“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” –Some Guy, I Mean Alexander Pope-
If its first season’s finale is any indicator, The Vice Guide to Everything is bound to bring out the most school marm in any viewer looking to take even semi-seriously a show that juxtaposes a segment on Sri Lankan child soldiers with one on Norwegian reindeer racing. To be fair, Vice magazine founder Shane Smith isn’t exactly trying to look like a pillar of journalistic integrity. He introduces each segment in tonight’s finale at a party from the annual Vice Holiday Party at Brighton Beach. And The Vice Guide to Everything isn’t exactly a news show so much as it is an over-glorified grab bag of international cultural trivia. And yet, whenever the show makes a periodic and wholly untenable grab at relevance, the only appropriate response is to lose your shit. Because nobody wants to get preached at by plaid-clad hipsters armed with a little bit of knowledge.
Apart from a drive to be the next Rolling Stone, Vice magazine, self-described in the show’s introduction as a magazine formerly dedicated to sex, drugs, and rock and roll, never really had a mandate to expand its horizon beyond those three aforementioned topics. That doesn’t meant that The Vice Guide to Everything was destined to be as tacky as it is, but damn if it doesn’t sound good, which is practically the show’s underlying m.o. Because apparently selling soft news like a segment about the Peruvian Huayno (pronounced “Wino”) scene is so hard that Vice needed a way to informally give viewers a way into the topic. Right, that’s why they focused on the fact that it’s marred by controversy, not the fact that they don’t care about the music at all. They just want to give their audience an easier way into that world, sure, sure.
This segment is especially dismal as it plays to all of Vice’s strengths and still sucks. A skinny would-be reporter gives us a sensational rundown on what the Huayno music scene is like, focusing on the dicier aspects of an industry that has become characterized by crime and scandal. Singer Alicia Delgado, the target, I mean focus of this exposé wears many seedy hats: She’s a murder suspect, the owner and representative of a brand of fruitcake, and the wearer of traditionally tacky clothing. The Vice reporter assigned to her cannot get enough of this last detail, doing everything except laughing in Delgado’s face when she earnestly asks him to choose the dress she’ll wear to a concert. “That’s a huge honor,” he says bemusedly with a mile-wide smirk on his face just before he chooses one with a boar on it, just because he thinks it’s “rare to see a boar on a dress.” The snark factor on this show is so high it could kill a man at ten paces.
But since context is everything, let it be known that the Huayno segment came after one of tonight’s episode’s two more serious segments, a bit on the “Poppy Palaces” of Kabul. This segment was actually pretty interesting for the most part and was handled with the most relative care, probably because Smith was the star of it and hence had the most control over it. Posing as a representative of a wealthy fictitious foreigner, Smith took a tour of two representative mansions that local hash-dealing moguls would normally operate out of, one of which was recently abandoned by a famous dealer. Every room has a bathroom, even closets, kitchens, hallways, etc. This tour of a dream house from hell is fascinating stuff, like Cribs except relevant, until Smith reminds us that, “America is the biggest drug dealer on the planet,” wagging his finger at us for indirectly funding such decadence when, in fact, his magazine has been promoting drug culture for years now. No wonder this was the shortest segment of the bunch: There’s not a lot you can say when you’re actively incriminating yourself.
But that segment is nothing compared to the one where the series tries to weigh in on rehab centers for child soldiers of Sri Lanka and winds up chiding the mass media at large for the fact that they unsuccessfully tried to exploit their under-age interview subjects. One of several interchangeable bright-eyed, bushy-tailed young white guys approaches a group of child soldiers, expecting to be able to get answers to questions like, “Do you ever think about those days again?” Naturally, because there’s a guy off-camera dictating what questions can and cannot be answered, he does not get the answers he’s hoping for.
This leads Some White Guy #4 to change the focus of his piece to a half-assed putdown of the way our oversaturated “24/7 news cycle” is, like, manipulative and stuff and how we should give these poor people some room to breathe before trying to do a story that more established journalists should be doing instead.
Granted, what would you expect from a show that sets up this hard-hitting segment by having Smith, filming at Brighton Beach, slur authoritatively, “The end of the evening is always sad. You know what else is sad? Child soldiers.” And yet, it’s especially pathetic to see any would-be journalists pretend that their last-minute attempt at holding the media responsible for taking advantage of third-world interview subjects isn’t strictly motivated by the fact that they couldn’t get the interview they were hoping for. I mean, really, how do you expect me to take you seriously when you end your segment with a insouciant line like, “How about we chill out a little and give these people a chance to rebuild their lives?” How, I ask, how?
And then there’s a segment on reindeer racing. Another white guy tries it out, snickers at residents of Harstad, Norway, for taking an event as bizarre as reindeer racing seriously, and then winds up getting drunk with the locals, who apparently all brew their own moonshine. Realistically, this segment is the most indicative of The Vice Guide to Everything’s generally innocuous brand of insta-minutiae. And yet, every aspect of the show is presented in this unbearably smug “Love me or hate me, douchebag, I’m just selling what I know our public wants” attitude. Forgive me, dear readers, but I am angry with a wholly inconsequential thing and really needed to get its rancid taste out of my mouth.