Can Vice Media Improve?

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When I was in highschool, the platform, Vice, was considered cool, alternative, and explorative. For those who don’t know, Vice is a platform for original reporting and documentaries. They brand themselves as “the counterculture,” as they state on the About page of their website. Most people might know about Vice as a platform that features stories about far-off cultures and places that Vice has construed as interesting and weird. For example, I watched one of their documentaries about Japan’s cuddle cafes. This Vice investigative reporting involved a white guy by the name of Ryan Duffy (who studied journalism at New York University) going to Japan to check out a strange and far-flung part of Japanese culture, and then filming a short documentary depicting him reacting to immersion into it.

Duffy begins the documentary discussing Japan’s role as a rising “world power” and other aspects of its evolving nationhood, including the ‘dilemma’ that the population had become stagnant in growth. He cites the reason for this plateau in population growth to be that Japanese people are no longer engaging in intimacy with one another. The Vice documentary attempts to explore what they call the “Japanese Love Industry” to investigate the ways in which this ‘phenomenon’ materializes.

If you’ll watch the documentary for yourself, you might understand the fuller picture of what I am trying to get at here: the Vice platform brands itself on an edgy, explorative, and alternative approach to journalistic reporting, but underlying its approach is a stark Eurocentrism–or, the bias toward white, western culture as superior–that is clear in the stories it chooses to report and the way that it reports them. As I suggested earlier, this Eurocentrism is also at times apparent in the dynamics between the reporter and the community or culture of the reporter’s story.

It is problematic that Vice brands itself as a “counterculture” because that image prevents them from being associated with the harms of what are considered more ‘traditional’ aspects of dominant white and western culture. This branding as alternative which can operate to deflect accountability is not just a company matter–it occurs with people and smaller communities as well. I am not the only person to note the falsity of image that Vice presents, however, of claiming edginess and simultaneously their tolerance presented as political liberalism.

The Independent also reported on the matter, specifically with regards to issues of sexual misconduct and a patriarchal office culture at Vice. The article, entitled “Vice Media Apologises for ‘Boy’s Club’ Culture that Fostered Sexual Harassment: ‘We Let Far Too Many People Down,’” discusses the way that the company is famed for “its hipster style and digital savvy,” while it has “failed to protect women staff from sexual harassment and misconduct.” This article itself fails to interrogate its own patriarchal framing of the matter, in its insinuation that it’s on the male co-founders to “protect women” rather than to challenge the broader structure of gender norms and rape culture (and, with that, cis-ness). However, it presents the perspectives of a number of people at the company who share their experiences with its problematic culture.

And, this past week, I have realized the products of Vice’s false, dangerous image for myself. I do not necessarily believe that a platform like Vice can grow or improve in the hands of the same people who have filled its positions over the years. I believe that it has the potential to transform, if it starts to uplift and employ more marginalized writers and artists, and relinquish for themselves the power to propagate Eurocentric narratives branding themselves as different than the rest.

 

  • Andrew Wilcox

    Hi Ayesha,

    Thank you for writing this. I’ve been with Vice for three years. I currently work in operations for Vice News, which produces the Vice on HBO weekly documentary show, an evening HBO newscast called Vice News Tonight, and ViceNews.com. I gradated from Bates in 2011, and like you, I once served as Managing Forum Editor for the Bates Student.

    So when this article appeared in my google alerts this morning, you can imagine my surprise.

    I’d love to chat with you about this article if that’s of any interest. Without a doubt, Vice warrants critique in certain respects, and there is room to get better and grow. (And in these ways, to be sure, it is not unique.) But it too deserves some credit, and it’s quite possible your opinion would transform given more information and a different perspective.

    Because for whatever it may be worth, I can assure you that Vice is an organization befitting an alumnus of an institution as wonderful and thoughtful as Bates.

    Again, pleasure to see these worlds collide.

    Cheers

    • Ayesha Sharma

      Hi Andrew. I’d love to chat to share the other side of my perspective with you as well, and to hear yours. My critiques of Vice are direct, but they are that way for numerous reasons. My email is asharma@bates.edu if you’re interested in reaching out further.

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