Hi, I'm Ben Hazell. I used to blog here about the media, but now I work there I don't write here anymore.
I'm the Web Publishing Editor at - I find better ways to tell stories, developing tools, training and practice for journalists.

You can also find me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, LibraryThing, Spotify, and occasionally writing on

The Blog

Rarely updated now, used during Journalism MA at the University of Sheffield.


Friday, 2 November 2007
One of the few publications I regularly look forward to is Vice magazine. I'm not sure if that's something I should admit, let alone link to. I wouldn't want to be seen with a copy and I'd think twice before I wrote for them. But I definitely want to read it.

If you've never encountered Vice, you can take a look online and see what you think. Better, get a paper copy. Around Sheffield you might find it in Record Collector or The Harley; but you'll have to be lucky and patient as the free copies don't last long. We're talking independent record stores and bars that sell urban art if you want to find it elsewhere. It's free, but printed and bound at a quality that few of its expensive peers can match. Each issue feels like something you hoard and display. Even it's scarcity adds value, copies being passed around and discussed.

I'm not going to dig into the history of Vice, it's growth into a multimedia brand, or the influence it's had on trendy publishing. I'm just thinking about the issues I've read in the last few years: what Vice magazine is now.

There are two ways I find Vice exciting; it's irreverence and it's sincerity. Each issue pitches you around like a gypsy fairground ride, from the heights of despairing honesty, to the twists of dark nihilism. A sample issue might contain photo-profiles of wounded Vietnamese children alongside fashion advice that pushes ironic misogyny beyond any limits. The last issue I picked up contained a fashion shoot of women whose partners had been shot dead in the UK. Each portrait was accompanied by their memories of the deceased, and notes on what the models were wearing. I find it hard to take a position on something like that. It makes me uncomfortable.
In Vice, pornography and tragedy masquerade as art, and postmodernism justifies any excess. It's... difficult. There's so much wrong with it. And yet, it works.

I think there's a gulf between the way my generation talks and the way it's allowed to talk. I doubt this is new. Vice begins to break this down, and that feels new. This is how people talk when they think nobody's listening. It feels unrestrained. Sometimes it's funny, sometimes offensive. Dressing offensive language in irony doesn't make it ok; usually it makes it worse because it inhibits the right of reply. I know this. But some things I find funny, and some I find offensive, and I know that each time I've made a judgement on the content, someone else might have judged differently. Vice is offensive, but freely offensive. It's largely indiscriminate in giving offence, testing the limits of acceptability with it's content. Sometimes it annoys me, and sometimes I laugh, complicit in bad taste.

I'm worried I'm trying to defend something here that many people will simply find too uncomfortable to bother with. There is a reason though. Inside Vice, running counterpoint to all the offensive posturing, is real, vibrant journalism; journalism that excites me with a passion for sincerity and understanding, journalism that makes me want to find similar quiet voices and get them heard. That's what I really want to talk about. But I don't think the sincerity would be quite so affecting without being embedded in so much unsettling content.

End of part one. Part two should arrive soon.


Debutante said...

'Dressing offensive language in irony doesn't make it ok; usually it makes it worse because it inhibits the right of reply.'

Very true, which is why I generally dislike comedians who use irony and 'postmodernism' for those reasons. (Talking of which, I saw Jimmy Carr crossing the road with a coffee the other day.) And yet I also love [what I have seen of] [i]Vice[/i].

And it does sometimes feel (though I think this is because all magazines aimed at a specific gender thrive on doing down 'the other'), but at least it is also well written, unlike other magazines that attempt to be ironic and are just plain offensive (Nuts, Zoo et al). I also don't think it completely isolates the female reader. Did you ever read [i]Jack[/i] magazine'? Best lads' mag ever - sadly folded.

Anyway, nice article :) and I love your Iran piece - sounds like an amazing trip.

H said...

Great piece that really articulates the awkwardness of 'Vice'. I feel the same, and as a woman, am perhaps even more uncomfortable with some of the content. I instinctively want to hate it, but I don't.

I was irritated by the 'dead partners' piece that you mention. I saw no point to it except titilation and, probably more importantly, achingly cool shock value. I wonder if the subjects knew exactly what they were posing for.

Ben said...

Odd, Debutant... I've never got the impression that there was anything ironic about Nuts and Zoo. But they're covered up in my Uni shop now so I can ignore them.
And H, I'd have dismissed the dead partners piece if it hadn't been supported by a gun crime charity. I'd like to know what their motivations were. In fact; I might ask them!

And I will remember to post part 2 about Vice in the morning. Yes...

Post a Comment

Thoughts, please. Leave your name, don't be shy.

/* Google Analytics */