Sunday, January 21, 2007

VICE, The Fiction Issue

Vice magazine, first time I’ve seen an issue in a good six months or something, maybe more. Since I don’t currently live in New York, L.A., or London, I only get them when a friend gives or sends me one. (Guess I should check the website more often, since you can actually download them for free.) But one thing I immediately noticed was a letter in this issue’s Mail section – a gushing, over-serious ass-kiss (“This is not an ass-kiss,” it begins) from a 37-yr-old man who actually deems it necessary to stipulate, “I am not a part of Vice’s demographic.” The letter-writer is, “however, always drawn to your magazine because it shows a side to society that us comfortably numb old farts can peer into and then ponder the world around us.” It then goes on to laud Vice for its “bold and important” articles, “courage,” the “issues” it “highlights,” etc. The title the editors have given this short missive is “Averting Midlife Crisis.” Inexplicably (for anyone who has ever read the magazine around, say, the early 2000’s), they don’t make fun of this guy in the slightest and actually go so far as to answer, with no real trace of irony, “Thanks, old-timer.” Perhaps Vice has in a sense entered its own mid-life crisis. But then one could hardly expect it to maintain the same relentless style of attack after ten-plus years. But to see them openly accepting a comment about a “demographic” at all, much less tacitly admitting that a 37-yr-old guy might not be part of it, was a bit weird.

It was always well-known that advertising was a major part of the magazine, but it used to be that it was more just a vehicle which enabled them to do their own uncompromised and uncorrupted thing. Now we’ve got product placement in the “Tidbits” section. Believe it or not, underneath the item on the Clone-A-Pussy kit is a blatant promo for Canon’s Elph camera: “Call it brand loyalty but it seems like the Elph just keeps getting better and better...” Is it just me or does this stick out like a sore thumb? Well, at least they actually gave Jay-Z a bad review. On second thought, part of the reason seems to be because he’s too old! And meanwhile, Li’l Wayne gets the thumbs up (unbelievably termed “best rapper in the universe”) for lyrics like this: “Bitch I’m paid / that’s all I gotta say / can’t see you little niggas / the money in the way...” They actually quote this as a testament to his genius. Well, put me in the “old” category too then, because I’ll take almost any half-decent old-school rapper, or anyone who can come up with something at least slightly more original to say, over this. (I agree with them on the Clipse album though. As far as commercial rap goes, it’s not bad.)

But this is Vice’s Fiction Issue and a lot of the sorts of articles that normally would have been included aren’t here, in favor of short fiction pieces. So in some ways it’s hard to compare it to other issues, and it’s not got a lot to do with any supposed demographic. I was really surprised by the high quality of the writing they’ve published. Not because I’m down on Vice, because, let’s face it, despite my above criticisms it’s still the best magazine out there and the only one I would read on a regular basis with any real interest. Really it still is. And despite the occasional clunker, they always seem to come back with a great issue. Surprised just because frankly I don’t read a lot of contemporary fiction, being as preoccupied as I am with poetry and “non-contemporary” fiction. I have, however, read 57-yr-old Richard Hell before – his novel Go Now was pretty good I thought – and his piece here about early sex is too. Also included is a story by the almost 45-yr-old Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club. Sam Brumbaugh (40) conjures a weirdly claustrophobic sense in “Baron in Vegas,” a story about a guy selling his dead semi-famous uncle’s guitar to something like a Hard Rock Cafe. Harmony Korine’s (only 34) fictional (?) conversation between Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Clint Eastwood, though, comes off as rambling and a bit dull, but then probably how it would have gone down in real life. Another filmmaker, Neil LaBute (44) (who, unfortunately, directed that awful remake of The Wicker Man) has a really good story here, about an office racist. He gets into some pretty twisted shit (no pun intended) (you have to read it to know what I mean). And I have to mention Eileen Myles (57), a really interesting figure, a punk poet who’s been doing a lot of great stuff since the 70’s – “Tapestry” is no exception, a brief chronicle of certain erotic adventures, which she likens to “a procession of beaver shots.” Speaking of poets, when is Vice going to do a poetry issue? Or have they already and I missed it?

Anyway, I could go on, because almost every story in here is really, really good. Sorry for those I left out, but after starting off criticizing, all of the sudden I notice all I’m doing now is saying how amazing this issue is. But alright, one last kudo – as always the photography is great too, not least the cover pic of the Strand Bookstore by Roe Ethridge (age 37). Enough.

1 comment:

Joel W. said...

Well put, Mike. I guess it's not such a bad thing that I can't find that rag anymore. I like how you pointed out the ages of the fictional writers vs. the "demographic" Vice suggests.

..after all, without the old we wouldn't have the new, right?
or.. there's no good without evil.