong to get pissed off at Vice. And I don't think being outraged about this stuff makes people less likely to get outraged about CeCe McDonald. I think it makes them more likely to get outraged about CeCe McDonald.
posted by ostro at 12:31 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Like others, I found the Chang picture particularly unthoughtful. Woolf and Plath have officially Passed Into History (tongue somewhat in cheek), but Iris Chang died less than nine years ago.
posted by threeants at 12:39 PM on June 19, 2013


And, yes, Jezebel is essentially the Daily Mail, except with a basically decent political ideology instead of a basically repugnant one. But is that so terrible? Sure, it shouldn't be anybody's sole source of political news, but if the world as a whole is going to be more feminist, then we'll see feminist versions of dumb things as well as good things. If a lurid, greedy feminist tabloid is one of the consequences of popular feminism becoming better-known and more visible, I'm OK with that.
posted by ostro at 12:42 PM on June 19, 2013


Vice could have at least included a recreation of Hemingway, say, lovingly caressing his shotgun, next to an ad from the manufacturer if it's still around-- and in drag, if they were worried about freezing out their regular advertisers.
posted by jamjam at 12:43 PM on June 19, 2013


plus a specific incident in which Jezebel behaved in an extremely repugnant manner towards an anonymous mefite.

I just found that MeTa. Wow wow wow. OK, I'm reverting to my hard "NO GAWKERMEDIA LINKS!" stance.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:49 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Romanticized female death is definitely a thing, but focusing on those two characters as examples when each is in a play featuring piles of male corpses seems strange to me.

Then it is doubly strange that the character of Ophelia has been singled out for analysis so frequently. No one is writing Polonius Learns Not to Hide Behind Curtains
posted by Hoopo at 12:52 PM on June 19, 2013


I would totally read Polonius Learns Not to Hide Behind Curtains.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:56 PM on June 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


No one is writing Polonius Learns Not to Hide Behind Curtains

I hear that Tom Stoppard is writing a play.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 1:02 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


This photo shoot's whole intention is the glamorization of the tragic suicidal woman artist.

I really resonated with what Coatlicue said here. I see this again and again with Virginia Woolf, in works like The Hours and Florence and the Machine's exasperatingly beautiful song "What the Water Gave Me." It's just another way of reducing women to bodies. Woolf's writing erupts with virtuosity; she could be very funny and very self-aware, could pull together different tones and moods like a master composer. And all of this reduces to Nicole Kidman enunciating, "I feel certain that I am going mad again."

For some reason, this actual photo shoot doesn't bother me. I think it's because I assume it's intended to offend, and this phenomenon is much more disturbing when it reads as a sincere tribute. But it is a manifestation of a very cruel and stupid thing, and what's worse, it's being dealt with by Jezebel (who are essentially on the side of the angels here) in such a flat, reflexive, baity way that a serious conversation about it becomes that much harder.
posted by thesmallmachine at 1:04 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why is this about Jezebel.com? If they wrote a critical piece with no pictures, they'd be slammed for not including the pictures. Showing the pictures and commenting on the captions is pretty important. Each photo in the spread is captioned with the name of the author depicted, her dates of birth and death, and cause of death. And the fashion credits for what the model is wearing ("Issa dress, Morgenthal Frederics glasses, Jenni Kayne shoes"), obviously. Conspicuously absent is any information about these authors' actual works.

It's woman-hating in a stunt-y way, with a side of artiness. Backlash, indeed.
posted by theora55 at 1:09 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I kind of find the praise for VICE from some odd. At best they are occasionally amusing, and I'm usually a fan of un-PC stuff.
posted by jonmc at 1:11 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


jonmc: “I kind of find the praise for VICE from some odd. At best they are occasionally amusing, and I'm usually a fan of un-PC stuff.”

They're one of those sites that have gone from generally pretty stupid to actually hosting some thoughtful stuff that I would even call journalism. This seems to be a general thing that's happening on the internet now that newspapers aren't really as able to employ good writers and journalists. (Buzzfeed is another good example; they've printed some great stuff in the past year.) As far as Vice goes, I remember them producing a documentary on life in Afghanistan for American soldiers and Afghanis and their experience there that was pretty thoughtful and informative.

