VICE Episode 09: Gangs and Oil – A Review


Overview: CHIRAQThe lethal combination of gangs and guns has turned Chicago into a war zone. To see why the Windy City, now dubbed “Chiraq,” had the country’s highest homicide rate in 2012, VICE visits Chicago’s most dangerous areas, where handguns are plentiful and the police and community leaders are fighting a losing battle against gang violence. In the neighborhood of Englewood, we patrol with police, visit with religious leaders, and hang out with members of gangs – soldiers in a turf war that has spread into new communities as projects are destroyed and residents are forced to move elsewhere.VICE_chicagoguns-300x199

NIGERIA’S OIL PIRATES – High unemployment, political corruption, and the unequal sharing of oil resources have turned today’s Niger Delta into a hell on earth. Oil theft has become big business in Nigeria, costing oil companies more than $7 billion per year while polluting coastal farmlands and fisheries – and wrecking the lives and livelihoods of local residents. VICE travels to Africa’s oil-producing region to meet with oil thieves who refine and sell oil in West Africa, and follows one farmer’s attempt to sue a foreign oil company for poisoning his family’s land.


Expectations: Nothing against the far-flung recesses of the world, but the closest a story gets to home the more agitated I become. Just from the preview for CHIRAQ alone I started to get a little nervous. How bad could Chicago be? Not only that, but why is it so bad? Is this a piece that will sensationalize a small microcosm into something bigger? Is it going to be a cautionary tale warning us that we better do something before it gets out of hand? I am curious how this one plays out mainly because it is another segment from our American soil.

NIGERIA’S OIL PIRATES takes us someplace interesting. It takes us deep up the Niger Delta. From what I gather about this piece the people of Nigeria are taking control, albeit illegally, of what corrupt oil companies have promised them. The corporations have promised development of the Third World nation in exchange for extracting & refining oil and don’t see the promise through. That leads to piracy. Exactly how all this plays out will make for an interesting report I suspect. My curiosity is piqued with this piece as well. It is a curiosity that I must satisfy in Gangs & Oil.

VICE_ThomasChiraqGut Reaction: First off, I want to say that Episode 09 Gangs and Oil was a well filmed and edited installment. Also both stories were well matched; they both were told in the same tone. The episode’s title makes it look like the piece looks at two separate issues. One piece is about gangs and the other about oil but I saw a common theme between them. They were also both about disillusioned youngsters making a stand and taking action for what they think must be done. Now, I must do what must be done and look at both segments separately.

CHIRAQ reported by correspondent Thomas Morton. This section is about my ‘gut reaction’ and my reaction to this piece surprised me. I felt surprised! There wasn’t a sense or shock because inner cities are rough generally anyway. There was no anger that the city had gotten this bad, there was no sadness nor was there the nervousness that I felt upon seeing the preview as I stated above.

Again, I felt surprised. I sat there eyes widened to the screen and took it all in. Wow, Chicago is bad off, or large parts of it anyway (not Oprah’s part I’m sure). I was surprised at the statistics; surprised at the realization that it is already far out of control; surprised at the gang maps on the police station wall and surprised at the level this problem has escalated too. I was also a bit surprised at my own naiveté about the inner-city struggle being the small town nature boy I am.

I was also surprised by Thomas Morton. Most of his pieces in VICE: Season One have been done with tongue-in-cheek humor, even his ESCAPE FROM NORTH KOREA and GUN SCHOOL pieces had levity. That is not the case with CHIRAQ. He delivered this story with a tone he has not used before He had the same tone Suroosh Alvi takes which is one of a more serious documentarian, which explains my previous comment about the similarity each segment had in tone. Thomas is not about witty observations here he is the news reporter stating the concise facts of the situation from beginning to end. It is a surprising segment and a great final report from Thomas for Season One.    VICE-_pirate-300x111

Nigeria’s Oil Pirates reported by VICE co/founder & correspondent Suroosh Alvi. I like Alvi. His tone, his voice, his manner and respect; his sort of stoic approach with an occasional slip of emotion suits me well. He takes us to a spot on the world’s underbelly which isn’t painted as a lush jungle full of exotic animals, but a hidden world of desperation and poverty in the Niger Delta. He took us to a site seldom seen. We are not in a known European or Far East city and I appreciated traveling to this different locale. What I saw was both sides of the nasty business that is Oil. The environmental havoc alone was brutal. The stat given by Shane Smith in the introduction stated the lost oil is equivalent to an Exxon Valdez disaster every year. Ouch. The dangerous illegal setup was a scary locale and it registered to Suroosh and the camera quite effectively.

Surprise didn’t register with me here. I wasn’t surprised by Shell Oil’s actions or position on the matter. Nor was I really surprised by the actions of the locals of taking some small control of the matter either. Hearing the exposition about the piracy led me to a question that linked the two segments together in yet another way for me. Why does it seem wrong and a shame for the youth of Chicago to take the destructive path it is on yet I feel alright about the illegal refineries in the Delta?

It shouldn’t be just because we shouldn’t let this sort of thing happen in the great U. S. but what happens in a third World country is no big deal. Come on, people are people no matter where they hail. Thugs are thugs no matter where, right? Yet, I was still okay with the oil pirates. They are attacking the corporate giant that is sucking the riches from their soil. Chicagoans are just whacking each other over nothing. Upon mulling that train I thought I realized that surprise had crept into this piece as well – I was surprised at these questions surfacing at all. Thanks, VICE. It was an intriguing thought process. And thanks Suroosh for appearing again before the season concludes.


In Conclusion: Episode 09 did not disappoint. We had two strong reports; the realities in Chicago’s South Side and the downside of the Oil business. Gangs and Oil prove to be tricky elements in this world that need to be dealt with. The gangs are senseless and primal posturing that need to stop for a city to heal and Oil dependency and the nasty business it generates needs to be in check. VICE has given us something to ponder.

We conclude with the Morning After clip. Note that I watched this clip after my post was mostly fleshed out. So, once again, I was surprised. I was surprise that some of my thoughts about this episode were shared by the trio at the table. Here is executive producer Eddy Moretti with Thomas and Suroosh. Peace.




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