Vice Magazine has revived the practice of sending young, male correspondents abroad into combat zones, politically hostile nations and significantly within harm’s way as a means of getting shocking street-level imagery of current events from the perspective of an average citizen; unfortunately the charnel house, culture shock, and angry Russian bouncers doesn’t make what Vice is doing actual journalism. Vice Magazine would like to style itself as the place where a millennial Hunter S. Thompson would have worked, the gonzo reporter of the YouTube Age: this is the standard conceit of any news video on Vice.com.
I can never really learn any foreign policy or cultural understanding from Vice News, which increases proportionally as the reporter himself becomes a character in the story. Vice Correspondents are generally twenty something white guys with at least some college, if not a bachelor’s (but rarely more than that), and can be American, British, or European; their first language is English or English bilingual to something else (like Russian.) They are always fairly attractive, intelligent men who seem to want to try and tell the story they’re covering, and either get caught up in the minutiae or wind up asking puerile questions to their interviewees. These are the kinds of reporters that in the bygone days would have been snapped up by a newspaper; and for all their honesty come off as hopelessly green. (Full disclosure: I am not a reporter.) But whether they’re headed to watch Ukranian townies fight the revolution with rocks and pot lids or just uptown to the South Bronx, it seems like the Vice Correspondent initiation ritual must involve, among other things, having a gun put to your head.
But it still isn’t news. As I write this article I’m listening to the walking joke Eddie Hwong, Korean guy wearing star-of-david bling on his pinky finger, telling me how to eat at the nearby Malecon restaurant in Washington Heights. He sort of started with a good thought about how New York is a microcosm of the world; but if I lived in Santo Domingo would I have some idiot screeching “Chinaman got to have his rice, and don’t eat stewed goat if you don’t like pussy” in my restaurant? Probably not. Eddie Hwong has no more right to review Washington Heights than I do; actually he has less; I lived there for six months. Now a montage of Goya products; what is this supposed to be? Grocery ethnography. Then we cut to his apartment and some dreamy hip-hop for blunt-rolling. That’s Vice News, people. Make sure to wear your toilet shirt to work (not kidding.)
The one big article I found with a girl as correspondent was pretty awful; it was a review of Atlanta strip clubs, which, Atlanta is, according to this video, famous for (but so is Tampa, according to a different strip club review on Vice.com.) It’s kind of sad that Joanna Fuertes-Knight refers to herself as a music journalist when she has to listen to (male) strip club managers talk about “soft skin on dick” in search of “the real ATL”, as she calls it. Even though she claims to have “been crazy about the dirty-south stripper anthems” as a girl in the UK, I want to call that bluff. Which were those songs? The video itself has a pretty generic thump-thump beat informed by the vaguest whiff of hip-hop, but I think that’s just called ‘pop’. The imagery switches back to women shakin’ dat ass at least every two minutes in case the male viewers are getting bored. If you ever do go to Atlanta to the see strippers, make sure you throw the dollar bills directly at her bare ass and groin, apparently that’s how they do it in the ATL. The article took a turn for the horrifying when, without warning, we headed to the plastic surgeon all the strippers in Atlanta go to and he told Ms. Fuertes-Knight all the things he could potentially have done to her, pinching every tiny roll and piece of fat around her bra to get ‘cleaned up and curvy’. Her butt was ‘long’. It would cost 15,000 to fix everything on our female correspondent.
Vice has a do’s and don’ts section, which is more of a what’s-what of what the boys are looking at: topless girls, ugly girls, their own frat brothers drunk, and stuff they’re reblogging from tumblr; there’s never a photo credit. Not to skip around, but everything Vice does is fast and loose; and depends on going to armpit Soviet satellite states like Kyrgyzstan to get access; only in Kyrgyzstan or NY Fashion Week or similarly irrelevant events do Vice reporters get real access. (And they seem to have an incredible amount of access to all the little Eastern European countries no American knows about, god knows why.) Are you cutting your teeth, Vice guys, or are you just wasting your time? Is it outsider journalism or just inept vlogging?