But then they go and do something like this.
posted by koeselitz at 1:15 PM on June 19, 2013


I kind of find the praise for VICE from some odd. At best they are occasionally amusing, and I'm usually a fan of un-PC stuff.

Here's a long answer you probably don't care about:

I was introduced to Vice in high school when it was a free paper distributed in music stores and university campuses. It was a lot more entertaining than what was on the internet back then, if you even had access. Fun trashy reading for the long bus ride back to the suburbs with some good music reviews that a kid in a medium-sized Canadian city would not otherwise hear about. I kept reading it through university, and as a bit of trivia my university was the one that banned it from campus over their choice to run an ad for Serial Killer brand clothing and inadvertently launched them into the spotlight and probably gave them the single biggest thing to help them get where they are today. It was still one of the more entertaining free magazines available in my town when they shifted to glossy magazine format instead of newsprint, and the focus on drugs, booze, music and sex appealed to me as a guy in my early 20s. When I moved to Japan, I was lacking a source of trashy fun stuff in English to read and found the Vice Guide to Sex Drugs and Rock & Roll in Tower Records in Tokyo and laughed my ass off the whole way home on the train. I also got the Vice Guide to Travel DVD which was also pretty entertaining.

I haven't followed them much online, but Vice was to me a great source of garbage reading material for many, many years. I think you're a New Yorker, and some of the appeal of Vice has to be understood in the sense that a lot of, uh, more boring places that Vice reached had no other publications like it so easily available.
posted by Hoopo at 1:32 PM on June 19, 2013


Yeah I don't actually have an issue with the base concept, I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with it. But then I saw that it was paired with fashion marketing bullshit and failed to have anything about the actual writers and yeah. That switched that around quite a bit.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 2:17 PM on June 19, 2013


juliet banana: sometimes white middle class feminist handwringing is just so white and middle class and self absorbed and pop-culture based that I want to stick my own head in the oven..

Let's not tear at each other like this. When we reinforce the trope that white middle class feminists are just hysterical, superficial nitwits all worked up over petty bullshit, that doesn't help defend oppressed women. It helps the people who want to oppress women or just don't give a shit about it, because then they can say "these stupid battle-axes braying about nothing, they should take their Prozac and shut up, amirite?" These guys aren't going to go "white middle class feminists are stupid, we should help women being raped in Somalia!" They're going to go "white middle class feminists are stupid, let's go to Hooters and have a good time!" These guys don't react by saying "white women are stupid and don't appreciate how good they have it, we should do more to help women of color in the third world!" They react by saying "white women are stupid and don't appreciate how good they have it, Hispanic women are too loud and pushy, Asian women still know how to respect and treat a man, let's go to Thailand where we'll have hordes of skinny hot 18 year olds just begging to serve at our beck and call."

These guys are not the ones trying to make things better for women. By and large, in every country, it's women trying to make things better for women. If we tear at each other it only makes things easier for the guys who think we shouldn't give a shit about any of it.

I'm not saying that no white feminists are twits, and I'm not saying there is anything wrong with sincere critique of some white feminists or the way feminist movements handle race, etc. I just think negative tropes like "white middle class feminists are such twits" are destructive for everyone.

Jezebel sucks, by the way. Jezebel IS ridiculous a lot of the time. It CAN be well-described as a bunch of ""Everything I Know About Feminism I Learned From Ad-Driven Lady Blog Content Aggregators" feminists" a lot of the time.

I am a white/Hispanic feminist. I don't read or give a shit about Jezebel. Occasionally I will see an article at random. Jezebel is not ground zero for people in the US/Western world who want to talk about feminism and women's issues online.

I personally HATE the arguement that you can't be mad about something just because worse things exist, and I hate that I have to use it, but

Please just be careful with it, because powerful men can and do take those arguments and use them to deride and oppress women here.
posted by cairdeas at 2:56 PM on June 19, 2013 [18 favorites]


Wow, offensive content in Vice? Shocking.
posted by delmoi at 3:13 PM on June 19, 2013


Just one more thought on why it's important for relatively privileged people to protest the things that are "not so important."

