Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes on Montreal junkies, Fox News and the death of cool
In some circles, he’s considered “The Godfather of hipsterdom”. In 1994, Gavin McInnes co-founded an infamously edgy Montreal alt-punk zine, which eventually grew into Vice Magazine – now a global brand (behemoth?) that still somehow manages to be a harbinger of "cool". Along with his fellow Vice co-founders/provocateurs, McInnes wrote about things nobody else seemed interested in: namely, mocking various subcultures’ pseudo-rebelliousness with crass and un-PC humour (on his hit list were anarchists, ravers, hip-hoppers, hipsters, rock'n'rollers, hillbillies and flamboyant socialites, to name a few). He's already penned The Vice Guide to Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll, DOs & DON'Ts and Street Boners: 1,764 Hipster Fashion Jokes, but with his lurid new memoir, How to Piss in Public: From Teenage Rebellion to the Hangover of Adulthood, he makes the case that at 39, he's no longer "cool". Gone are his days of excess as a rebellious Ottawa teen in punk band Anal Chinook. McInnes now lives in New York City with a wife and two kids, writing for TV and making viral comedy videos (he split from Vice in 2007, citing “creative differences”.) McInnes, whose stand-up comedy tour stops by the Corona Theatre this Sunday, answered a few of NIGHTLIFE.CA’s questions via e-mail.
Your memoir How to Piss in Public was originally titled The Death of Cool. Why did you change the name?
It was the publisher, actually. They said a book is judged by its cover and it doesn’t make sense to have stories this over-the-top wrapped in a nice, quiet dust jacket. I think they’re right. I’ve had a lot of magazines say they can’t review the book because it’s just “too much.”
Will the notion of cool live on in a post-Vice age?
Not only has youth culture been thriving since Rebel Without a Cause, I’d argue it keeps getting better. Compare music software like Spotify with the mix tapes of the '80s. People glorify the past but I was there; cassettes were a huge pain in the ass.
Many writers refer to you as the “primary architect" or even "the Godfather" of hipsterdom. So perhaps there's no better person to weigh in on the matter: have hipsters become the butt of more jokes than ravers, anarchists and hillbillies combined?
Old people have always been annoyed by “the kids today.” You see more hipster-bashing than you saw raver-bashing or punk-bashing because people don’t grow up anymore so the bashers are amongst the youngsters. You have these wrinkled teenagers, these 40-year-old bloggers going to clubs and when they see young people having fun they think, “Fucking hipsters” and go write about it. It’s pathetic. Go get a real job and drink at old man bars like the rest of us geriatrics.
You often rail against "bourgeois" cultural studies professors who dissect youth culture for a living. You really let a UCLA professor who'd invited you to speak about "The History of Cool" have it a few years ago. Does the idea of having your infamous DOs & DON'Ts columns included in classroom syllabuses ever give you nightmares?
Isn’t it insane? There is no limit to what academia can pretend is educational: How to be gay, the politics of shit, Smurfs as a Marxist Dialectic... I see these graduates out in the work force and cultural theory has totally crippled them. They don’t know how to do anything.
It’s not just post-secondary either. My brother told me about a high school intern in Ottawa who manually wrote down URLs because she didn’t know how to copy and paste. She can go to university and learn how gender theory applies to my pants jokes but she won’t know how to work a computer.
What was your reaction to seeing fellow Vice co-founder/ex-colleague Shane Smith get reamed by New York Times columnist David Carr in an on-camera interview about VBS.TV in last year's documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times (see above)?
People always send me Vice’s fuck ups but I never look at them. It’s like an ex-girlfriend. You don’t want her back but that doesn’t mean you want to watch a video of some dude fucking her.
American TV audiences are getting to know you through your recurring gig as provocateur on the Fox News show Red Eye with Greg Gutfield. For us Canadians who only ever tune into Fox News to remind ourselves what Canadian identity is all about, have we just grossly overlooked/underrated the news channel's potential??
Canada has a lot of misconceptions about America. They see it as a “scary” (they always use that word) republican empire that is ruled by guns and religion. The real threat down here is the same as Canada, and that’s the politically correct word police. People are losing their jobs for saying something that someone else thought was offensive, even when it wasn’t. I think Red Eye does so well because it’s on at 3 a.m. and can get away with more shit. The CBC has censored me way more than Fox has. Now that’s “scary.”
Have you heard of Quebecor's Sun News Network, which has been pegged as a "Fox News North" of sorts, and features a number of anchors and pundits of questionable credibility, like the one featured above?
I think Canada is so obsessed with not being American they throw the baby out with the bathwater and say, “Oh, they’re into Free Speech? Okay, we hate that then.” The clip you sent me is of a modern dancer who gets paid by the taxpayer to be ridiculous. If you can’t make fun of that, what can you make fun of?
You've sat on Fox News panels with infamous polemicist Ann Coulter on more than one occasion, and have described her as 'lovely'. How much of the outrageous things she says do you think are purely for shock value?
She has the language at her disposal and talks the way we all talk in private. When she said, “Our Blacks are better than theirs”, she was saying Blacks who are conservative get hammered on a lot more than liberal Blacks so they tend to have their facts straight. That’s true. The media went bananas however and said she believes in slavery.
By the way, the book has nothing to do with politics. It’s like stand-up comedy but told as sex, drugs and rock and roll stories. I actually sent it to Ann and she said she wanted nothing to do with it.
I have the same punk rock politics I’ve always had: leave people alone. I’m more anarchist than conservative and I think the problem with liberals is they never go out of their comfort zone. When people who are used to living in a bubble hear something that strays from the usual narrative, they go into a state of shock and assume it must be some kind of joke.
For example, to say you are pro-gun here in NYC is like saying you think babies are sexy. People can’t wrap their heads around it. It’s counterintuitive but the stats say more guns = less crime. Sorry, but it’s true. Get over it.
What do you make of the widespread social media backlash against convicted woman beater Chris Brown performing at the Grammys?
I don’t really give a shit about anyone involved but I can’t help but think it’s another case of white, middle-class people not getting black, working-class culture. I wouldn’t be surprised if she regrets making the whole thing public because now she can’t get back with her man without white America being horrified.
You're a notorious and well-documented prankster, having tricked Le Devoir, The Ottawa Citizen, The Village Voice, Gawker and the Montreal Gazette into printing a number of outlandish stories as fact. Are you just a fantastic storyteller or are most journalists really lazy when it comes to fact checking?
The only journalist I’ve ever met who isn’t a lazy sack of shit is you. You’re wonderful and you’re doing a great interview about a really fucking hilarious book that is going to blow people’s minds. That’s a fact.
Do you believe there is such a thing as an eternal hipster?
Nope. That’s why the first title was Death of Cool. This book documents my party years but I have a lot of dead friends from those years (especially Montreal junkies) and I wish they all could have known that “hipster” and “being cool” or whatever you want to call it is just a phase. It’s a really fun phase and it makes for a funny book but having a family and growing up is a whole other world. Another title I was thinking of is “Just Don’t Die.”
What's the biggest misconception New Yorkers have about Montreal?
Ha! No Americans know anything at all about anywhere in Canada. They think, “Yeah but aren’t you from CANADA?” is the ultimate argument settler. When they do that I ask questions like, “Where is Quebec?” and “What parts of Canada are French?” and I’m yet to meet one person who can answer me. That’s why it’s funny Canadians talk about America so much. You might as well be mad at Trinidadians.