How far should a brand go to stay edgy, even if it means their readers end up dead?Well, that’s probably too far! A small percentage of their readers, they could maybe cope with.
Vice magazine is aiming to find out.Oh ho! How?
The youth culture magazine has published a fashion spread of models recreating the suicides of famous female writers. There is Sylvia Plath poised in front of the gas oven, wearing an on-trend Suno dress and Virginia Woolf wading into the water in a gothic Christian Siriano coat and vintage frock.How very daring! And probably lost on their readership, who likely won’t know who any of these people are. They’ll have to do a modern celebrity version, with Kurt Cobain and Michael Hutchence.
That’ll put the cat among the (already outraged) pigeons:
Creating a Twitter storm every so often is exactly what Vice wants. It doesn't have aspirations to be taken seriously, so it doesn't need to apologise if anyone is offended. It doesn't have the kind of editors who are likely to be hauled in front of a select committee to explain themselves. And although it publishes a British edition, it doesn't feel like part of the fabric of the British media.In which case, why start one off? Well, the usual reason, of course – because SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!
But let's not be in any doubt about what Vice has done. The Samaritans have guidelines covering both journalistic and creative depictions of suicide, and they are very clear: avoid glamorising suicide and avoid giving details of the methods.Guidelines, Helen, are voluntary.
It is widely accepted that following these rules reduces copycat suicides.Wait, I thought you said they were guidelines? Rules are different. You do know that, surely?
If you live in London, you'll regularly hear announcements about passenger incidents and delays due to a person under a train, but you won't find them routinely written up in the Evening Standard. That's for a very good reason: the Samaritans quote studies from Vienna and Toronto where voluntary restrictions on reporting subway suicides reduced their occurrence by 75%.
Similarly, the inclusion of a particular suicide method in a popular television show or prominent media report has been shown to increase suicide attempts by that method.So..? Must we steer clear of mentioning deaths at all? I though you progressives were keen to see death on the curriculum at the earliest possible stage!
Every year in England and Wales, about 24,000 young people between the age of 10 and 19 attempt suicide. What will children in that kind of distress see when they look at those Vice pictures? They will see a menu.Children of that age are reading 'Vice'? Really?
As a journalist, covering suicide is always hard because there is a fine line between raising awareness of a vital public health issue and contributing to a spectacle that could harm vulnerable people.Well, indeed! Because, added to this column, this little note:
• This article was amended on 18 June 2013 to remove a reference to a particular method of suicideAhahahahahaha!