It’s been over two years now since the very last edition of The eXile came out. That’s 24 months and counting without its acerbic and brilliantly grotesque portrayals of Russian life, death and everything in between..
A mind-bending cocktail of rage, sex, violence and quality investigative journalism, the Moscow-based, English-language paper not only encapsulated the chaos, anarchy and sheer fun of much of the first two decades of post-Soviet Russia, it managed to add something of its own to the mix. It was also unflinchingly honest.
As you may have already worked out, I miss it a lot.
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The eXile: Stopping at nothing to get The Truth
“Everybody read The eXile,” Mark Ames, the paper’s former editor, tells me in an email interview from the U.S., where he is now based. “Even those who hated The eXile read it – they’d sneak their latest copy into their corporate toilet to read, and ambassadors hid their copies underneath their mattresses so their wives or intelligence services wouldn’t catch them reading it.”
With headlines like “101 Reasons Why Russia is Fascist” (Kremlin links with skinhead groups, more girls dying their hair blond), “Die Already!” (over a photo of a bloated President Yeltsin), and a gleefully tasteless 9/11 cover shortly after the Twin Towers came down, almost every issue of The eXile managed to upset someone or other.
“Every writer, every publication errs on the side of something, and for everyone that something means erring on the side of caution. We always erred on the side of meanness and irresponsibility,” Ames explains. “If I had to add up all the things we were accused of over time, it would probably be a tie between ‘anti-Russian’ and ‘anti-American’ In fact, we were always equal-opportunity haters.”
As Ames tells it, the 9/11 cover, which featured a Twin Towers female office worker taking it from behind and screaming “It’s so big!” as a Boeing loomed into view, cost The eXile a significant amount of expat business. The “Fascist” story, illustrated by an image depicting Putin as a midget Hitlerjugen, lost the paper “about 1/3 of our distribution points and about half of our clients.”
“As you can see, we had a pretty counter-intuitive business philosophy,” he says.
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Ames started up The eXile after being rejected by The Moscow Times, a paper so anodyne and lacking in spirit that fellow columnist Daniel Kalder once accused it of “managing to make the most interesting country in the world seem dull.”
Says Ames: “The editor at the time, Marc Champion, told me they wouldn’t hire me because my writing was too wild and Moscow wasn’t a wild city, as he explained – my style didn’t fit with what he perceived as the dull, bland reality of Moscow.
“[But] Moscow in the 1990s was one of those special moments in history that they’ll be composing epics about for centuries to come. Dickens had no idea what the f**k he was talking about with his ‘best of times, worst of times’ line–that was Moscow in the 1990s.”
From The eXile’s “Field Guide to Moscow”
Aside from the controversy, The eXile also earned a global reputation for serious pieces of “proper” journalism, from predicting the Russian economic crisis of 1998 before anyone else to hard-hitting crime stories from the country’s brutal and forgotten provinces.
They also carried out some great stunts, from throwing a horse-semen pie into the face of Russia’s “worst foreign correspondent” – Michael Wines of The New York Times – to reportedly persuading Mikhail Gorbachev to enter talks to become “perestroika coordinator” for the New York Jets American football team.
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Would you like to know more? Buy The eXile: Sex, Drugs and Libel in the New Russia (Grove).
Click the cover & buy the book!
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