The VICE Guide to Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll
Contains Photos, Illustrations
Douglas Ivison is an assistant professor of English at Lakehead
University in Thunder Bay.
Originally a Montreal-based street zine, VICE is now a New York-based
multimedia operation celebrating, with tongue firmly in cheek, what the
back cover of this book describes as “a degrading and disgusting
lifestyle of sex and drugs and rock and roll and death.” VICE’s
irreverent editorial voice, unapologetically racist, sexist, homophobic,
and obsessed with drugs and porn, tramples all over the boundaries of
good taste and social convention, presenting a challenge to those who
would impose social control (a group that includes everyone from those
running the war on drugs to the purveyors of political correctness on
Notably, VICE first came to prominence in Canada not for its editorial
content, but rather for an ad that featured a shot of a woman’s pubic
hair. The fact that it was an ad that caused the controversy is telling,
for VICE has always been as much about the ads for edgy streetwear as
anything; moreover, as the introductory interview shows, the VICE story
is less about the editors’ challenging of social conventions than it
is about their marketing and management skills.
The VICE Guide collects articles from the first eight years of VICE. As
is often the case with such collections, many of the articles are a
little dated and have less impact outside of their original context. The
constant use of racist, sexist, and homophobic epithets has less impact
now than was the case in the mid-1990s. The street culture that the
articles celebrate similarly seems less edgy than it once did, as much
of it has been appropriated by mainstream culture. One wonders, too, how
pieces such as “A Day in the Life of an FLQ Terrorist” resonate with
readers in the United States.
That said, some of the articles still have bite. “The Best High Is a
Government High,” for example, convincingly shows the contradictions
and hypocrisies of current drug laws, and a number of other articles
provide what might at first seem to be surprisingly trenchant political
commentary. Sometimes, too, the writing is just plain funny.
As a whole, however, the book never really coheres, and without the
advertising that provides the context for the articles it seems lacking.
Anyone interested in VICE should track down the magazine and skip the