Marilynne Robinson was my fourth and final workshop instructor at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She is an intimidating intellectual presence—she once told us that to improve characterization, we should read Descartes. When I asked her to sign my copy of Gilead, she admitted she had recently become fascinated by ancient cuneiform script. But she is also generous and quick to laugh—when she offered to have us to her house for dinner, and I asked if we ought to bring food, she replied, “Or perhaps I will make some loaves and fishes appear!” Then she burst into giggles.
After receiving my MFA this May, I left Iowa believing that there’s no good way to be taught how to write, to tell a story. But there is also no denying that Marilynne has made me a better writer. Her demands are deceptively simple: to be true to human consciousness and to honor the complexities of the mind and its memory. Marilynne has said in other interviews that she doesn’t read much contemporary fiction because it would take too much of her time, but I suspect it’s also because she spends a fair amount of her mental resources on her students.
Our interview was held on one of the last days of the spring semester. The final traces of the bitter winter had disappeared, and light filled the classroom, which now felt empty with just the two of us. My two years at Iowa were over, and I selfishly wanted to stretch the interview for as long as possible.
The VICE Podcast Show is a weekly unedited discussion in which we go inside the minds of some of the most interesting, creative, and bizarre people we come across. This week, host Eddy Moretti talks with actress Greta Gerwig about the film industry and her new movie, Frances Ha, directed by Noah Baumbach.
Nivek Ogre Is Totally Doomed – Skinny Puppy’s Front Man Is Obsessed with Weapons
In addition to logging time with parent-repellers like KMFDM and Ministry, Nivek Ogre (né Kevin Graham Ogilvie) is best known as the guttural screech that is synonymous with Skinny Puppy, who arguably invented electro-industrial in the early 80s. This pedigree, coupled with a history of serious drug use and a penchant for slitting his throat onstage, has led generations of depressed teenagers who are curious about things like Anton LaVey and animal sacrifice to embrace Ogre’s macabre worldview: one in which we are all currently coasting along on a dying sphere, counting down the hours until life on Earth is made impossible due to human stupidity, negligence, and aggression.
This month marks the release of Skinny Puppy’s 15th record, Weapon, which features a giant spider made of guns, bombs, and knives on the cover and a quote from atom-bomb developer J. Robert Oppenheimer in its liner notes. I recently spoke with Ogre about such joyful matters as the Fukushima meltdown, mass murderer Jeffrey Dahmer, and the giant “Machiavellian death shroud” that imprisons us all.
VICE: Here’s an almost stupidly obvious question to start with, but I’m curious: Why did you call your new record Weapon? Nivek Ogre: I recently came to this weird gestalt in my mind that everything we do has the potential to either harm or cause good. This is a choice we all make with every action. But I view the human being primarily as a weapon, and a lot of the things that we’ve created have had disastrous effects on us as a species. Guns are a tiny element of a much larger iceberg that’s latticed throughout history.
Did the Newtown massacre spark this record? No, this started way before: March 11, 2011, when Fukushima melted down. It was at that point that I began to view abstract things as weapons. Right now we’re being inundated with a huge amount of radiation, so much so that in April, the EPA relaxed the amounts of radioactive iodine-131 allowed in water in the event of a radiological disaster like Fukushima. It was three picocuries per liter, now it’s 81,000 picocuries per liter. Now here we’ve got a huge Machiavellian death shroud being pulled over people, all based on nuclear power, and the underlying reason for that energy system is a weapons system. My question here is this: What inhuman force could possibly allow this atrocity to take place?
Julián is a coke dealer. He’s 44. He’s been working Mexico City for two decades. He agreed to take us on a ride-along as he worked. The phone never stopped ringing, not for a minute.
VICE: You couldn’t see us yesterday because you had a really important poker game. How was it? Julián: Great, man. I won. We split the pot. I got 1,000 pesos. It was relaxed. There was a tournament today, but I won’t be going.
Do you have contacts with the police or politicians? Of course, with the AFI [Mexican FBI]. Everyone is well connected, and everyone is so full of bullshit—epecially over there in the organized crime and anti-kidnapping units. I take care of the heavyweights from the AFI. They send their bodyguards to me in armored cars and shit.
[At this point, Julián pulls up to a drugstore.]
You buying medicine? No, just candy for my diabetes. Oh, yeah, I’m diabetic. If you do not complicate your existence, fuck, life is worth shit. I won’t be long, hang in there.
[Ten minutes later we are driving south of Mexico City.]
Julián: Look at that guy [pointing at a trannie]. Shit. It’s a shame he’s got an antenna.
