From The Archive
Anne Elizabeth Moore
No. 24  January 2014

The Vertically Integrated Rape Joke

 The triumph of Vice 

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Thirteen-year-old Milly Dowler, a perky schoolgirl from Surrey, England, never intended to be the undoing of mighty News Corp. The global media conglomerate—famously helmed by expat Australian Rupert Murdoch—had, in Dowler’s day, owned or held major shares in more than 250 separate media companies worldwide, including newspapers, film studios, radio stations, book publishers, and cable and television networks. But one spring afternoon in 2002, the tawny-haired tween set off a sequence of events that would end Murdoch’s beloved company. (Spoiler alert: He gets his vengeance.)

That Thursday, Dowler, in her school’s required mini-and-tie uniform, left campus with a pal, grabbed a snack, and disappeared. White girl in distress? This was News of the World’s beat. The Murdoch-owned British tabloid—his first media acquisition outside of Australia—was then in the midst of a salacious run of features outing accused pedophiles. The series started after the murder of eight-year-old Sarah Payne by a convicted sex offender in 2000; the paper’s track record of publishing the names and photographs of rumored sex offenders without attribution or verification prompted police officials to denounce the vigilante-style coverage as “grossly irresponsible” and resulted in more than one violent attack on an innocent. Dowler’s disappearance made the perfect follow-up, and the rag’s coverage spawned so much media attention that southern U.K. grade-schoolers were under claustrophobic parental supervision for months.

When Dowler’s body was discovered a half-year later, the disappearance was reclassified as a murder. It would be six more years before police identified a suspect—and nine total before Levi Bellfield was convicted of the crime. An aggressive, pudgy man, Bellfield had a history of asking girlfriends to dress up as schoolgirls, of driving past bus stops and leering at tweens, of threatening blondes with violence, and of sexual assault. By 2011 he had already been convicted of the murders of two young women and the attempted murder of a third.

During the trial, the Guardian reported that the girl’s voicemail had been hacked close to a decade earlier by a private investigator on contract with News of the World. Other phone taps emerged—of Prince William and Sarah Payne’s mother, among many others. Scandalous headlines, even in the non-tabloid press, voiced the mounting public outrage over the intrusion of privacy the paper had committed against victims of violent crime. Blame kept finding new perches. Reporters were fired, and editors quit; executives got arrested. Police, and then members of Parliament, were implicated. Even James Murdoch—Rupert’s son and then-CEO of News Corp.’s Europe and Asia operations—was later revealed to have given a former footballer $1.4 million USD in hush money, proving that corruption and malfeasance went all the way to the top of Murdoch’s empire.

To date, the Guardian reports 79 arrests relating to alleged bribes of public officials associated with the scandal. Investigations into phone hacking have yielded 24 arrests, and computer-hacking inquiries have yielded 21. Yet even with 124 players implicated so far, the full contours of the scandal have yet to emerge. (Under British law, an arrest can come early in an investigation, well before charges are brought.) News of the World shuttered operations in 2011 amid the scandal’s worst revelations, but parent company News International, now called News UK, has so far agreed to settle 130 of the 167 civil damages claims filed by 180 individuals. Total payout figures are not yet known, although a settlement to the Dowlers in the range of $3.2 million was discussed, and Murdoch has said he’d donate another $1.6 million to charity in their names. Last year a nearly $1 million settlement was paid to phone-hacking victim and songstress Charlotte Church. Metropolitan Police at one point estimated that News Corp. had tapped at least 5,795 phones over the course of its scoop-driven surveillance campaign, though the official count was later revised downward to 4,744.

Fallout from the phone-hacking scandal didn’t end when News of the World did, however, and eventually the steady stream of sordid revelations cost Murdoch the chance to close on a takeover bid for BSkyB, a British satellite broadcaster he owned a stake in. More drastic action was needed, and Murdoch took it. This past summer, News Corp. officially split into two companies: the entertainment arm was dubbed 21st Century Fox, and the print-heavy news division became just plain News Corp (no period). The scandal would—finally—be referred to in the past tense.

In accord with Murdoch’s agenda were the opinionistas, who quickly named a new culprit: society. The Guardian revealed in 2011 that within a month of Dowler’s death a decade earlier, a News of the World reporter had played Surrey police the girl’s voicemail messages. It was a crime, yet police did nothing. Some viewed the collusion between the Surrey cops and Murdoch’s paper as a misguided quest for solidarity in pursuance of Dowler’s killer; others suggested that the police feared reprisal from the media outlet. The lamentations came quick and served to normalize the illegal surveillance of crime victims for profit: the culture, all agreed, had changed.