Say it's men and women working in a factory, where the men make $2/hr more for the same work. The factory owners say that they're going to cut the men's pay by a $1/hr, and the men go apeshit. In that scenario, even though the men have their male privilege and are still making more money, I would really appreciate them going apeshit if I worked there. Because if neither of us are in the real power position, but you have relatively more power than I do, you need to hold the line. Because if the line moves to make things worse for you, it makes them worse for me too and I have a lot less recourse to do anything about it.

Another example is when rich brogrammers have been going apeshit about the NSA spying. (First of all, nobody ever says to them, "you whinnying hysterical spoiled brats, you don't know how good you have it, you should be ashamed of yourselves complaining like this as white men when middle eastern men have been wantonly spied on and othered and suspected for a decade." Nobody ever really shames men like that about standing up for themselves.) But I appreciate them doing it because even if it's worse for other people, they have more power and privilege to be listened to and get something DONE about the spying.

Another example is the photo of this young woman being sadistically maced in the face by the Brazilian police a few days ago. She's light-skinned, and looks middle class. Now, all that happened to her was getting a faceful of mace for no reason. She didn't have the shit beat out of her. Should she protest? Would it be petty? Obviously, it's not petty of her to protest something like that. But also, she's in a position to hold the line. The world is now outraged by a group of riot police macing a lone, skinny light-skinned girl. That's where the world drew it's line of outrage. Obviously, the line is far from where it really should be. But if the line moves in the OTHER direction, if the girl/we didn't protest this out of guilt that worse things happen to different kinds of people and go ignored, that would actually make it worse. If the line of objection moves in the wrong direction, that's worse for everyone because then the people in power can do worse things to the less privileged people.
posted by cairdeas at 3:41 PM on June 19, 2013 [12 favorites]


Maybe, like way more people than you think, they 're just amused by the huge waste and expenditure of energy that 'outraged' people are capable of. Outrage is impotent and funny. This thread certainly is. The pictures are beautiful.
posted by umberto at 4:07 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I find it impossible to believe that the staff of Vice are unfamiliar with Nathan Barley, and this really looks like a gag attempt to one-up sugaRAPE's 'molesting underage models' photoshoot, from the idea to the execution, via the predictable outrage and half-arsed defence. Yeah?

This comment bears repeating. This thing has sugaRAPE written all over it, yeah?

VICE wanted attention, and they got it. Jezebel wanted attention, and they got it. I'm sure they're both very pleased by the existence of threads like these.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:15 PM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


So...no one should ever be angry, or express that anger, at something like this because it's impotent, funny, and just gives attention to people who don't deserve it.

Is there a list of approved topics to be angry about, and one of people or companies it's okay to express it towards? Can someone who knows about them please link?

Or maybe people who think stuff like this is unworthy of their attention could just not give their attention to it. No announcement necessary.
posted by rtha at 4:53 PM on June 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


You know, umberto, it really sucks to put some effort into having a productive, thoughtful conversation and them have somebody wander by and tell you you're an idiot for even trying to talk about it.
posted by koeselitz at 4:57 PM on June 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


They're going to go "white middle class feminists are stupid, let's go to Hooters and have a good time!"

No. Nobody goes to Hooters for a good time, unless they're idiots. The wings suck and there's no actual nudity, so it's a ripoff.
posted by jonmc at 5:00 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Damn, Cairdeas, that was a super in-depth and thoughtful comment! I totally agree with that you're saying; my comment had a lot of frustrated vitriol behind it.

It actually reminds me of a really similar discussion in a thread lately where I was the one taking YOUR side. I posted some sort of aspirational, fashiony profiles of trans* men, and it was pointed out how superficial and pointless it all was in the face of the huge deep depths of gender theory and the fight against transphobia, and I think the point I made is that someone making pretty art about trans issues doesn't set the fight back, or work against other deeper more involved work being done.

And now you just pointed out me doing the *exact same thing.* And like I said in my original comment, I hate the "you're not allowed to be outraged about anything because there is always something worse" argument, and I feel shitty for using it.

