The ‘Rich White Guy’ Will Never Die

The CEO of Vice made the billionaires club. He’s far from the traditional print mogul, but is his business much different than those before him?

Shane Smith, creator of Vice, at a gala for the Centre of Communications. Credit: Getty / Bobby Bank

Chief media antithesis, and millennial lord-on-high, Shane Smith, has been welcomed into the billionaires club last week. Bloomberg Business released this quick congratulations with a shout out to Smith’s now colleagues Rupert Murdoch and Sumner Redstone (yes I used the Bloomberg chart for this one too). While Smith didn’t make the top 500, his valuation sits at $1.5B. Not too bad for a punk from Ottawa, who just wanted another side of the story.

This revelation comes with a mixed bag of feelings. Sure, we’re finally getting rid of the image of the “rich white guy” sitting in his dark chamber, clamy hands and bad whiskey beside him; planning on ridding the world of ignorant leftists while controlling the illuniati impact of world order. Stuff of nightmares, we’ve been bred to be scared of this image and damn New Hampshire in every election. The Yacht bros are the enemy, while tattoos tell of our indivduality — even though several million of us have the same Vonnegut epitaph. Smith’s rise to power poses a major question in the heart of this changing political landscape: Are we afraid of the image? Or are we afraid of the philosophy behind the suit?

What we’ve seen in the past several weeks is something my political science professor made us examine almost a decade ago. Already from the US and in Britain, extreme leftists and rightists are now battling each other every day. Insane acts from the left, like representing themselves as bandits, adorned with black handkerchiefs over their mouths and hoodies; to flat our screaming matches between left and right over everything from validity of citizenship, to just plan old clothing choice. The left and right are becoming skewed in action and core value. The left used to be about peace and understanding, but when the right become blindsided by sensationalism and radicalized by bad tweets, the left inundated their own people with the same passionate opinion peices and started breaking down journalistic integrity and replacing it with a call to action of emotion, rather than justice and peace. This shift in active paradigm has happened before in the political spectrum and constinue to as society evolves. People like Shane Smith once stood at the forefront of this battle, countering obvious censorship in an otherwise heavily advertisement centric journalism. But now he is the man in charge of the world’s greatest digital powerhouse. Just like every mogul before him his intentions have changed and it’s clear to see by the myriad of click bait his company now provides. He is the “Rich White Guy”.

The “Rich White Guy” is not the personification of Mr. Burns. Our counterculture has written the definition being a stauchy conservative becasue it was the norm, until now. The “Rich White Guy” should not be taken literally, nor should it be taken lightly. It’s a mentality, a movement within the world’s elite. You can be man, woman, no gender; any colour of any nation; any religion or spiritual level; you can be left or right or somewhere inbetween. The “Rich White Guy” lives with the ability to culturally impact and socially influence how a group of people think with a bias led by one underlying factor: Getting stinking, filthy rich. The trope and it’s physical characteristics have allowed for a sneak attack to overtake what we believed to be the enemy. Images like Jared Kushner and his awkwardly rehersed photo ops may have many thinking he’s some Damian son of Satan, and it’s easy to see why. He’s the millennial antithesis to Shane Smith; a man who’s nerdy reight-winged ways have only elevated him by sheer connections and syncophanty. But when we look at the two individuals together, both Shane and Jared share the same goals, the same application of talents, and the same overall policies when it comes to how to make money.

While this statement alone could get me into hot water with the journalist squads out there, I want to be clear in this sentiment: when you get to a level of influence and economy, the lines blur. Everyone loves Vice, it’s a fucking godsend in term of programming and direction. However as it’s been found many times before, the end goal of Vice and it’s sponsors have been under scrutiny for some time. Even before The Washington Post claimed that Vice’s journalism “blurred lines between reporting and advertising” a year ago, many journalists were worried about this new form of advertorial rehetoric and it’s true effect on the social consumption of NEWS. Up until a point we as a social body agreed that journalism was the industry where honesty and integrity reign. No matter your political bias, objective takes on a matter meant getting to the truth, regardless of what it meant for the journalist or the individuals involved. Often times a trope of a renegade journalist would be featured in movies, going against the “Rich White Guy” scared about what it meant for the investors. In the end the paper gets recognition and the journalist sees real justice. But IRL, this ability to blur those lines and now write based on who pays more is a failure of transition on the publications part, but also a lack of honesty when it comes to reporting. Shane Smith didn’t come up with this model, but he’s honed it into a massive machine where, Vice now makes top dollar based on every peice of content. Vice still maintains a core group of investigative journalists and, truly, Vice is able to meet with the dark side more than any other publication in the world. His journalists go to great lengths to talk to true fringe, whether it be warlords in the far reaches of Africa or it be dangerous drug dealers around the world. This I don’t contest — investigative journalism to this end often is ignored for it’s reality. However, Vice’s main goal is to make money to fund such projects and unfortunately it’s the clickbait headlines that make the money.

The “Rich White Guy” scenario with Vice opens the door to a huge debate in journalism that has plagued publications since the pathways first started online and moreso creates the quandry of knowing good versus evil in the content of the new generation. The Mr. Burns image of the “Rich White Guy” was a simple character that defined the classes and and ideology behind capitalism. But moving forward past 2017, anyone from Shane Smith to Mark Zuckerberg is loved for the image, but not recognized for the major impact they have on what we think, believe, understand, or experience in the world. That type of powerful connection to the not billions of people who intereact with these brands is not to be taken lightly. It’s not to be dismissed becasue they wear t-shirts or take vacations away to cottage country. The fact they seem “just like us” is a key identifying that yes, the upper class may be changing in terms of etiquette, but also that the upper class has even more superior trust from the people, and thus far more influence and a lot less accountability when serious shitty connections come to light.

There’s really no solution to this thesis. If we are to maintain a progress, we need to collectively ask questions. Our social state right now, however, values aesthetic over anything else, and when this strategy is consumed, even revered over the facts, one person can’t do much in terms of evolving any “archy” our there. The “Rich White Guy” whether it be King Kylie, Shane Smith, Jared Kushner, Sheryl Sandburg, Murk Zuckerberg, Beyonce, or whomever lives life in lavish enterprising luxury, hold a position that’s a delicate balance between making billions or making billions of people, better. And until any individual on the top 1% can make that leap, these are the people whom we have to question and hold to the utmost scrutiny over what they do and what they say, regardless of whatever political spectrum bias they are on.

The “Rich White Guy” will never die.