In accord with Murdoch’s agenda were the opinionistas, who quickly named a new culprit: society.

Few held News of the World—or Murdoch in particular—responsible for implementing that change. Meanwhile, Murdoch’s empire continued to do everything in its power to erode integrity both on the micro scale (via violations of privacy and bribes to cops) and the macro (by using relationships with top-level government officials to influence policy), although press coverage of the true criminal proportions of both trespasses can be hard to track down. (A search through the archives of the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal, for example, turns up only a smattering of hits about the allegations surrounding its owner.)

In a long litany of abuses of the public trust, this may not be the most damaging cultural shift that the Murdoch enterprise is responsible for. Yet it’s impossible to overlook the similarities between the lurid upskirt journalism of News of the World and Bellfield’s schoolgirl obsession. In the former, very young women’s bodies were violated, both in the public imagination (on the pages of the tabloid) and in practice (through phone taps). In the latter, very young women’s bodies were violated by a man who was serially raping and murdering them. During the period of public alarm over Bellfield’s crimes, News of the World was offering most of the imaginable details (and then some) of sex offenders’ predations on its front page, with a consistency, reach, and volume few other tabloids approached.

If Murdoch and crew capitalized on and cultivated a downward shift in the ethics of the U.K. police force and government officials, does it not stand to reason that they may also have lowered the U.K. standard of culturally appropriate behavior toward young women’s bodies?

If so, we ain’t seen nothing yet.

Edge Comes of Age

Culture may have changed; Rupert Murdoch’s empire, in many ways, didn’t. Following the split, the patriarch continued to run both newly created media entities—and as 21st Century Fox’s first major acquisition in the wake of the scandal made clear, the illicit voyeurism that ended News of the World would remain standard operating procedure for the Murdoch machine. The entertainment division would simply do so with more hipster cred—5 percent of “edgy” Vice Media, in fact, which Murdoch took home for a cool $70 million in August 2013.

Jaded observers compared the Vice deal to News Corp.’s $580 million purchase of Myspace in 2005, just as the social-networking site began taking heavy hits from upstart Facebook. The money-losing enterprise sold to Specific Media and Justin Timberlake six years later for $35 million—6 percent of what News Corp. had paid for it—and Murdoch seems to have learned something about the Internet in the meantime. (New York magazine points out, for example, that he learned how to use email around 2010.)

Although Vice started as a print mag, the company found its niche online. The top story on Vice.com around the time of the 21st Century Fox sale was “Kings of Cannabis” (subhead: “You might not know who Arjan Roskam is, but you’ve probably smoked his weed”). Content-wise, this was a departure for Murdoch, whose portfolio of headlines at News of the World tended to implicate media stars and royalty, rather than readers, in drug use. (“Shamed TV star Leslie is caught snorting cocaine” and “Harry’s drugs shame” ran the headlines on two such dispatches in 2002.) Yet Vice Media does sit on the young-ish end of the tabloid continuum, and as Andrew Neil, former editor of the Murdoch-owned Sunday Times, told Frontline of his former boss, “tabloids is what really gets him out of bed in the morning. . . . Not journalism—tabloid journalism is in his veins.”

For Vice CEO Shane Smith, forty-three, the alliance with eighty-two-year-old Murdoch was a coming-of-age moment. The Vice operation started in Canada as a magazine called the Voice of Montreal; founders Smith, Gavin “Godfather of Hipsterdom” McInnes, and recovering heroin addict Suroosh Alvi claim they went on the government dole in 1994 to fund the glossy, ad-heavy, free publication. (In one of the many examples of how Vice’s brand of self-promotional authenticity doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, the Ryerson Review of Journalism reported that the trio borrowed start-up money from their parents.)

Renamed Vice, the magazine became available in the United States two years later; the staff joined it stateside in 1999, first opening an office and storefronts in Manhattan, then moving operations to Brooklyn shortly thereafter. Today Vice Media’s tidy empire claims magazine distribution in twenty-seven countries, print circulation of 1.2 million, and pass-along rates of 5.6 readers per copy. In sum, Vice claims a print readership of more than 7 million (although these numbers are self-reported), together with around 15 million unique web hits per month. The company is more than an ad rag and its companion site, however. It is, to quote from its own heavy-breathing 2013 press kit, a “360, MULTI-PLATFORM, VERTICALLY INTEGRATED, GLOBAL MEDIA BRAND”—including a record label originally launched with Atlantic Records; a book publishing arm; the marketing concern Virtue; an ever-evolving series of themed, sponsored websites; retail stores; and VBS.tv, a video partnership formed with Viacom and CNN.com, now going it alone as an online channel integrated into the Vice brand. (VBS was another, albeit more deliberate, example of failed authenticity; its letters don’t stand for anything, but it does sound kind of broadcasty.)

