Stylized Suicide For Page-views

Jun 18 2013 @ 5:39pm

“Maximum trolling” is how Michele Filgate characterizes “Last Words,” Vice‘s June fashion spread depicting models as famous female writers, such as Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, at the time of their suicides. Vice removed the photos from the website today, but not before igniting heated debate. Filgate fumes:

When should art infuriate, and when is something just so offensive that it’s not even art? Art can and at times should be provocative — there’s no doubt about that. Yet this isn’t art. This is an editorial decision to get more pageviews — and perhaps to appear cool and above outrage, while simultaneously stoking it — and it’s more pathetic than anything else. … If we glorify suicide, we’re contributing to the problem. We’re also making light of an incredibly painful subject—one that many people are way too familiar with.

At Jezebel, which republished the photos, Jenna Sauers emphasizes that “suicide is not a fashion statement”:

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 — [Iris] 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.

Stacey Goguen provides links for those who would like to learn more about suicide or are personally affected by suicidality. Rebecca Wait elaborates on the danger of trivializing the subject:

Glamourising suicide is deeply irresponsible. As the [British support organization] Samaritans’ website states, “certain types of suicide reporting are particularly harmful and can act as a catalyst to influence the behaviour of people who are already vulnerable”. It points out that over 60 research papers have noted this link between the depiction of suicide in the media and imitative behaviour.

Helen Lewis believes Vice‘s display warrants further condemnation:

As a journalist, covering suicide is always hard because there is a fine line between raising awareness of a vital public health issue and contributing to a spectacle that could harm vulnerable people. Which of those two was the feminist website Jezebel doing when it decided to republish Vice‘s pictures, alongside outraged commentary? And have the thousands of tweets on the subject, not to mention this article, simply told Vice that it has found a tender spot in our collective consciousness, which it can jab to great effect?

I don’t have the answer to that and it is easy to find things to be outraged about these days. But this one is worth being angered by, because tonight, there might be one less Vice reader in the world.

That reader won’t be Ryan Kearney, who thinks critics are “overstat[ing] Vice‘s influence in the real world” and is surprised that editors took down the online photos:

The critics will claim victory, but Vice has won again: “Last Words” got all the pageviews it was going to get, and now the company can appear to care about giving offense. Meanwhile, readers are rushing out to get their hands on a print copy. I hope it doesn’t inspire anyone to hurt themselves, but if it does, I won’t blame Vice.