PREVIEW: The lasting impact of Vice Media.
Just a little something I'm working on...
Much has been written of what Laura Bennett first described as the “first-person industrial complex” of the late ‘00s and ‘10s— “solo acts of sensational disclosure” and “ultra-confessional essays” that defined a certain kind of digital media, from Buzzfeed to Jezebel, Salon to xoJane. It was an odd moment in time when would-be writers would strip mine their most personal, often most harrowing, experiences for somewhere between $50 and $75. Some of them, as Tolentino describes, even did it for free.
Tolentino argues that the confessional essay is now dead; that it was a flash in the pan for struggling media companies trying to generate revenue in a changing market, overshadowed by hot takes during the Trump administration. I think Jia Tolentino is right in the most literal sense. Unless you’re writing about the quarantine rescue you put down, it’s much harder to go viral with a personal essay, and you’re much less likely to be paid to write one.
What I think she missed in her piece is that the confessional essay was a small part of a larger push for “authenticity” in media. Almost every outlet wanted to appeal to millennials, and they wanted to do so through “being authentic.”
If Jezebel and xoJane were the feminized expression of this desire with their confessional essays, then Vice, the punk magazine from Montreal turned multimedia empire, was the masculine manifestation of the same principle.
While one Brooklynite was being paid $50 to publish a story about how she’d lost tampon inside herself, Vice was paying another one $45,000 a year to play Hunter S. Thompson in the Middle East, or maybe just to loiter outside an abortion clinic in the Deep South.
And while I’d be remiss if I said that the phenomenon Tolentino describes didn’t have a serious impact on media as we know it today (arguably, the identity-centric political article is an outgrowth of the confessional essay, and to a lesser extent, it may have also primed us for OnlyFans and para-social, female-led podcasts), the impact of Vice has been underestimated.
Vice wasn’t just a sideshow fell ass-backwards into cash and overestimated themselves.
They blew open Pandora’s Box, changing the landscape of media as we know it…
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