End of The eXile Era
Published: June 24, 2008 (Issue # 1384)
So farewell, The eXile. An era has ended, and we shall not see its like again. After over a decade of delivering caustic comment, childish pranks and more information than we perhaps wanted and needed to know about the editors’ sex lives and drug habits, Moscow’s original alternative expat newspaper is finally being shut down. Four inspectors from the Federal Service for Mass Media, Telecommunications and the Protection of Cultural Heritage recently visited The eXile’s offices, wanting to know about Eduard Limonov, a long-time contributor to the newspaper whose radical National Bolsheviks form the last remnants of Russia’s real opposition. The inspectors were investigating whether the newspaper violated Article 4 of the Law on Mass Media, which bans media outlets from promoting extremism, pornography or narcotics. The writing was on the wall.
Is the paper guilty? Hell yes — at least by the puritanical standards of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The eXile was a biweekly dish of political gossip (often surprisingly incisive), grim reports from the country’s underbelly and amphetamine-fueled vitriol against Middle America. It was also heavily laced with pornography, satirical graphics and outrageous club reviews penned by a series of fictional correspondents. This was the paper that created the “Death Porn” column, a compendium of the week’s most gruesome crimes illustrated with police photos. Its most recent issue hailed the early arrival of “snapper season,” complete with photos of naked provincial girls taken from the “Dyevscovery Channel.”
In one of their most famous pranks, the editors made a cream pie mixed with horse sperm and threw it in the face of New York Times bureau chief Michael Wines. The journalistic offenses Wines had committed are long forgotten, but the memory of the pictures of him licking cream off his fingers lingers on. Former editor Matt Taibbi, posing as a sports promoter, once persuaded Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to sign up as a motivational coach for the New York Jets. And, in the later, darker years, The eXile chronicled Mark Ames’ epic odyssey to celebrate the paper’s ninth anniversary by sleeping with nine whores in nine hours, armed with a pocketful of Viagra, $450 in expenses and a digital camera. (For the record, he failed.)
But The eXile’s mission was more than just to shock. It ran Yasha Levine’s 2007 piece on working as a gypsy cab driver on Moscow’s nighttime streets — as powerful a piece of city reporting as I’ve read anywhere. In addition, Taibbi’s report from the distant mines of Vorkuta in the aftermath of the 1998 crisis delivered a level of detail and raw empathy that no mainstream reporter had matched. And an antic experiment to hire prostitutes to come and spend an hour writing short fictional stories in The eXile offices instead of their usual work — printed in the paper under the headline “Whore-R-Stories” — actually produced deeply moving, pathetic little tales of provincial despair. Pages: