8:49 am Jul. 13, 20122
Can a book launch—that staid publishing tradition—ever be a Do?
Maybe if you minimize the book. On Wednesday night, Powerhouse Arena and Vice magazine hosted a party allegedly in celebration of the publication of the magazine’s second collected volume of Dos and Don’ts, but while the book’s cover was, at various points during the evening, projected on the wall, actual copies were hard to spot, though some were for sale by the door.
And yet, in many other ways—the tentative dancing, the long lines for free drinks—the launch did resemble a typical night at any of the city's staid bookstores.
That's the contradiction Vice is living right now—as an outfit that’s gaining journalistic legitimacy, while still relying to a certain extent on shock and debauchery. The reading, traditionally the centerpiece of such a launch, was brief, audio-visual, and largely ignored.
Dos and Don’ts is the magazine’s most well-known and often controversial feature, in which candid or street-fashion-style pictures are evaluated on an inscrutable fashion scale. In the latest issue, an adult man wearing a sparkly, star-studded party hat festooned with pink gauze is judged a Do, while a man in a powdered wig and the attendant eighteenth-century garb is a Don’t. Here, it’s all about the attitude: both Vice’s—sarcastic, even caustic—and the subject’s—is he or she obviously trying too hard? Trying not at all? Insane? Is the sincerity, the vulnerability, so palpable that it elicits disgust? Or admiration?
Sarah Cunningham, a music-industry publicist in attendance, claimed the feature was “to fashion criticism what posting a video of a monkey drinking his own urine to review the Jet album was to music criticism, when Pitchfork did it.” Her favorite Don’t, she recalled fondly, was a picture of a toddler dressed in a puffy jacket, unfavorably compared to a Michelin Man; she liked the extravagant aggressiveness of calling out a kid who likely didn't have any say in what he wore in the first place.
At the door, where Vice interns took turns checking the RSVP list, party-goers were given name-tag style stickers labeled with either “Do” (pink) or “Don’t” (black). What people chose to write in was appropriately absurd. Among the Don’ts spotted: “trying too hard,” “barnacles,” “balls,” and the clever "...you want me baby.” Among the Dos: “white Africa,” “fucks hard,” “cutter,” “Asian in lime? Yes”—this last stuck to the chest of a young asian woman in a lime green tank dress.
(I walked in without one, but was slapped with a Do later on by Cat Marnell, the very publicly troubled ex-beauty editor of xoJane and current Vice columnist. It read: “Earnest Ambition and Willa Cather Swag.”)
A quick scan of the room revealed a variety of more literal fashion Dos: shift dresses, bright lipstick, high-waisted shorts, floral patterns, voluminous cropped pants, cropped tops, see-through fabrics, partially shaved heads, anything made out of denim.
The party-goers also offered up personal lists.
For Sasha Hecht, the associate editor of Noisey, Vice’s music blog, the biggest Don’t was “social climbing and name dropping and being a person who is known for being a person known about town.”
For Angie Sullivan, a Vice designer, Dos were cashmere and leather in the winter, cutoffs and dresses in the summer. Her biggest Don’t at the moment: “guys with really short cutoffs and high socks.”
Juan, who gave off a thoroughly sedated vibe, was adamantly against tank tops.
Jessie, whose messy blonde hair and grungy aesthetic verged on “crust punk,” claimed to not have any of either category: “I don’t give a shit. I’d rather be a Don’t than a Do.” Then she reconsidered: “Don’t go to jail,” she laughed, before adding “I think the camel toe is going to come into style really hard. I think that’s going to be a super ‘Do’ in the future.”
Tess, a Noisey intern was specific: “Do wear Doc Martens all the time, and Cheap Mondays and Fred Perry and thrifted items. Don’t wear Uggs or Yoga Pants.”
The event's official voice for the “reading” portion of the evening—a computer slideshow—was Genesis P-Orridge, of Throbbing Gristle fame and a fixture in the avant-garde music and art scenes since the '60s. Hecht preferred to simply call P-Orridge a “famous shit-kicker.” P-Orridge was meant to present a human counterpart (both in personal style and attitude) to the Dos and Don'ts column, what Hecht called the magazine’s “controversial centerpiece." But, an hour into the launch, with free drinks flowing and the space filling quickly, it was difficult to hear over the crowd noise.
P-Orridge provided commentary as images from the book were projected onto one of PowerHouse Arena's walls (“Do be patriotic,” was the tongue-in-cheek caption to a Do that featured two scruffy lads, one wearing a tank top emblazoned with the British flag). P-Orridge, largely drowned out by the crowd, got annoyed.
“SHUT UP!” P-Orridge shouted, then tried reminding those gathered that “The first Don’t is, ‘Don’t talk so loud’” but it was a losing battle. P-Orridge spoke, barely audibly, for about 10 minutes, while images shifted above the heads of mostly oblivious party-goers.