This is a comment GenjiandProust made in that other thread (we have privately discussed me being allowed to use this quote in my own writing because I LOVE IT and hopefully they don't mind me using it here):

"One of the problems of being in a disempowered situation is that it is almost always easier to relieve pain and frustration by taking aim at the people near you -- allies, fellow travelers, potential allies -- than the people in power. So you can get a little boost by tearing down someone for being "not serious enough" or wrong on a point of doctrine rather than taking on power, which usually hit back harder. The downside, of course, it is makes it harder to get the change you want, since you are busy cutting down your allies."

HA HA WOW IT IS LIKE LOOKING INTO A MIRROR WITH AN EXTREMELY EMBARRASSED EXPRESSION

I still think I adequately expressed the poisonous, toxic bile that rises in my throat when I hear a Feminist Lady Poet and go up and read her spoken word poetry about how angry this Jezebel article made her (this really happened to me last night, and is probably why I came into this thread with a shitty attitude). But instead of caving into it for Glory and Favorites, it is something that needs to be regularly checked and fought against. Thanks for the reminder. I needed it.
posted by Juliet Banana at 5:36 PM on June 19, 2013 [17 favorites]


jonmc: "Nobody goes to Hooters for a good time, unless they're idiots."

Yep. All my friends and I go to O'Nutter's now instead.
posted by koeselitz at 5:50 PM on June 19, 2013


This whole thing is kind of an exercise in cynicism, tho, right?

It would have been more interesting if Vice defended the images. They could have said it was a project showcasing the way that , iunno, "the fashion industry, the publishing industry, and the culture makes use of and disregards youth, creativity, and death" or something to that effect. I would have believed it because I saw a million somesuch similar projects in my million or so years at art school. Of course... they didn't.

Alternately, they could have taken down the post and given a more nuanced reason than "people were offended and said it was bad". They could have shown a change of heart or understanding and started a discussion of art, feminism, and editorial policy... of course, they didn't.

They even could have, within their apology, made no value judgments but said that the fashion spread was taking away to much attention from the WOMEN IN FICTION issue, which is rare enough and kind of a big deal, especially for a print magazine with a heavy youth demographic. I'm actually kind of surprised they didn't do this one.

I can see the reasons why Jezebel would need to reprint the photos and I can also see it as a morbid, cynical way they can have their cake and eat it too. If that was my decision, I would have downsized the images so they could be viewed in their entirety, but not worth grabbing and giving a whole 2nd life on tumblr and pinterest. Sigh.
posted by elr at 6:43 PM on June 19, 2013


Work is busy so I have to read the thread in depth, and all the articles later on today. But before I head to the lab I wanted to respond to this:

What possible justification can they [Jezebel] offer for republishing the photos?

Some folks have said above that Jezebel should have just republished one or two photos to get the point across. What I think we have to remember is that we no longer live in a world where print media is preserved and circulated widely. The vast majority of people who read about this issue will do so online. Vice - predictably - removed the photos, thus expunging the material as much as they could. If the photos were not republished in their entirety, nobody could appreciate the full extent of just how dodgy this photo shoot was.

It's journalism 101 folks (at least it's old-school journalism 101), you let the readership know what happened and let them make their own minds up. What, you want someone else (Jezebel) to decide which of these photos you should see? It would have been supremely patronising of Jezebel to self-censor here. Now we can at least have a decent and informed conversation about the topic.
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 6:53 PM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Iris Chang photo actually makes me sick to my stomach.

With that one, I'm not sure if I'm more disgusted because I happen to know more of the details of it than most of the others. Iris Chang wrote the Rape of Nanking, about Japanese atrocities in China during WWII. She first became interested in the topic in part by having seen graphic, horrifying photos of Chinese women being brutally raped during the war. I have read that after researching and writing the book, she was traumatized and haunted by what had happened there. And then, after it was published, when she was already very vulnerable, she was deluged by vicious, personal, threatening hatemail.

Towards the end, she got a book on the best way to commit suicide. The book recommended, in part, committing suicide in a car on an out-of-the-way, rural road, because then you would be more likely to be found by professionals than by innocent civilians. Iris shot herself, alone, in her car, on a mountain road, and died there alone, so she would not be found by innocent civilians. She was married with a small child.

