Suicide Prevention Orgs: Have You Weighed in on the VICE Magazine Suicide-Fashion Spread?

VirginiaWoolfAny nonprofit communications expert will tell you that part of an organization’s communications strategy should be to not only post its own news, but get engaged and comment on the stories and issues being circulated by others — even if they’re outside the nonprofit world.

That can seem difficult for busy nonprofits whose entire communications model has, up until recently, been devoted to carefully crafted mailings, newsletters, and so forth. And then there’s that nagging question: Do such opportunities for engagement really exist, or is everyone just recirculating each others’ news?

This week, a story spreading virally on Facebook offers a prime example of where nonprofits could, by following the social media world and getting engaged, not only establish their relevance, but play a useful role in a debate.

The magazine known as VICE posted a fashion spread depicting well-dressed, well-coiffed famous female authors in the moments before they committed suicide, or attempted to. They include Dorothy Parker, Virginia Woolf, Iris Chang, Charlotte Perkins, Sylvia Plath, Sanmao, and Elise Cowen. It was called “Last Words,” but as pointed out by Tanwi Nandini in Fashionista, “These writers are completely stripped of their words.”

The reaction from the press (such as The Atlantic and Salon) and Facebook commenters has been mostly horror at Vice’s poor taste and commercial cynicism, with occasional voices wondering why we’re drawn to these images. But I haven’t seen much at all from the nonprofit world, which could certainly deepen the discussion with facts and comments on issues like the effect of suicide (and glorified depictions of it!) on family and friends, the state of despair (as opposed to fashion consciousness) that drives people to suicide, and of course the bizarre marketing mash-up of women, sex, and death.

But if you’re still crafting your well-considered response: The magazine has already taken this spread down, and the public’s attention will soon, no doubt, move on to the next outrage.