This book launch comes at an interesting moment for Vice. As it gains more respect for its investigative, often video-based journalism, it is also grappling with its roots as a provocative, even deliberately offensive pop-culture magazine with a relatively small circulation. On the magazine’s homepage, an article about surviving a Phish concert with the help of MDMA sits next to an interview with the woman who launched a website documenting her abortion.
The near-crusty Jessie lamented the shift in the magazine.
“It’s dirty and raw and it’s been around forever,” she said, “but it’s not as good now as it used to be. It’s on a website, it’s not just, like, you know, the cool zine that you have to go find in a record store.”
Vice's editor-in-chief, Rocco Castoro, had a Do tag that acknowledged such sentiments; it read: “Funnier in 2002.”
For Sasha Hecht, the Dos and Don’ts harken back to “that core Vice feel which is putting shit out there and not caring what anyone thinks about it, and if you like it, great, and if you don’t you can go read Gawker or the New York Post or whatever.”
For Castoro, the magazine isn’t moving in one direction or in another; rather, its content exists on a continuum that reflects the way people live now. Think, he said, of the “modern human brain. So the best analogy I can make is if you have a web browser open, a normal twenty-something might have a story about Yemen, the most filthy porn imaginable in another tab, and a YouTube video that's stupid, and a recipe for fucking pickling green beans in the next one. So that’s your life.”
That’s what Vice aims to mimic, he said. His personal Dos and Don’ts? “Don’t lie,” he said this with wide, unblinking eyes, then paused, to let the words sink in. “Do have fun.”
Castoro recently hired Cat Marnell to write the column “Amphetamine Logic,” which has thus far, as its name suggests, been about Marnell’s struggles with drug abuse. He’s irritated that the question of why he hired her keeps coming up.
“The motivation is that she's a great writer,” Castoro said. He noted, correctly, that Marnell is hardly the first writer to write about drugs and debauchery; “maybe,” he posited, “the reason people are so interested in it right now is because everyone else is fucking boring. Or most people. Not everyone.”
Who isn’t boring?
“Whoever writes for Vice.”
Marnell was at the launch too, in a leopard-print top and a short, flimsy white skirt, sporting a Don’t sticker that read “Braless” (she did not appear to be wearing a bra). She was exceptionally thin, her eyes are spectacularly large, and she twitched with a nervous energy. It was impossible to deny her beauty—or her intelligence, her acute self-awareness and, finally, her helplessness.
“I have a deadline tonight, and I have no idea what I’m going to write, so I'm going to take a bunch of speed and stay up all night,” she said. Those weren’t the very first words out of her mouth, but they were close.
Marnell was perceptive about her own situation, but clearly caught in its contradictions: one moment she seemed fine with the fact that her column is drug-centric, saying, “the veneer of the beauty products is gone.” But in the next breath she admitted that she thought she would “really love to be able to do more features, but, you know, you kick yourself. I don't know what the phrase is, you basically, you fuck yourself over by being the drug-addict writer because people can't, like, trust you necessarily to do other things.... It's weird you get so narcissistic when all this stuff is happening, you start thinking about your life in terms of a story-line, you know, like what your arc is and when that will happen and how people will react but I don't think that way and I don't think in black and white. I don't think about getting sober or getting into AA. I think about getting off prescription pills but still being able to drink.... I don’t know what the answer is going to be for me.”
Her fashion Dos were more assured, though still in keeping with her persona.
“I think girls look best when they’ve been having sex all night and they haven’t gone to sleep,” she said, and argued that women spend, in general, too much of their time primping—“there’s so much time you could be spending on other things!”
If Cat Marnell is just about the first person you’d expect to see at a Vice party, then Tatiana and Norman, an elderly couple who’d wandered by Powerhouse on their nightly stroll through the neighborhood, are probably the last.
A Vice writer had spotted them and invited them in. They both wore Do stickers, which they’d been given at the door. Tatiana’s read “White Mesh for Seniors”—she was wearing white mesh—while Norman’s read “Killing It: Collected and Classy.” They were enjoying what Tatiana described as “a very handsome crowd, the nice young people, and all that noise, happy noise.” (It was, indeed, very noisy.) Tatiana was eager to explain that Norman had fought in World War II and this past May had been awarded the French Legion of Honor.
They only had Dos to recommend.
“Do talk to strangers,” was Norman’s advice.
Tatiana aimed a bit higher: “Do, to peace and understanding between people, tolerance, and patience and accepting, which is the most important.”
The sentiment didn’t seem out of place. Just about anything goes at a Vice party, even magnanimity.
A man wearing a Do sticker reading “Fucks on the first date” might ask you to French kiss him, and then later, outside, earnestly reassure you that he was only kidding, and that he just wants to be friends—all while showing you pictures of his girlfriend.
You might even believe him. As long as you're having fun, it’s all a Do.
EDIT: A previous version of this article noted that copies of the book were "nowhere in sight." They were available for purchase at the front of PowerHouse Arena.
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