The thing about “VICE” — the new HBO show by the magazine-cum-media empire of the same name — is that it’s strangely un-VICE-like. The first episode, which aired April 5, features reports on political violence in the Philippines and suicide bombing in Afghanistan. It’s shallow in a “dude this sh*t is crazy” kind of way, but it’s also very earnest. In the introductory voiceover we hear that “the world is changing… But we’ll be there uncovering the news, culture and politics.” In the words of CEO and on-screen personality Shane Smith to NPR, “We’re going to turn our cameras on something that we think is important… Because we’re part of the Fourth Estate and that’s our job.” Well, ok, but isn’t this supposed to be VICE? What about the hookers and blow?
I assume we’ll get some of that as the season continues. But it seems like VICE — which brought us productions like “The VICE Guide to Shagging Muslims” and “I Gave a Handy at Jew Camp” — is trying to signal a newfound moral seriousness. The show overflows with sympathy for people whose families have been killed in political assassinations and terrorist attacks, and it condemns leaders who use children as soldiers and suicide bombers. So far VICE’s ethics seem to be that war is bad, violence is bad, and the use of children as suicide bombers is especially bad. Agreed, obviously, but a habit of wanton offensiveness doesn’t easily accommodate the gravitas of warzone reporting. VICE wants to have it both ways, and it doesn’t work.
In a recent piece by Lizzie Widdicombe in The New Yorker, VICE founder Gavin McInnes (who is no longer with the company) described the magazine’s formula like this: “My big thing was I want you to do stupid in a smart way and smart in a stupid way. So if you’re going to Palestine, try to find a good burger joint…. Conversely, if you’re gonna do a thing on farts or poo… Be super-scientific and get all the data.” A 2010 article in The New York Times attributed the same philosophy to another VICE founder, Suroosh Alvi, and I once heard it from a friend who did a stint as a VICE intern. It’s a brilliant, cynical recipe for creating a compelling and consistent voice at the expense of any subject. And pursuing it undermines any moral pretense VICE might have.
Next time you reach for those Life & Style and In Touch magazines while in the supermarket checkout line, you might want to keep in mind the dark side to those gossip rags — and it goes beyond Tom Cruise’s defamation suit against them for claims that he abandoned his daughter Suri.
An investigation by entertainment and media news website The Wrap reveals that the publisher of these magazines, Bauer Media Group, deals in Nazi-themed material and pornography (sometimes combining the two). Among Bauer’s publications is Der Landser, a German military adventure magazine with World War II stories told through the eyes of Hitler’s armies. Not surprisingly, it is popular with skinheads and neo-Nazis. German magazine Der Spiegel has called Der Landser “a specialist journal for whitewashing the Wehrmacht.”
Bauer is a huge privately held international media empire with 600 print publications, 300 websites, 50 TV and radio stations, and billions of dollars in annual revenue. It claims to have the highest retail sales of magazines in the United States.
Standard halacha, or Jewish law, demands that Jews take their disputes to a court of Jewish law — a beit, or beth, din. It’s a hard sell in countries where Jewish courts have no power of enforcement and the secular courts seem fair. To get Jews to follow the policy in real life, rabbis have to convince them that their courts provide just and prompt resolutions to disputes. The recently produced first issue of The Journal of the Beth Din of America, published in collaboration with the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University, seems a sophisticated effort to do just that.
The journal features an article by Rabbi Yaacov Feit that gives a straightforward history of this policy. For Jews to take their disputes to any court other than a beit din is an insult to the Torah, according to the Talmud and later classical sources. Yet Feit does not ask whether it insults the Torah to study other legal systems, or to earn a living from them. Should a Jew attend law school in America, or serve as a lawyer or judge? Working as a lawyer also seems an insult to the Torah, but Feit does not consider this case. In practice, many observant Jews do earn their livelihoods in American law.
If Jews are the people of the magazine, there is now one fewer in the tribe. Meretz USA has pulled the plug on Israel Horizons, a voice of left-wing Zionism for more than a half-century.
The final issue of the 58-year-old quarterly rolls off the presses this month. The periodical had already been limping along, publishing only one issue in 2010. Meretz USA, a nonprofit organization working to create partnerships between dovish Americans who support Israel and their counterparts within the State of Israel, has now issued the final issue in 2011.
“The journal was a source of pride,” said Ralph Seliger, who was editor from 1991 to 1995, and again from 2003 to the present. “It really was my calling.” Circulation hovered between 1000 and 2000 readers, and was funded by Meretz USA with additional donations from subscribers.