Overview: Here we go with another season offering hardcore journalism from around the world. VICE will present twelve installments involving world conflicts and global issues as well as cultural insights in a way not presented by any other media outlet. Welcome to VICE Season Two, featuring new correspondents.
From the onset of this sophomore season we know that VICE was going to go more in-depth than before. The biggest change going in was the addition of new reporters in the field. We singled them out in a previous post and will include opinion about each of them as they appear throughout the season. The biggest benefit of some of these reporters is that, as quoted by Shane Smith himself, “they can go places Americans cannot.”
Upon watching the premiere episode there appears to be a few others changes to the VICE on HBO experience. Though the show is still only a half hour a few extra minutes are given to the reports. We will still see an introduction to each piece from Shane Smith filmed at the Brooklyn offices of VICE. Then we will get two reports from two different correspondents. Last year’s episodes seemed to be grouped by a theme (we had, for example, “Bad Borders,” “Guns & Ammo” and “Addiction”) though this season they appear not to be so; they are two random reports.
Also supplement to the reports last year we had the “Morning After” segment with the reporters seated with either Bill Maher or Fareed Zakaria offering further insight. That was absent here, but instead we have a segment entitled “VICE Debriefed” which we will offer with each post instead. Whether or not there will be any additional deleted clips offered, which we posted in a “VICE Extended” piece, is unknown at this time.
Having gotten those format changes out of the way it is time to look at the specific content of the premiere episode. VICE cofounder Shane Smith starts us off with a report from Afghanistan, which seems to be one of his favorite locales to visit. In this report we learn that The U.S. has spent nearly $100 billion on reconstruction projects there, the most spent on any country in history. But John Sopko, special inspector general for the country’s reconstruction, has found that much of that money has been wasted and misused.
The second segment gives us the first report from conflict-zone journalist and documentary filmmaker Ben Anderson. He is in the bowels of Rio de Janeiro in this report as the city works hard to remedy its reputation as a drug and murder capital in time for the upcoming 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics. Through Anderson’s lens the underbelly of the city reveals something unsavory and outright dangerous.
Expectations: This is a bit of a comfortable intro into the second season based on the descriptions offered. We are not jumping into wild, extreme or volatile areas right away, at least not for this viewer. It is going to be one of those episodes where I am either familiar with the region or the circumstances; the real shocker here will be to what magnitude the issues have escalated making one’s mouth drop open. This is a perfect place to state that it is going to be hard to discuss any segment that is only 12 -17 minutes long without giving a spoiler or two, sorry about that. In the end I really wish you’d watch this for yourself. Well, let’s break it down.
Shane Smith reports on the wasted and misused money in the war-torn country of Afghanistan. We have always heard stories of the Department of Defense and its squandering of funds and the ‘redtape’ involved in such efforts; you know things like $250 hammers & $1,000 toilets. It is going to be an eye-opener however, to see what VICE exposes here as the country in question rebuilds. Also familiar grounds are the ravaged environs of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Can this place shape up before global sports events arrive? For those not aware this is a big trouble spot that might surprise you if you are not clued in. One additional place, if you want more detail is the WITNESS: RIO program HBOWatch reviewed last year. I already know without seeing this premiere episode the situation is not going to be good. Here is a video clip from the Anderson segment.
Gut Reactions: Okay, shall we get down to the nitty-gritty? We begin with AFGHAN MONEY PIT reported by host Shane Smith. It should be no surprise to anyone, especially since we have been doing it after every conflict since WWII, that the U. S. tries to go in and assist the rebuilding of a country after it has a hand in demolishing it during warfare. Afghanistan is one of the happy recipients of our generosity to help the indigenous innocents – only those innocents are not seeing the benefits. Thus, it should be no surprise who is reaping the rewards – the Taliban and any other power broker with their hands in the pie.
This fact is nothing startlingly new. What does capture your attention in this piece is the amount of money being thrown around and how little it appears the U. S. seems to care. The guilty party is the Department of Defense. Millions of dollars are going into rebuilding Afghanistan and are being wasted. The best example that flummoxed me was the building of a power plant that has no means to run. Without giving away the eye-opening facts in the witty way Shane Smith presents it how about a simple analogy: Recall the shows on American TV of a family rewarded with a brand new home; no expense is spared as the dream home is designed and built and all concludes with a reveal that overwhelms the family. The show has accomplished its goal, but the family now cannot afford the new jacked up property taxes and utility bills and upkeep on the pool and such. That is what is happening to the Afghans. Oh, we are doing our humanitarian kindness by building unusable facilities and leaving expensive equipment behind to be cannibalized for nefarious use. There are, of course, more examples in the segment. The end result is that the U. S. Inspector himself is baffled at the American dollars squandered here and you will be also when you watch what happens in this ‘money pit.’
THE PACIFICATION OF RIO reported by conflict journalist Ben Anderson follows. Before I get into details here is a few sentences about a new correspondent for VICE but no stranger to this type of reporting. Ben Anderson is a reporter for the BBC and has filed a few in-depth reports. The most noted for British audiences was the series Holidays in the Axis of Evil in which he traveled to Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Syria, Libya and Cuba. But he has also been on HBO with the documentary THE BATTLE FOR MARJAH. He knows his territory and his accent is oddly pleasant even when stating dangerous statistics. Here we find him in the favelas or slums of Rio de Janeiro.
If you are unaware of the locale and the situation this piece will easily immerse you in the problem. Every port of call has its tourist area, its commerce center and its low-rent districts. Rio is no different. We are familiar with the hot and beautiful Cococabana Beach and the steamy, exciting Carnivale all under the spreading arms of the Christ the Redeemer statue. The heart of the city sits down by the beach and looming overhead is the slums and here drugs, extortion, murder and oppression hold quarter. Now, here is the main catch to this scenario – into this danger athletes of the world will assemble. I am surprised that the organizational bodies of the World Cup and the Olympics would even grant Rio the honor to host these events. Did they think with the world’s eye on the city that it will rally in time? We can only hope.
When you see what is going down in the favelas you should be very afraid about what may transpire there. Ben Anderson explains and illustrates it very well. Hell, if people were worried about terrorism in Sochi, Russia, imagine the grim outlook you walk away with from Rio. Remember, the party shown in the clip above is not Carnivale, but a block party sponsored by the cocaine kings of the slums to keep the people happy, but it is still a volatile place.
In Conclusion: This launch of Season Two takes us to two troubled regions, just two of the many we will witness. One sees money and reconstruction going nowhere good and the other struggling with a pacification process that seems almost futile. Again, it is a good introduction to what VICE is all about. After comprehending all these issues and thoughts the only thing left is to be debriefed. The following videos are considered a follow-up to each segment.
Afghan Money Pit Debriefed –
It is a lot to take in so we leave it at that until next time. If you have missed the debut catch it on HBO on 03.18 at 10:30pm and 03.20 at midnight or find it on HBO2 and HBOGo. Peace.