Have you ever gotten a blowjob from one of them when you were really coked up and horny? With hookers, of course. At my age, I can’t be judged if I do a guy or I don’t.
This Guy Has Owned the Moon Since 1980 Because He Says So
Becoming a planet owner is a lot easier than you might think. All you have to do is take a quick glance at an astronomical map, pick out whichever planet or moon tickles your fancy, tell everyone you own it, and you’re set. It’s a little like telling a man in a bar that you own his freshly bought pint because you say you do, only less dangerous because there’s no one to hospitalize you in outer space.
Dennis M. Hope is an American man who did just that and is now planet overlord of the moon, Mars, Venus, Mercury, and Io (one of Jupiter’s moons). Dennis happened to be broke when he started collecting planets and worked out a way to monetize his new hobby: claim legal ownership via the UN, subdivide his extra-terrestrial land and sell it off in chunks. It’s probably about the best business model I’ve ever heard of (besides Ponzi schemes, obviously—those things are golden), which may be why Dennis has been able to use the celestial property game as his sole source of income since 1995.
My dad was gifted a nugget of moon for his birthday this year from Dennis’ company, Moon Estates, which reminded me of all the times I’d heard about similar gifts and thought, This is is dumb, how can anybody own the moon? So I gave Dennis a call to help put my cynicism to bed.
The author’s dad’s deed to land on the moon.
VICE: Hi Dennis. How did you end up owning and selling off chunks of the moon? Dennis M. Hope: I started in 1980 when I was going through a divorce. I was out of money and thought maybe I could make some if I owned some property, then I looked out the window, saw the moon, and thought, Hey, there’s a load of property! So I went to the library, looked up the 1968 Outer Space Treaty and, sure enough, Article 2 stated: “No nation by appropriation shall have sovereignty or control over any of the satellite bodies.” Meaning it was unowned land.
But how did you acquire it? I just filed a claim of ownership for the moon, the other eight planets and their moons, and sent it to the United Nations with a note stating that my intent was to subdivide and sell the property to anybody who wanted it. I told them that if they had a legal problem with it they should please let me know.
Did they ever get back to you? They never responded. Shame on them! I’ve never had a challenge to my claim of ownership by any government on this planet, period. I’ve had a lot of people telling me I don’t have the right to do this, but that’s just their opinion.
So how much land have you sold so far? Well, this is the only job I’ve had since 1995, which is when I started doing this full-time. We’ve sold 611 million acres of land on the moon, 325 million acres on Mars and a combined 125 million acres on Venus, Io, and Mercury.
Magnum is probably the most famous photo agency in the world. Even if you haven’t heard of it, chances are you’re familiar with its images, be they Robert Capa’s coverage of the Spanish Civil War or Martin Parr’s very British holiday-scapes. Unlike most agencies, Magnum’s members are selected by the other photographers on the agency, so becoming a member is a pretty gruelling process. As part of an ongoing partnership with Magnum, we will be profiling some of their photographers over the coming weeks.
Steve McCurry’s photo of Sharbat Gula, titled Afghan Girl, appeared on the cover of National Geographic in 1985 during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. It quickly became one of the most famous photos in the world. McCurry’s work covering the mujahideen’s long fight against the Soviet war machine in the mid-to-late 80s further cemented his position as a hugely influential photojournalist. Since then, he has documented the human impact of wars across the world and collected numerous awards for his photos. I gave him a call to find out about nearly getting killed on the job, and the effect of seeing so much horror over so many years.
Mujahideen fighters, Afghanistan
VICE:Hi, Steve. Afghan Girl is probably one of the most iconic images of the 20th century. Is it ever annoying that, from all of your work, one image is seen as so representative of your career? Steve McCurry: Not at all. In fact, the contrary. I don’t think that has ever occurred to me.
You worked in Afghanistan for a long time. How do you feel the situation in the country has changed since the Soviet war? It’s always a dangerous place, and there has always been ongoing fighting. Any time you’re in a combat situation, it is dangerous. I think in the beginning there was a lot of goodwill toward foreigners, or to pretty much anybody who was willing to support or help the people there, which included the West, and, effectively, pretty much anyone aside from the Soviet Union. India, Europe, China, and the US were all welcomed. Now there is obviously opposition in Afghanistan—the Taliban see the West and NATO as the enemy, so by virtue of my birth, they now see me as the enemy. Before they were taking hostages and asking for ransom, now they just kill you for political reasons.
