You've probably already encountered some of the controversy surrounding VICE, the eponymous media company's first-ever national television series. Premiering tonight on HBO, the news show has attracted criticism for being sensationalistic, irresponsible, self-aggrandizing — and also for jeopardizing American interests by buddying up to North Korean dictator Kim Jung-un.
But before Vice was cavorting with despots, it was cavorting with Terry Richardson. The free hipster rag from Montreal has long been notorious for its sometimes-funny, often-offensive DOs and DON'Ts column, provocative how-to series (I'll offer up "The VICE Guide to Dating Rich Girls" as an example, although their best-known guides are so racy, to read them you have to check a box saying you're over 18) and founding editor Gavin McInnes' 2003 comment, "I love being white and I think it's something to be very proud of." (McInnes has since left the company.)
Produced by Bill Maher, Shane Smith and Eddy Moretti, with CNN's Fareed Zakaria consulting, VICE bills itself as a video news magazine and is mostly concerned with foreign affairs — the bloodier the better.
I attended a screener of the first two episodes last night, and here's what I saw: Segments with sensationalist headlines like, "Kid Killers of the Taliban" (really? they needed to make that alliterative?) on troubling subjects like child suicide bombers, reported by all-white all-male hipsters who are super-impressed with themselves for risking their lives and caring about important stuff.
BUT, it's not all bad: For all of their sloppiness and arrogance, Vice's intrepid journalists really are putting their lives in danger for the sake of trying to tell engaging, reported stories about the wars being waged in our names to a generation that has no idea what's happening in other parts of the world. I was a kid when 9/11 happened; I was a teenager when the Bush administration justified the invasion of Iraq by claiming Saddam Hussein had WMDs. I think most people in the United States feel largely powerless and alienated from political decision-making, but that might be especially true for anyone that came of age in the period following the attack on the World Trade Center.
In the Q&A discussion following the screener last night, series producer and Vice co-founder Shane Smith said he used to dream of making a show called, "Where Are All the Adults?" because he was outraged by all the horrible things he saw happening and not being talked about. But then he realized he had his own media platform and, he implied, it was up to him to be the adult. "The easiest way not to get criticized is not to do anything," he said, to a murmur of assent from the hipster audience. Whether or not you like VICE, whether you become a regular viewer — it deserves credit.
An important note: The headline does not intend to perpetuate the stereotype that women (or more generally, people interested in fashion) are too frivolous to care about "serious subjects" on their own terms, and that things like foreign war reporting are only interesting to "boyfriends" (sry for the implied heteronormativity! not intentional, we welcome/love all readers) — but VICE does feel like a show that's appealing to young males specifically: it fetishizes guns, gory imagery (one early clip showed a decapitated head rolling around) and its reporters are men. Smith said that although they had intended to shoot a story about rape in Egypt with a female journalist, they couldn't ensure her safety and the idea was scrapped. Still, VICE did reach out to us and other fashion outlets for coverage. That's pretty cool of them, but I do worry that they were just trying to pave the road for the hipster boyfriends of America to watch the premiere tonight without too much resistance from their partners.
Images courtesy VICE