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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

? And Does Anybody Care, Except for Us?




What to do with the eXile book if you are The Moscow Times f a newspaper that has suffered much at the hands of eXile co-editors Mark Ames and Matt Taibbi?


Not having read the book, I was pleased when our books editor settled upon Owen Matthews of Newsweek to write the review. Matthews, I figured, was perfect: He was, like eXile, cheerfully dissolute, and he would review the book on its own terms. He would be cruel, but fair. And I wouldn't have to worry about the review becoming a vehicle for defending The Moscow Times and other victims of the eXile's vicious attentions.


Then the eXile published a preemptive spoof of the Matthews review. It was lame, but it did get my attention f not least because it described the books editor and myself as "mid-level functionaries with asses so tight you could sharpen a quill in them." Hmm. Soon after, some Moscow Times editors began asking whether it was fair to have Matthews review the book: He appears often in "The eXile: Sex, Drugs and Libel in the New Russia," always with gratuitous disparaging comments. So, in a doomed effort to deal fairly with everyone, I decided to review the book as well.


I found that I get off light for my sins: The book favorably cites some of my journalism, and describes me as "a left-leaning young friend of Taibbi's" f treatment that left me relieved (particularly when I compared it to the beating meted out to my predecessor, Geoff Winestock).


In the incestuous village known as the Moscow expat journalism community, the passions are so high because the stakes are so low. At one point, Taibbi, Matthews and I were Moscow Times reporters, working for managing editor Winestock f one of the eXile's favorite targets f while Ames was bidding to join the editorial page as a columnist. As Matthews asks above: Does anybody care, except for us?


That said, I was predisposed to like the eXile book, and I did. As with the paper, the book is a jumbled mix of Taibbi's critical reporting and Ames' lurid autobiography f the club scene and the political scene f spiced with way too much wise-guy humor. It is also a behind-the-scenes look at "the making of the eXile," packaged as an intro to Russia written for the hip American audience f the same hometown crowd Ames and Taibbi sought exile from in the first place.


Sometimes, of course, more is less. Instead of the eXile's wicked practical jokes f such as getting Mikhail Gorbachev's office to tentatively agree he'd take up a post as defensive coordinator for the New York Jets f we now get the joke, plus Ames and Taibbi giggling as they execute it. Somehow the joke falls flatter by far.


At other times, "the making of the eXile" offers scenes like the arguments between the editors and their American business manager, Kara, who says they are harrassing the Russian staff. "You're always trying to force Masha and Sveta under the table to give you blow jobs. It's not funny. They don't think it's funny." To which Taibbi replies, "But ? it is funny."


Alongside the Mel Brooks gags, we get a lot of introspection and self-doubt. This worked for me; it would not for many, not least because the eXile editors are so pointedly uninterested in the self-doubts of others. (A typical scene, one that should have a familiar ring to readers of the eXile's letters-to-the-editors pages: Informed they have made Kathy Lally of The Baltimore Sun cry, Taibbi shouts "Good!" and Ames, "Fuck her!")


I admit that I am an eXile reader, and not just of the Abram Kalashnikov press reviews. I like the universally reviled "Death Porn," for example f the campy treatment of the most lurid violent crimes, complete with its patented key symbols to represent the absurd formulas found in police reporting here ("the victim was killed in his podyezd," "the murder was connected with his professional activities," "the investigation is continuing.") That's not to say I haven't thrown a copy of the eXile away from myself in surprised revulsion, particularly when I've been eating f the execution of Death Porn often leaves something to be desired. But I appreciate the campy approach, precisely because I doubt the sincerity of the moralizing with which crime is usually covered.


And, like many eXile readers, I admit that I don't get a lot of it. The mutual admiration society between the eXile and Russian nationalist Eduard Limonov f taken to new heights in the book f baffles me still. So does the heavyhanded formula of Russian-women-good-in-bed, American-women-frustrated-in-bed. And I could have done without the extensive discussions of Ames' bout, nine years ago, with scabies. But as always with the eXile, I've learned to take the best and hurriedly move on from the rest.


Matt Bivens is the editor of The Moscow Times.