Accounts of Vice’s first nineteen years are not long on reliable narration. The juvenile company’s early days are a hazy mix of pud-pulling and boundary-testing, limited in imagination only by an unformed frontal lobe. Founders might pin the absence of clarity on rampant drug use, but confusion about Vice Media often stems from straight-up lies: Smith is usually identified as their originator, but before departing in 2008, McInnes did his part to establish the venture on an unsolid bed of gaseous ooze, the aroma of which still clings to the company’s stolid attempts at Serious Journalism. (“Eric Andre Told Us About the 300-Pound Stripper at His Birthday Party” is a headline story on Vice.com as I write this.)

The Gonzo Gambit

Vice was built on lies,” Wired’s Jason Tanz stated bluntly in 2007. These started as self-promotional fibs about big-media lawsuits and big-money investors—that the Village Voice was suing Smith and friends, for example, which never happened—but soon became journalistic fabrication. “They also published fake interviews with car thieves and hooligans who set homeless people on fire, and later ran a gag announcement that they had discovered Osama bin Laden in China’s Pamir Mountains,” Tanz writes. (I recently tried to parse a short video series on the Cambodian garment trade, but inaccuracies mingled so freely with false assumptions, leaps in logic, and inappropriate, sensationalistic footage of transwomen that a fact-check seemed futile.) If the content hasn’t matured much, at least the company’s response to allegations of prevarication has. Smith and crew originally distanced themselves from journalism; later they called the more ballsy falsehoods gags. Then Smith realized that “instead of talking about sneakers, we could talk about real issues,” as he told Spike Jonze for Interview earlier this year. That’s when the stunts became “stunt journalism.”

Lie becomes joke becomes stance: the evolution of form is mirrored by readers’ decreasing attention spans in the Internet age. But the company’s manic quest for a business model that distances creators and funders from the content engenders a lack of critical engagement among its consumer base; it also sidesteps the core practices of journalism. In this through-the-looking-glass world of brand-domination-through-truth-bending, the usual questions that govern an investigative reporting project can also be turned on the company proper: Who is accountable?

For Vice Media, accountability takes a back seat to accounts payable: the company’s estimated total value, based on the Murdoch empire’s buy-in, is $1.4 billion. The metric of success is “clicks” over “paper sales”—a clear, and discomfitingly natural, extension of tabloid news values into the digital sphere. Under this logic, nothing matters but the bottom line. However, the genius of the Vice model is that the bottom line, too, has been outsourced: Smith has acted as content supplier for a host of entertainment and journalistic outlets seeking to burnish their hipster accreditation, such as CNN, HBO, Warner Bros., and Viacom. This means that Vice Media’s primary, if not exclusive, responsibility is to attract attention.

For Vice Media, accountability takes a back seat to accounts payable.

Accountability, Smith might say, is for crybabies. “Money isn’t the report card,” he told the Guardian in March. That’s reserved for “clicks,” both the motivator and the reward in a media ecosystem without broadcast licenses or cover prices—two outdated systems that, however ineffective, promote at least the appearance of media accountability to a viewing or reading public. The real goal, in Smith’s words, is “putting your imprint on the world’s cultural fabric”—a different game entirely. (Later, in Interview, he amended this goal, suggesting instead that the company’s allegiance to the media profession was purely corporate in nature: “We’re the same as Time Warner. We’re the same as Bertelsmann or Viacom. . . . If anyone asks me what we are, we’re a media company.”)

Money may not be the report card, but that’s only because it claims pride of place as the full-blown curriculum. Here’s how Gavin McInnes chose to explain the set-up back in 1999: “This is the first time young people have had a revolution that involves them getting paid.”

True enough. Even then, the glossy magazine was packed with ads, and distributed for free in retail clothing stores. The reader of Vice was always its commodity, but the social engineering behind the magazine ensured that at least some nominal part of the profits went into a big party the reader got invited to anyway. Who cares who was being sold out, so long as the revolutionaries were all getting lai—oops, paid?

