The latest effort to turn journalism and what used to be called "foreign correspondence" into something edgy, sexy and dangerous continues with the new series "Vice" (11 p.m., HBO).
Hosted by Shane Smith, the owner and co-founder of Vice magazine, "Vice" often seems like a throwback to "Mondo Cane." For the uninitiated, that was the name of a cheap Italian documentary that became a surprise box office hit in 1962, sparking a trend in exploitation "Mondo" movies,
offering drive-in audiences documentary snippets of human behavior at its most extreme, exalted and frequently shocking. It was anthropology for drunken frat boys in search of gross-out entertainment.
"Vice" sets out to explore a changing world that, in the words of Smith, frequently seems increasingly "absurd." In the two "Vice" installments made available for review, we visit the Philippines, where running for office has become a dangerous endeavor. No fewer than 1,200 political candidates have been assassinated in recent years.
In the second segment, Smith himself goes to Afghanistan to look into the increasing use of children as suicide bombers. It's not difficult for terrorists to convince children younger than 8 that they can explode a device with no harm to themselves. They are also unencumbered by any deeper knowledge of the Koran, which forbids murder.
To further understand his story, Smith secures an interview with a member of the
Taliban, who speaks in cryptic aphorisms, neither confirming nor denying the use of children as delivery devices for explosives. But he assures our correspondent that suicide bombings will continue as long as Af-
ghanistan is occupied by foreign troops. So, did Smith gain insight for his viewers, or offer a murderous terrorist a propaganda platform?
Smith has a knack for getting to inaccessible places. He and "Vice" were at the center of a recent visit to North Korea that featured former Chicago Bulls oddity Dennis Rodman. So it's not entirely clear if "Vice" is out to explain the absurdity of modern life or add another ring to the circus.
The show's tone is tattooed, bold, slightly "crazy" and "bad boy." But they're not selling fortified cider -- it's supposed to be journalism. The trip to North Korea was a publicity stunt that put "Vice" on the map. But to what end? A
"Celebrity Apprentice" star got to mingle with a deranged dictator and share incomprehensible patter. In the end, who got played?
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Kevin McDonough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.