Does Afghanistan feel more dangerous than other places you’ve worked? All these places, war zones, present different problems. Afghanistan, Iraq during the Gulf War, places like Beirut or Cambodia. But yes, perhaps Afghanistan was the most dangerous. When I was there back in 1979–80 with mujahideen fighters, I was often days from help, out on location, perhaps two days from the nearest road, often with men who were not well trained and with whom you had a lot of communication problems and language barriers. You were being bombed with mortars and artillery and aircraft, and you’re with a bunch of ragtag fighters, who were certainly brave, but maybe short on training.
Have you ever met anyone who likes Anne Hathaway? No? Me either.
Even if someone doesn’t know who she is, you can just show them a picture of her smarmy, drama school face or that clip of her saying “blerg” in an effort to appear human, and they’ll be an instant lifelong “Hathahater.”
Last week, I called around hate groups to see how they felt about Jennifer Lawrence, and it turned out they, like everyone else on earth, all liked her (kinda). So I decided to call up a few more hate groups and see what their feelings were on Anne.
COUNCIL OF CONSERVATIVE CITIZENS
Who are they?
A white supremacist group that, amongst other things, are against racial integration, the gays, and interracial marriage.
What do they think of Anne Hathaway?
Could I just ask, really quickly, if your group has an opinion on Anne Hathaway? Do you hate her as much as the rest of the world? Who’s Anne Hathaway?
Catwoman in the new Batman movie? She just won the Oscar for Les Mis? Princess Diaries? I don’t know who that is.
You didn’t see The Devil Wears Prada? No. Why are you asking me this?
Because I really hate her. And I was just hoping to find some kind of group I can join that feels the same way. Well, why do you hate her?
I don’t know! It’s weird. I can’t quite put my finger on it. I think it has something to do with her face. Is she white?
Yeah, she’s white. I don’t know. We don’t have an opinion on everything in the world. I don’t look at many movies. But I guess my daughters or my son or my wife might have seen her in something.
Are they there? Maybe you could ask them what they think of Anne? [to his daughter] Renee, do you know what the Princess Diaries are? [to me] Yeah, she’s heard of it.
Ask her what she thinks of Anne Hathaway. She just went to the other room…
Well what kinda stuff is your group into? We’re the voice of a no-longer-silent majority. We’re paleoconservatives and populist conservatives.
I don’t really know what anything you just said means. We’re like Andrew Jackson.
Was he Michael Jackson’s dad? No, no. He was the president.
What do you guys think of Michael Jackson? It must be a hard one for you guys, right? Because he used to be black but then he was white. Oh, I don’t know… I don’t really have an opinion on him.
VICE Loves Magnum: An Interview with Christopher Anderson
Magnum is probably the most famous photo agency in the world. Even if you haven’t heard of it, chances are you’re familiar with its images, be they Robert Capa’s coverage of the Spanish Civil War, Steve McCurry’sAfghan Girl or Martin Parr’s very British holiday-scapes. Unlike most agencies, Magnum’s members are selected by the other photographers in the agency, which, given they’re the greatest photo agency in the world, means that becoming a member is a pretty grueling process. As part of an ongoing partnership with Magnum, we will be profiling some of their photographers over the coming weeks.
First up is Christopher Anderson, who became a Magnum nominee in 2005 and was a full member by 2010. His early work on Haitian immigrants’ illegal journey to America—during which he and they sank in the Caribbean Sea in a handmade wooden boat named Believe in God—won him the Robert Capa Gold Medal. And last year, we produced an episode of Picture Perfect about him.
His subsequent book projects include Son, a series of photos capturing his wife and young child as his own father grew ill with cancer, and Capitolio, which documents unrest in Caracas during the time of Chavez.
I had a chat with him about how he sees himself and how that’s changed over his career.
Joe Biden descends from Air Force Two in Virginia, shot for New York Magazine.
VICE: You’ve vocally distanced yourself from photojournalism in the past. Why is that? Christopher Anderson: There are photojournalists in Magnum, but I don’t see it as a photojournalist agency. It’s more founded in documentary photography. If I were to use a term for myself, I feel I’d fit more closely in the bracket of documentary photography than photojournalism. The term photojournalist tends to be loaded with meaning: specifically that one reports the news. I don’t see that as my function. Even when I was photographing things that were news topics, like conflicts, my function was not that of a news reporter, my function was to comment on what I saw happen that day and to offer a subjective point of view. In my role, I was commenting on what was happening, but also trying to communicate what it felt like to be there when it was happening.
So you wanted to capture images that were more emotional and personal? Exactly. But I would go further and say that I not just wanted to do that, that is in fact what I did do. I had no pretence of objectivity. I was photographing, giving my opinion, and I wanted you to know that I was giving my opinion.