White Supremacy as Usability Study

Nowadays, this payday-as-legitimate-media-enterprise structure is nakedly visible in Vice’s marketing arm, Virtue Worldwide. None of that joke-or-journalism stuff here: Virtue simply offers Vice Media up for sale. A blurb from Creativity Magazine explains, “The major selling point of Virtue . . . is that it already has a standing army of writers, photographers, artists and producers making cool stuff of their own, why not use them to tell your brand’s story?” Below this—although no fees are noted—are listed all the imaginable services that a multimedia company could provide. (Including entire news-like sites that consistently favor the client’s brand.) Also listed are capabilities such as “Focus Groups,” “Usability Studies,” “Experiential,” “Street-Level Network,” and “On-The-Street”—all fitting the general category of “Just Give Us Stuff To Hand Out To Our Cool Friends.”

But before you call it a revolution (or even just punk rock), check out a few of the companies on the roster of sponsors and partners: MTV, Intel, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), William Morris, Dell, media communications firm WPP, HBO, and media merchant bank The Raine Group. Vice Media is DIY only in the sense that forms for corporate control over content on this scale have not yet been invented, and about as “Fuck You” as a brand-new mass-produced T-shirt, available for $19.99 exclusively from Hot Topic. (Even this joke is stale; that’s how little authenticity Vice Media inspires.)

Vice is, however, “edgy” as a marketing ploy, following an utterly predictable strategy to afford loud, mostly white, mostly dudes yet more license in culture to act out at will, to acclaim but little consequence. In practical terms, as any cursory search of the content at Vice.com will show, “edgy” means “racist” and “sexist”—sometimes by accident, although often not.

Take Dave Schilling’s ongoing “This Week in Racism” column, which defends or decries various cultural moments elsewhere labeled racist. The listicles begin to point to a general American inability to articulate real fears around race, but the dos-and-don’ts approach to often nuanced instances of oppression serves to shut down cultural discussions of race that may prove fruitful, while evidently also providing rhetorical cover for the re-presentation of genuinely, unabashedly racist content. Vice’s defenders will note that Schilling isn’t white himself, and claim that the representation amounts to an all-encompassing racism—no one gets out unoffended—but the slurs that stick are not about white people, nor do they fully challenge the snarky white supremacy Vice has developed a reputation for parroting. In 2003 McInnes told New York Times reporter Vanessa Grigoriadis, “I love being white. . . . We need to close the borders now and let everyone assimilate to a Western, white, English-speaking way of life.”

Vice is, however, “edgy” as a marketing ploy.

In the interview—rumored to have lead, ultimately, to his separation from the company in 2008—McInnes denounced the idea of sexual consent and suggested women want to be dominated. Such faux-edgy assertions amount to a rank misogyny McInnes recently made explicit in a spot on HuffPost Live. During the proceedings, he called a female panelist a “fucking idiot” who, along with the audience, refused to understand that women “naturally want to” stay at home to have babies instead of entering the workforce. Such views would be easier to dismiss as just another of Vice’s triple-gainer brand of anti-anti-hip postures if the company’s underlying dismissal of women’s intellectual capacity weren’t such a freely trumpeted feature of the site—and one reason the print magazine is banned from the occasional bookstore and college campus. Of the mere handful of women featured in Vice.com stories on Sept. 29, one is called “slutty” and another a “crybaby”; there is an offer to stage a mud-wrestling match between Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding; and a photo of a girl approximately the same age as Milly Dowler accompanies a first-person tale of rape and abuse. (No phone tap necessary here.)

The hardline masculine epistemologies that the site indulges so reflexively go hand in hand with real labor issues. According to one count, Vice features about 73 percent male contributors and about 27 percent female. Once you toggle over to the NSFW section of the site—that’s its real name—content is rife with dudes’ “stunt journalism” accounts of things they’ve done to humiliate sex workers. And recent allegations against Terry Richardson, the photographer credited with solidifying the magazine’s aesthetic—overlit, underclad young white women simulating sexual pleasure, mostly, with Richardson occasionally stepping into the frame to give a thumbs-up—have him sexually harassing models. Jamie Peck, who sat for him when she was nineteen, wrote on The Gloss in 2010 that he’d asked her to remove her tampon so he could make tea with it; he then proceeded to remove his own clothes and request a hand job from her, while an assistant continued photographing the scene.

The mag’s become known as the Hipster Bible for preaching a jaded worldview, and into such cynicism any combination of products may be injected and celebrated, for a fee. (The Vice-as-Bible meme also comes from another old joke, that the print version is everywhere, no one reads it, and you can’t get rid of it.) Products, however, can’t change what Vice is about—for Vice is about Vice, a media company for selfie-snappers. (Compare the gritty nekkid spreads and party shots to images in, say, Playboy or Maxim. The latter at least make a pretense of listing turn-ons.)

