In quick succession Vice has just done both the most and least stereotypically Vice-y things ever. First up they published a fashion editorial as part of their Fiction issue that depicted a series of famous women authors at the moment of their suicides, including Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, and others. Edgy stuff, to be sure, but nothing too out of the ordinary for the controversial brand (who I’ve written for, and have long-admired, I should point out). But then, following an overwhelming backlash online, they pulled their most shocking move yet: they took it down and apologized, releasing the following statement today:
“Last Words” is a fashion spread featuring models reenacting the suicides of female authors who tragically ended their own lives. It is part of our 2013 Fiction Issue, one that is entirely dedicated to female writers, photographers, illustrators, painters, and other contributors.
The fashion spreads in VICE Magazine are always unconventional and approached with an art editorial point-of-view rather than a typical fashion photo-editorial one. Our main goal is to create artful images, with the fashion message following, rather than leading.
“Last Words” was created in this tradition and focused on the demise of a set of writers whose lives we very much wish weren’t cut tragically short, especially at their own hands. We will no longer display “Last Words” on our website and apologize to anyone who was hurt or offended.
Offending people is essentially Vice‘s raison d’etre. I’m frankly more offended that they bowed to the pressure from concern trolls than I was by the original editorial itself. As Jezebel chided:
Another example of Vice‘s subtle wit? The spread is called “Last Words.” Making light of suicide and underlying mental health problems — or treating those topics as an opportunity to establish your so-edgy-it’s-Viacom-and-HBO-affiliated magazine’s continued capacity to épater le bourgeois — is sick, sick stuff.
And while time doesn’t necessarily lessen the grief of suicide, it’s perhaps especially distressing that some of the people Vice depicts died very recently — Chang in just 2004 — leaving still-living loved ones behind. These weren’t fictional characters; these were real women, who lived and struggled and died, and to treat their lowest moments as fodder for a silly fashion spread is shameful and sad.
Sick, sick stuff indeed, all of which you can only now see at sites like Jezebel—who are, again, offended by these images—or in our spread above, because suicide is sexy and we obviously want to condone it.
Not sure I want to live in a media climate where Vice, or The Onion for that matter, have to apologize and retract something for being offensive. I’m going to kill myself.
To learn more about the authors depicted check out some of their best works.
Dorothy Parker’s Enough Rope.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper.
Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.
Virginia Woolf’s The Waves.
Elise Cowen’s Poems and Fragments (forthcoming).
Sanmao’s The Stories of the Sahara.
Photos and styling by Annette Lamothe-Ramos and Annabel Mehran.