Did your unconventional approach make it initially more difficult to sell your photos, or was it beneficial from the start? Well, I don’t think I was going ‘round articulating that to editors, saying, “No, I won’t work for you unless you understand that what I do is subjective.” With the agency I was with before, it didn’t make a difference, as I was already sort of working for “journalistic magazines,” and I worked a lot for the New York Times Magazine. The kind of stories that I would do, even ones from conflict zones, would be longer and more in depth in their approach to what was happening there, trying to put what was happening in a more human, intimate context rather than the headlines of the day. But to be honest, the marketable advantage never crossed my mind at the time. I was just intent on trying to do what I did in the way I wanted to with as much integrity as possible.
I re-watched Taxi to the Darkside a few nights ago, preparing myself for a chat with Eva Orner, one of the producers of that Academy Award-winning film. If you missed it, the film takes account of the US military’s brutal tactics during the peak of the war on terror, framed around an Afghan taxi driver who is suddenly hauled off to the United States’ Parwan Detention Facility and beaten to death //
MB: I heard about 10 percent of Afghanistan has internet access, I saw …
EO: No, I don’t think that’s accurate, I actually don’t have the figures, I don’t address them in the movie. I think the mobile phone capabilities are super high. A lot of people have Internet, they don’t have it at home so much; they have it at work. Facebook is huge there. Twitter is not because a lot of them have phones, but they’re not connected to the Internet, because it’s really expensive to have mobile internet, but that will change very quickly.
From a country that 12 years ago was about 300 years back in time and had no interest in anything but water, was wanton to get to where it is now, which you’ll see in the film is the change. It’s been extraordinary. Just the change in life expectancy has gone up from about 46 to 64 in the last 10 years. The illiteracy rate, which is between 60 and 70 percent is falling rapidly. The average age of the population is 24. That’s a really young country. They want to be connected, they want to be tech-savvy and they want to know what’s going on in the rest of the world. They never want to go back to where they were 12 years ago.
Earlier this week, a video called “Dirty Girls” went viral on YouTube—and not for the reasons you’d expect, given the title. The documentary video, originally shot in 1996 by filmmaker (and then high school senior) Michael Lucid, was released in 2000 and chronicles a group of outcasts, refered to by their tormentors as the “Dirty Girls,” who pride themselves on riot grrrl ethos, being different, and just not giving a fuck. The video focuses on the two leaders of the Dirty Girls, sisters Amber and Harper, who speak clearly and eloquently (as eloquently as an eighth grader can be expected to) about their convictions, while girls in sunglasses and jean jackets talk smack about them behind their backs. Not only is the documentary a perfect time capsule for people who went to high school in the 90s, it also perfectly captures two strong, independent young people speaking their minds and doing their own thing.
When I first watched “Dirty Girls,” I loved it. I sent it around to everyone in the VICE offices, and they loved it, too. We all decided that we really needed to track down the original Dirty Girls and see what they were up to today. It turned to be not that difficult a task. Harper lives in New York City and was gracious enough to visit our offices, where I chatted with her and her sister, Amber, who joined us via Skype.
VICE: When is the first time that you guys saw the video? Harper: Pretty much right after it was made when we were still in high school. Around 2000, he did a screening of it at a gay and lesbian film festival in LA. He had taken it down from an hour to 20 minutes, so that was the first time we saw this short, really well-put-together documentary. We haven’t seen it since then… so 12,13 years or so.
How did you find out that it was taking off online like it has? Harper: A close friend of mine had it forwarded from somebody from high school. Someone forwarded it me and said, “I’m blown away. Oh my god, I love you girls. You’re such strong little ones. So confident. I’m so impressed.” And at that point, there were 2000 views. That was the first day. And then it just went from there, and more and more people contacted us.
Amber: I only really just watched it again fully yesterday. I felt like I remembered it really well 13 years ago. I had a certain amount of emotions about it at that time and was sure that I would feel the same now. But when I watched it yesterday, it was totally different. It’s amazing to me, because I think it’s a reflection on us and where we’re from. I’m the same person who watched it 12 years ago, and I’m also so different in how I’ve developed and what I think now. It was a completely different perspective. It was the miracle of life. I love it. It’s fascinating.
How do you feel when you watch the video now? Are you proud? Embarrassed? Harper: I’m excited about it. I think it’s great. I remember in the moment feeling like we were given a voice that we didn’t have without that video being shown to the rest of the school. So I felt proud of the commentary then, and I do now too. I’m also just so blown away by the positive reactions from everybody. Just looking at the YouTube comments where everyone is so inspired, impressed by us. That just makes me feel so happy. I think back then we were dedicated to giving people voices that maybe didn’t have them. And I think both of us would agree that neither of us have any hard feelings toward any of those people, the older students making comments about it.