Dec 4, 2015
VICE’s “First Date” Interview Series Is Horrible for Everyone
Sunday night I went on the world’s most perfect first date. Then, I returned home to discover my ex had been on a date recently, too. But his “date” was with Carly Rae Jepsen, and it was for work. He’d written a piece for Noisey’s much-maligned “First Date” series about the pop star. Her breathtaking 2015 pop album E•MO•TION was one of the primary records I used to get over him. Being confronted with photos of him, arm suggestively snuck around a terrified-looking Carly Rae was… horrific. Your ex on a date with anyone sucks. But my ex on “a date” with my favorite pop star is my own personal hell. I’ve been a music journalist for almost four years now. I’ve worked my ass off to defeat the stereotype that I am doing this simply to be a fan girl, simply to be close to famous men. I’ve worked my ass off to get the voices of women heard, women who are constantly objectified, reduced to their sex appeal, or ignored altogether in favor of the omnipresent good ole boys club. My immediate reaction was that if this date-interview is something my industry finds acceptable, then I want to quit all together. Fuck it, let this thing rot without me.
But this wasn’t just about me. I watched as the public’s ire increased. I watched Twitter shred the piece the following day, and I read a cutting—and accurate—critique of the article in prominent media newsletter Today In Tabs. The longer I thought about it, the more I was able to separate myself, and realize that it wasn’t personal at all. This piece–and more importantly, this series–affects an entire community of women; it’s much bigger than me. And VICE needs to recognize that and kill this series.
When the other most prominent example of this practice came out earlier this year I felt the same anger. It was a first date with Natalie Imbruglia that mentions her new album one time, and spends another thousand words on the writer’s decade-plus crush on the “Torn” singer. He even manages to get a dig in at Pamela Anderson’s tits while he’s at it. Nice. Can’t have the women we objectify be too sexualized now, can we?
You have to wonder, with all the interviews Noisey publishes, what’s the criteria to make some of them dates? Natalie Imbruglia’s newest album–which, by the way, is a series of cover songs originally done by men entitled Male–clearly had little impact or traction in the current climate. And though Carly Rae Jepsen’s E•MO•TION was critically adored, the album has been an abysmal commercial failure for a major pop star, selling barely 16K copies in its first week. Perhaps these two cases in particular feel outrageous because they are the most overtly predatory? Both of these artists need the press, especially from a self-branded, cool and progressive outlet with a wide reach like VICE. Were these “dates” because Natalie and Carly didn’t feel like they had the option to say no? Or is it that these two artists appealed specifically to the romantic fantasies of the writers? That they were chosen, not for their artistic appeal, but for their ability to boost the writer’s cred within their own circles? Who, then, is this piece for? In both, scant information about the artist’s music was included. In the truest sense, these interviews weren’t about the music at all. They were a chance for these two dudes to project their own fantasies upon famous women.
The weak defense offered in favor of the column is that VICE often has female journalists going on similar “first dates” with male artists; sometimes, women writers also go on “dates” with female artists. These are remarkably different situations, though. Those two scenarios works because they’re punching up. Most publications don’t default to treating male musicians like they’re romantic pawns to be shuffled about in the industry as long as they’re still hot enough; they do that for female ones. So when VICE says that they’re doing it outright, is that supposed to be ironic? A female interviewer and a male subject doesn’t negate the critiques of the column, because in our society’s fucked up power dynamic, a woman is still the sex object, whether she’s the subject or the interviewer. And if it’s two girls, framing it as a date still suggestively plays into heteronormative-facing lesbian fantasies.
How many times does a female journalist have to assert that she doesn’t want to fuck her subject? That she isn’t in this industry as a glorified fan girl, but as a working professional? Even an otherwise progressive film like Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck presumes that women “fall” for their subjects. We’re already constantly assumed to do that, so why are the women who work at VICE happy to perpetuate that stereotype, then use their behavior as a defense for their male peers who corner famous women into this date interview setup? There are reams of examples of how fearful women are about speaking out when they feel uncomfortable with men. We’re socialized to soothe the male egos, lest irritated men physically attack or slander us. Some of the most extreme examples of that are unfolding this week. This date experience mimics those power structures. Look at Carly’s face in the photos from this piece and tell me she definitely feels okay. When is “getting the press” too big a sacrifice of dignity? Why are these female artists forced to make that choice?
These stories aren’t funny, they’re not valuable, and dismissing them offhand as satire or waving off our indignation as “Internet outrage” is missing male privilege perform at its highest level. The thing is, we’re all complicit in this. These two female artists (and plenty of others) are for agreeing to the joke-date, their publicists are for setting it up, these men are, most of all, for abusing their privilege and power as journalists so significantly and thoroughly. We’re complicit if we look the other way and say “lol that’s just VICE being VICE” because friends or people we care about work there. We have to speak up about this shit, even if the people we believed to be above this behavior are the ones enacting it. Our uncomfortable silence will only lead to a greater abuses of power. Women face unspeakable terrors simply by asserting they want to be musicians, by agreeing to be a part of this industry at all. As much as I wish these women would’ve refused this format, it’s such a struggle to be here at all that I can understand why they said yes. But I still lose respect for them. Watching them acquiesce to this is painful. I half-expected the column to be a decade-long institution, but when I researched it, I noticed that the column is barely a couple of years old. VICE should know better, by now at least.
I show up here every day. I write about grief and why we miss those we loved. I write about fuckboys and how their songs can insidiously hurt us. I write about my own failings as a feminist, and the beautiful art I almost missed as a product of them. But goddammit, I shouldn’t have to write about Carly Rae Jepsen agreeing–for publicity’s sake–to go on “a date” with a fellow, male music journalist, whether or not he happens to be my ex-boyfriend. Jepsen talks about her real boyfriend on the date for Christ’s sake. Her boyfriend had to read this piece, too. When do we get our boundaries back?? This is a small but substantial part of a larger conversation about the way women are treated in our society. A society where women share their rape stories and meet backlash from supporters of their “feminist” paramours. A society in which one of the most powerful men in music belittles women in this industry on national television. A society in which even the “good apples” think it’s okay to frame their interview with an immensely talented artist through the confines of a date. This is where I draw the fucking line.
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