It’s no coincidence that eighteen-to-thirty-four-year-old “urban trendsetters” make up Vice Media’s target demographic, according to the media kit. These are the millennials, nudged into adulthood for legal boob-viewing purposes—the generation whose coming of age coincided with the removal of narcissism from the DSM-5. It’s a generation that Pew Research describes as less white than their elders but about six times as pierced, and less skeptical of government but more so of people in general. (Vice Media’s own skepticism led to the ousting of one female employee from a $250,000 social gathering she had helped plan.)

When Pew asked what makes them unique, millennials said: Technology use; Music/Pop culture; Liberal/Tolerant; Smarter; and Clothes. Previous generations gave values-based responses—Work ethic, Values/Morals, and Respectful—and every generation polled has said Smarter. So whether or not such answers make for an accurate accounting of “generational uniqueness,” a difference is clear: millennials responded to a question that previous generations have understood to be about intrinsic principles of behavior with two different forms of cultural production. Three, if you count “apps.”

We can read this as shallowness, or we can read it as millennials having gamed Pew’s plodding model of demographic inquiry. Because they’re right. Every generation’s clothes, music, technology, and pop culture are necessarily unique. My generation just lost points on the test by spewing some values-based claptrap that Smith—exactly my age—disproves.

Millennials, in other words, want to make an imprint on the world’s cultural fabric too, but the simple fact of managing to pin down that fabric and give it a thorough dye job seems to count for more than the substance of the design. Indeed, as I asserted in Unmarketable in 2007, the corporate adoption of independent modes of cultural production has left us with a deficit of integrity. The book was generally well received until last spring, when I got a flood of angry emails about it from young folks assigned it in a college course. My correspondents were appalled that I would delineate a meaningful difference between corporate and independent modes of production—and what’s more, they were downright furious that I would hold the latter in higher regard. Couldn’t I see, several young men some twenty years my junior demanded, that efforts to attract the largest possible mass of people by any means necessary were always virtuous?

This surely sounds harsh: some of my best friends, I swear, are millennials. And it’s almost certainly the case that the millennial set’s much-maligned displays of narcissism are rooted in other motivations. These are, after all, folks whose culture is created in large part by Murdoch’s shifty maneuverings and Vice’s kind of pseudo-journalism—not people, like Smith and myself, who recall a media environment before Jonah Lehrer, Mike Daisey, Jayson Blair, and @Horse_ebooks. We now live in a culture of increasingly hostile and invasive media, where getting consigned to an unsure economic future is a far more daunting prospect than getting caught in a lie. Another Pew study from 2013 showed that most teens take evasive measures to protect their privacy online: 58 percent of teens used codes to communicate on social media, and 26 percent deliberately posted false information about themselves to protect their privacy.

What I’m suggesting is not that young people are necessarily becoming more self-absorbed, as many have already, but that they may be abandoning truth-telling as a potential source of protection. I can’t really blame them: we’ve fostered a culture where fact-finding is anemic, but consumer products are doing just fine.

Shane, Come Back!

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact origins of the Murdoch-Smith bromance, but it likely began in May 2012, when Vice pranksters dispatched an unconvincing News Corp. exec lookalike and two dudes with slicked-back hair to disrupt a BBC interview on the Leveson Inquiry, the legal investigation into “the culture, practices and ethics of the press” sparked by the phone-hacking scandal. “We dressed a girl up as [former News of the World CEO] Rebekah Brooks and fucked around with the paparazzi this morning,” @ViceUK tweeted.

The telltale slippage here that casually merges news organizations with celebrity-chasing photographers should be noted for the record, but whether the Vice crew perceives a difference is of little consequence. The more pressing concern here is which party emerged from the prank onto the moral high ground—for once, it was News Corp. A journalist might have used a stunt like the one Vice pulled to gather observations; even a half-decent satirist would have found a message to impart beyond self-promotion. Yet while the Vice hoax drew momentary interest by dramatizing just how little the members of the tabloid pack could be counted on to know who they’re covering, the détournement ended there, adding only another layer of circus entertainment to the big-top-like proceedings.

