It’s not every day one is able to conduct an engaging interview via email. In fact, if we’re going to be real, it’s something I’ve never actually successfully achieved before (with apologies to everyone I’ve email interviewed in the past). Where I’m going with this of course is that I popped my engaging email interview cherry with VICE‘s Thomas Morton just now. And I feel like I’ve got to give full credit to Thomas, the Editor of VICE’s just released Dos & Don’ts book (the second volume), for being brilliantly weird, bold, smart, and sort of confrontational.
Indeed, Thomas talked fashion and editorial politics in a way that made both topics seem as interesting, if not more so, than Curiosity roving the face of Mars, and infinitely more so than anything to do with the Olympics. And one more thing: I am not a dude (you’ll see what I mean in a minute)…
Portable: Why was there a seven year gap between books, and can we expect another one?
Thomas Morton: It’s funny, the original book was a collection of the first ten years of the Dos & Don’ts. It’s even in its subtitle. It took us seven years to make the second book, which is even longer than the first one, so we shaved three years off our own record. Yet all anybody asks is “Why’d it take so long? Why’d it take so long?” Everybody’s gotten so conditioned by Twitter and Facebook for immediate gratification it’s turned them into impatient toddlers stamping their feet in line at Steinmart because Mommy has to pay for this dress before we can go to Ben & Jerry’s. Nobody appreciates the craft and toil that goes into making a book like this. Maybe we should call the next one “An Artisanal Compilation of Locally Sourced Street Fashion.” Maybe then everyone would hold their fucking horses.
P: How did you come to be the editor of the Dos & Don’ts book, and what does this entail?
Thomas Morton: Editing the Dos & Don’ts just means getting together the pictures, writing most of the captions, and harassing the other writers to turn theirs in on time/early to make up for the ones I’m late on. I was initially one of three editors who took over the Dos & Don’ts when their original writer left Vice. As happens in all triumvirates, one of the other guys got worn out (you have no idea how hard it is making fun of clothing day after day. I’m not really joking, it takes its toll. It’s like when you see a wizard shooting lightning out of his stave and it looks like he’s just kind of standing there, but then he collapses to the ground in agony and you realize how much strain went into making it happen), and so there was a violent power struggle between me and the other editor for control. Somehow I bested him (I think he “got tired” too), and this is my reward.
P: What makes a good Do or Don’t comment?
Thomas Morton: Holy shit. You are the first person to ask this instead of “What makes someone a Do or a Don’t?” It’s like you really get it. I can’t describe how excited I am right now. You aren’t a guy are you? This maybe a little weird to ask in an email interview, but I’m going to catch Chain and the Gang at 285 Kent tonight, you want to come? No pressure, obviously, should be a good time though. In answer to your (great and long awaited) question, the most important criterion for a caption is being funny. At the same time — and this is what most people who try to imitate us screw up — there needs to be some component that either comments on what the person in the picture is wearing or nods to the fact that the Dos & Don’ts is, in name and essence, a fashion column. It can’t just be a zinger. You have to stay in character for it to work.
P: Dos & Don’ts is an interesting take on street fashion, given that many of the comments actually don’t comment on fashion at all. How do you see fashion as fitting into a larger social dialogue outside of just talking about the clothes themselves?
Thomas Morton: Wow, does this question come with its own blue book? Do I have 40 minutes before “pencils down”? Clothing’s the most obvious marker to people’s personalities. This holds as true to people who keep up with “what’s in” each season and follow those rules (subcultures with uniforms like skins and goths are basically the same thing stretched over a longer timeline), as people who say they don’t give a shit. Your whole brain is written on what you’ve got on at any give moment. A lot of people get this backward, that “clothing makes the man” — the classic example is the Jack Daniels shirt. Putting one on doesn’t turn you into a gelled-up LA douchebag, you’d have to be one to put it on in the first place.
P: When I was living in London my friend worked for Vice and I gave him some ugly pictures of my ex for him to be mean about in the Vice Student Guide. How do you source your images in the first place these days? Do you get many complaints from disgruntled subjects?
Thomas Morton: Crap you are a guy. And a shitty guy at that. Oh well, que sera. We get most of our pictures in the States from a handful of “nightlife photographers,” a term and concept that both gross me out something awful. I should point out that our major contributors are folks like Vito Fun, Igor from drivebyboredom.com, and Brenda Staudenmeier from Burning Angel — people who go to the dingy, interesting parts of New York and wherever and take pictures of real folk instead of the same corny Patrick McMullen-lite socialite shit you still see all over the place. So they take a bunch of the shots, then each international edition of the magazine has their own little photo crew who sends stuff to us, and to fill in the gaps between batches we take a few shots ourselves and obviously accept reader submissions from creepy pricks like you.
Complaints are pretty rare (9 times out of 10 they’re from someone who was in the Dos), and typically have less to do with what we said about the person than a general sense of grievance at having their picture taken in public. Which is lame. You put it on and wore it out, grow up and own it. Be a member of frikkin society.
Dos & Don’ts Book 2 is available for purchase wherever they sell books… or here.