Vice was once a humble magazine about doing heroin and having sex (on heroin). Now, Vice is a global multimedia company, partly owned by Fox, valued at $1.4 billion. Vice is so successful that it no longer needs to exist.
On Friday, news broke that 21st Century Fox, which was recently spun off from News Corp, is sinking $70 million into Vice for a 5% stake in the company. That means the notional value of Vice as a whole is $1.4 billion. That means that Vice is worth about six times as much as the Washington Post, and just a wee bit less than the New York Times. If there was any doubt left, the counterculture has now become the establishment. There is now only one degree of separation between Rupert Murdoch and "The Meth-Fueled, Weeklong Orgies Ravaging London's Gay-Sex Party Scene."
Vice does a lot of great things. It makes a point of covering the dirty corners of the world. It does stories in war zones, and poverty-stricken slums, and authoritarian hellholes. Sure, some of those stories are little more than wide-eyed disaster tourism and painfully oblivious smirks at situations that deserve sobriety. But as a media entity, Vice produces a great deal of content on issues, places, and situations that tend to be neglected by what is colloquially called the "mainstream" media. And that is worthwhile in aggregate, even if it is sometimes exasperating in its particulars.
Honesty demands that Vice's accomplishments be acknowledged. It also demands that we call Vice what it really is: an ever-expanding machine for selling counterculture cool to the world's largest and most mainstream corporations. All media companies including ours are in the business of selling their audience's attention, of course, but Vice stands out for its twin passions of wrapping itself in antiestablishment symbols and simultaneously hustling harder than anyone to become part of the establishment. More than most media companies, Vice is a trick pulled on its own audience: lured by the promise of not giving a fuck, cool kids are assembled into a space where their desirable not-give-a-fuckness can be sold to corporate sponsors for hefty fees, which go into the pockets of Vice's owners.
Everyone else in the media is very jealous of Vice's skill at pulling this trick. Just about every other upstart media company would love to be able to do it as well. And most of them would happily accept that Fox money and huge valuation. Vice, institutionally, is not any less scrupulous than anyone else in this business. Nor any more scrupulous. And that is the point. The cool kids, the angry kids, and everyone who feels the need to rage against the machine should simply be aware that all of their rage and anger and anomie is being happily packaged and sold. The revolution won't be televised on HBO, nor funded by Rupert Murdoch. The revolution is the next generation of upstarts that begin with nothing and gradually rise up to eat Vice, and Gawker, and which are eventually eaten themselves by the next generation. None of us should get too comfortable.
In the meantime, congratulations to Vice on its billionaire status.