I’ll be the first to admit I don’t understand the fashion world. Not even a little bit. Every fashion spread I’ve ever seen in a magazine (and I used to work at a magazine that had a quarterly fashion feature) seemed to me to be nonsensical and totally disconnected from reality. But I can’t think of one that actually made me furious the way that this spread in Vice does. The editors over there apparently thought it was a great idea to dress up some models in fashionable clothes and put them in the positions of famous writers just before they committed suicide. So, you have among others, a shot of a model playing Virginia Woolf standing in a creek holding a rock (Woolf filled her pockets with rocks and drowned herself in a river), and a shot of a model playing Sylvia Plath kneeling before an oven (Plath gassed herself in her kitchen–with her children in the next room).
Forgive me for being dim, or maybe self-righteous, but am I the only one who thinks that this is incredibly fucked up? I know we romanticize the lives and deaths of famous artists and writers, and I’m as guilty as anyone of this–just ask my neighborhood liquor store clerk about my bourbon habit. But let me ask a question: What if you were one of Sylvia Plath’s children and you saw that image? How would you feel? The people being depicted in these images aren’t characters from these writers’ works; they were real people who had souls so tortured that they couldn’t bear to live any longer, and so took their own lives, surely devastating their friends and families.
Look, it’s one thing to recreate a famous suicide if you’re trying to understand what drove the person to the act. I have no problem with the recreation of Virginia Woolf’s death in The Hours. That’s a work of art attempting to make sense of the event, the person’s struggle. But this photo shoot isn’t adding anything to the discourse on the human condition. The editors and designers and stylists at Vice are using other peoples’ suffering to sell shit. It doesn’t matter if the people suffered famously–it’s fucked up.
Update: It looks like Vice took the spread down. We’ll call that a win for common decency.