Perhaps it enchanted the Australian expat. In October 2012 he tweeted from @RupertMurdoch that Vice Media was a “wild” and “global success” with “millenials [sic] who don’t read or watch established media.” The part of the avuncular mogul’s pineal gland that controls lust for market share had clearly been engaged, and the long string of replies to his fact-finding tweet foreshadowed the pending investment in no uncertain terms. When, three months later, the Fox News Network hit a twelve-year ratings low and began hemorrhaging young adult viewers, the solution must have seemed clear. For Smith’s part, the deal is a tremendous boon, offering untold new global reach to the Vice brand, with video distribution in the U.K., Italy, Germany, and India through 21st Century Fox’s Sky and Star networks.

The part of the mogul’s pineal gland that controls lust for market share had clearly been engaged.

Although separated by four decades, the two CEOs are not dissimilar. Following the acquisition of News of the World, his first offshore media outlet, Murdoch moved into the U.S. market in the 1970s, first with print, and then with broadcast and satellite television stations. He became a naturalized American citizen in 1985, a legal prerequisite to his purchase of the 20th Century Fox film studios and several independent television stations in major U.S. cities later that year. Media consolidation followed quickly: News Corp. affiliate stations then reached 22 percent of all households in the United States, and the FCC gave Murdoch on top of that a temporary waiver to operate both print and broadcast media in certain markets. Once licensing restrictions began to loosen—supported by op-eds in News Corp.-owned media—the affiliate stations combined to form the Fox Broadcasting Company in April 1987.

Smith brought Vice to the States just twelve years later, and the cultural fabric he intended to imprint at first blush seemed distinct. Smith learned to adapt soon enough, and it’s a safe bet that Murdoch furnished an attractive role model. Murdoch wanted traditional power, and his political chumminess bolstered his media market shares, a lesson not lost on the Vice Media impresario.

With heavy lobbying and support from on-again-off-again pals like Mario Cuomo, News Corp. has regularly won the suspension of FCC regulations that would have impeded Murdoch acquisitions. Similarly, Murdoch’s decision to hire former Nixon, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush senior media strategist Roger Ailes to run the Fox News Channel was well calculated (and, as Gawker suggests, may have indicated a longer-ranging GOP plan to create a free-standing media propaganda arm for the conservative movement). Smith has also begun hiring Washington insiders—though whether their chief mission will be to streamline the Vice mini-empire’s access to new global markets or to influence domestic policy remains to be seen. (His agent, Ari Emanuel, is the brother of Rahm, the foul-mouthed Chicago mayor currently privatizing public services with astonishing rapidity.) How this new lobbying offensive will comport with Vice’s recent hire of sixty new reporters equipped with Google Glass, who will “cover everything from Middle East war zones to health-care reform” (as the Wall Street Journal reported this November), is also unclear. In even more recent news, former News Corp. CEO James Murdoch, ousted in the phone-hacking scandal, just joined the board of Vice Media. It seems safe to assume that unseemly acts of corruption involving media moguls will probably be safe from Vice’s roving lens.

The cultural impact Smith covets comes across in Vice-choreographed stunts, like Kim Jong-un and Dennis Rodman watching a basketball game together on HBO’s dime. The stunts are presented as news, and phrases like “basketball diplomacy” have caught on to lend them the veneer of significance. But really, things have changed in the last fifteen years: Vice stopped inviting readers to the party.

Smith is now angling for a less traditional kind of power—the power to party anywhere and with anyone in the world. And don’t underestimate it. For what’s being celebrated is unchecked influence, and what we overlook in being told later how fun the party was is remembering to ask what really happened, or if indeed anything did.

There are plenty for whom the Murdoch-Smith party won’t be much fun to hear about. That’s because the surveillance of underage female victims of sexual violence really did happen, and clearly was News Corp.-sanctioned policy ten years ago. Harassment—verbal, from McInnes, and sexual, from Richardson—of young women continues among Vice alum today. The promise of Heineken and Ultimate Fighting Championship sponsorships that Smith brings to his partnership with Murdoch merely ups the stakes of such antics-slash-crimes. The rape joke has already been established as an all-but-official Vice brand. One posted on November 11 under “MILFs Anal Addiction” describes the attempts of an airline passenger to woo a celibate, born-again, tee-totaling flight companion by getting her rip-roaring drunk, only to be cock-blocked by—get this—her daughter! And her parents! All Christians! Coitus coercion interruptus. Sad trombone.

You might not find this amusing; you might find it downright boring. That’s because casual bigotry and misogyny for money’s sake aren’t new. They’re being marketed to millennials now—the kids today!—but even that gambit has grown old and stale.

Anne Elizabeth Moore is the author of, most recently, Cambodian Grrrl. She wrote for The Baffler no. 24 about Vice.

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