VICE Review: 'The Absurdity of the Modern Condition'

VICE debuted its eponymous TV show on HBO Friday evening, and it's a promising start. The show begins with a sequence of videos showcasing the Brooklyn-based media group's wide range of international coverage, and declares that the intention of the series is to expose "the absurdity of the modern condition."

The first story is a report on the culture of political assassination in the Philippines. Not exactly a new story--but VICE shows viewers several aspects of the crisis rarely seen by the outside world, including illegal gunsmithing shacks and then a horrific child soldier camp, where youngsters drill to carry out political battles.

The second brings more child soldiering in a story about the new suicide attacks of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Shane Smith, VICE's co-founder ("VICE president" sounds too cute), takes the story himself. It's a timely reminder of the brutality of the people with whom the Obama administration is eager to negotiate. (And the destructive role our own media play--one would-be suicide bomber refers to the false story, propagated by Newsweek and others, that the U.S. military flushed Korans down the toilet.) 

Talking to the Taliban proves too dangerous, but Smith does interview a senior Taliban figure for his perspective, which is (predictably) that the attacks are the inevitable result of the American presence in the country, though his evasive response on the question of active support for such bombings is chilling. Smith chokes up in speaking to a family that lost several members to a suicide bombing at a religious shrine.

On Friday, I wrote that VICE might risk taking "the road much traveled," recycling the customary left bias of the mainstream media even in going beyond that media's dominant narratives. I'll admit that did not happen in this first episode, which focused--admirably--on telling stories behind the news. Looking forward to episode two.


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