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VICE Episode 02 Review: Bad Borders

By Jef Dinsmore on Apr 13, 2013 to Vice


Overview: Escape From North Korea: Thousands of North Koreans cross the border into China illegally every year. Living in perpetual fear of being discovered, with all odds against them, defectors still do everything they can to leave. If arrested in communist Laos, they may be sent back to North Korea to face VICE_defectorprison camp or worse. The risks of escaping the North and heading to the South are so great that fewer than 25,000 North Koreans have ever made the journey successfully. VICE joins a South Korean pastor who has developed a modern-day underground railroad to move defectors from China to freedom and eventual citizenship in South Korea.

World’s Most Dangerous Border: The most dangerous place in the world is Kashmir’s line of control, which partially occupies the Indian state and separates India from Pakistan. Observers in both India and Pakistan believe the decades-old conflict between the two nations could potentially lead to the end of the world as we know it. VICE travels across Pakistan to the contested line of control in Kashmir, pointing out how close a nuclear apocalypse is yet again.

 Expectations: It seems as we go into Episode 2 that we find each half hour has a theme. The theme of this episode is borders between countries and specifically, in this episode how and why individuals want to get across these imaginary lines.  I am sure we will get a good education on the matter. First, I need to break it down a bit further.

Escape FroVICE_ThomasMortonm North Korea: This piece is the first one we see by correspondent Thomas Morton(pictured). I will be looking to learn of his tone and style of reporting. The other two correspondents had a different delivery from the other and I am a bit curious to see how host number three fits in. I’ll save my evaluation of each in the “In Conclusion” section. As for subject matter, the “underground railroad” out of North Korea is going to be a bit harrowing. Even the brief sneak peek shoving people along in the dead of night is intense.

However, I have to be careful of expecting each and every episode of being as dangerous and intense as the last.

World’s Most Dangerous Border: Going in we know that Pakistan is a hot box of radical thinking. So, we can expect an intense situation. I am not 100% sure why so I suspect this piece will be more of an eye-opening education than anything. I am also sure that it should go without saying that the potential outcome of nuclear warfare is not an ideal scenario. So what’s the dispute? This border war has me intrigued. Hold that thought while I watch VICE Season 1, Episode 2 and I’ll resume afterwards.VICE_WorldAccordingto

Review: Getting right into it, here are my thoughts on segment one Escape Form North Korea reported by correspondent Thomas Morton. Okay, we certainly know that North Korea is a baaaad place to call home. Especially due to current news life in that country is not a mystery. So, I didn’t mind that the political scene in that country was not the focus here nor was it the Demilitarized Zone that stands between it and South Korea. The perspective of this piece focuses on how to get to South Korea and safety and who would have thought it was so circuitous. The addition of a map to show us the route through the belly of China into Laos to Thailand before finding sanctuary is daunting for sure. Thanks to the pastor involved a few can find freedom, but at a price. The struggles in life some have to go through.

Thanks to Thomas Morton who is willing to take the journey at least part way with the defectors in question we get a complete story. He asks all the right questions gave us a well edited piece. We certainly learn that defecting is not easy and not without consequences.VICE_pakistan

World’s Most Dangerous Border: reported by correspondent Shane Smith. Wow, we thought our southern border was a difficult zone. It doesn’t have fully armed bunkers about or adamant soldiers posturing to the point of apoplexy or a sharp-shooter daring you to cross over the literal taped line. It is truly scary that we are seeing a time bomb about to explode here. Add that to the number of other locales around the world and we find a dangerous planet is the norm. The scenario shown here is almost unbelievable but the religious based fervor is very real.

Shane Smith sets up and explains this piece well. Again, the visual aid of a map helps bring all into focus. I like what Shane did by showing us both sides of the story and both sides of the border. He not only travels to Kashmir but to Pakistan and talks to analysts from both sides of the issue. The end result is the same; if the other side doesn’t wise up there could be nuclear consequences. It is an unsettling piece.VICE_ShaneBorder

In Conclusion: I’ll keep it short. We have now seen reports from all three of the hosts of VICE. A quick evaluation about each as promised and I’ll wrap up. Shane Smith plays up the intensity of his pieces by walking right up to the danger; Ryan Duffy was sort of jocular in his piece and Thomas Morton appeared to offer the most journalistic approach in his first piece. At least by the first two episodes each correspondent seemed to add a unique approach adding yet one more layer to VICE.


Feel free to share your thoughts about the episode and/or its hosts. I leave you with THE MORNING AFTER video. Peace.

  • Jef Dinsmore

    I agree that investigative journalism and VICE are two different things. I agree that Sheila Nevins and the documentary division of HBO would have given a different treatment to the issues of the world. I agree that WITNESS was a well done series. Jon Turk, you were spot on with those thoughts.

    However, VICE, in its defense, never touts itself as ‘investigative journalism.” They are doing what their site claims to be doing which is “expanding your world view.” You cannot deny that that is what they are indeed doing.They choose to do it with relatable blokes and quick segments to catch the younger audiences and open their eyes to the real world.
    Simply, the worldview seen from the perspective of both WITNESS and VICE are needed. Sadly, there are far to many people who are more interested in Honey Boo Boo and Kardashians to notice.

    • Thanks for the reply Jef. Fair points, I’m a pretty big tv/documentary/news snob (HBO made me this way) and you’re right, VICE is doing something that is not easily categorized as one of those things. Hopeful it will reach people that are less aware of these situations going on in the world. Shane Smith describes the criteria for their stories like this, “It has to be simple, it has to have a hook, and it has to have a punch in the face.” I’ll be watching but I may not be the most appropriate target for their product. This must be what it feels like to age out of the most coveted demographic of television viewers, I had a good run.

  • I had been anticipating the show before it’s debut and am not giving final judgement until I see the rest of the season but it seems telling that this series is under the purview of Bill Maher rather than Sheila Nevins. So far I have not been very impressed with what strikes me more as home movies of citizen adventure tourism/stunt-reporting rather than enlightening investigative journalism. It is all the more difficult for me to enjoy their work after watching the excellent series “Witness” that aired last fall following real journalists in dangerous places in the world as well as the upcoming, “Which way is the frontline from here?” airing this Thursday, May 18th.

    I want to like VICE but the Brooklyn 20-something, every-man personalities of the correspondents is another hurdle to overcome. I much prefer the work of real investigative journalism documentaries such as those fostered and aired by HBO on their America Undercover series, especially those made by Jon Alpert and Downtown Community Television. Observe their list of films on wikipedia or watch 60 minutes and Frontline and see what is essentially a better, more mature version of what VICE is trying to do. Again I eagerly await watching every single episode and would love to be eating my words when the season is over.

    Jacob I know you’re a big fan and if you haven’t seen it already, check out the excellent New Yorker article profiling Vice Media by Lizzie Widdicombe.

  • Really liking what I’m seeing so far on VICE. I think the 30 minute format is awesome because it keeps it quick-paced and to “just the exciting stuff” which I think is the goal of the show.

    Not sure if they just exaggerate how dangerous the situations they’re in are or they’re actually just clinically insane. Either way its fun to watch!

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