This is a woman who sacrificed her own well being to testify about the utter sadism that an invading army felt free to unleash upon a country of defenseless people. An invading army, by the way, belonging to a country which is currently rich and powerful and has been historically loath to even talk about the topic, much less take any kind of responsibility. A country with some very patriotic people plus a whole lot of Japanophiles who would have been happy to see her ripped to shreds.

And she was set on this course by her deep compassion at seeing 70 year old photos of the rapes of other, anonymous women.

Maybe there would be a way to depict her death, in a photo, that had some kind of artistic or intellectual merit. But to get a random model, spruce up her lips with some hot red lipstick, and nearly fellate that gun.... to turn Iris fucking Chang's suicide and everything it was about into something the heterosexual male could find visually pleasing and almost erotic???? It boggles the mind. Who ARE these people???
posted by cairdeas at 8:26 PM on June 19, 2013 [25 favorites]


And of course, all of the photos say to women, "we are only interested in you for the way you look, if the way you look is visually interesting. And if even your suicide can be visually interesting or pleasurable to look at in some way, we are far more interested in that than anything you might have done with your brain." Saying that to THIS group of women, no less...
posted by cairdeas at 8:49 PM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


The vast majority of people who read about this issue will do so online. Vice - predictably - removed the photos, thus expunging the material as much as they could. If the photos were not republished in their entirety, nobody could appreciate the full extent of just how dodgy this photo shoot was.

Agreed. When Jezebel included the photographs in their article they documented them. I didn't have any problems with having them displayed on the Jezebel site rather than driving traffic to Vice by referencing them only textually.

In other news, I'm a member of the Virginia Woolf mailing list (I use "the" as it's linked to the Virginia Woolf Society, and most of the members are academics working on Woolf or her contemporaries) and the reaction there is pain and outrage. They're still coordinating letters of protest; the issue hasn't gone away just because Vice tried to wipe their site.
posted by jokeefe at 9:31 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Let's not tear at each other like this. When we reinforce the trope that white middle class feminists are just hysterical, superficial nitwits all worked up over petty bullshit, that doesn't help defend oppressed women. It helps the people who want to oppress women or just don't give a shit about it, because then they can say "these stupid battle-axes braying about nothing, they should take their Prozac and shut up…

I think you're kidding yourself if you think the people you're describing actually listen to you when you "tear at each other". Also, I think this idea that you're on a team of feminists against a kind of team of sexists is adversarial fantasy.

And of course, all of the photos say to women…

It's not the photos that say it to women, but it might be audience that values the photos over the writing of these women. What should the artist have done— Stand on the street corner selling copies of "To the Lighthouse"?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 9:31 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, I think this idea that you're on a team of feminists against a kind of team of sexists is adversarial fantasy.

You mean Hannity, Beck, Palin, O'reilly, Gingrich, Santorum, Savage, Murdoch, Limbaugh, etc., etc., and etc. are all figments of my imagination?

Whew, thank God!
posted by jamjam at 12:01 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


When one interprets people one disagrees with as a team of adversaries it reveals reductionism. It shows that you're not really listening to any one person, but reducing their varied messages to a single oversimplified message. It's bad enough to do that to other people, but then to do that to yourself by putting yourself on a team — well, you might as well take a picture of yourself and add it to the posted album!
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:18 AM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


plus a specific incident in which Jezebel behaved in an extremely repugnant manner towards an anonymous mefite.

Why did i go read that. Why. If you, internet traveler, don't know what's being talked about here and haven't seen it... Then you should probably at least skim this MeTa.

Real salt of the earth people over there at Jezebel.

It's like just about every other month i hear about either some new situation that some gawker site has farted all over, or an old one i missed at the time. There's just so many. They're like team rocket or some other cartoon villain squad, they just show up and fire up their missing the point machine or just are generally a value subtract to anything they get involved in.

It's kind of amazing. I got to this point and i was seriously just going "Nuh uh, NUH UHHH" at my screen.
posted by emptythought at 1:08 AM on June 20, 2013


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