Vice Guide to Liberia: Most Awesomest Response

Many of you have emailed us about the Vice Guide to Liberia, recently linked on CNN’s home page. We haven’t posted about it, because they referred to Myles Estey (who participated in the project and comments on it here) as a “Kurtz-like character” in the first 5 min and that weirded Kate out too much to watch any further. (Amanda watched the whole thing, became physically ill, and took to her bed immediately. She is still not quite recovered.)

Fortunately, others have had far more detailed and coherent responses. As one concerned reader summed it up:

“I can’t help but walk away from viewing these videos with the sense that a) this is how badvocacy starts and b) it is harmful to feed the global public ghettotainment, laced with a summary of the Wikipedia entry on “Liberia“, under the guise of journalism. The “reporting” is uninformed, misleading, sophomoric (“boy this is some heavy shit! oooo lots of people, we’re totally in danger!”), sensationalistic and offensive.”

Chris Blattman certainly agrees. However, prize for best response goes to the can of apocalyptic whoop-ass that Sean at Journey Without Maps opened on the Vice Guide this weekend:

“First, right on with picking General Butt-Naked as the centerpiece of your opus. No one talks to him. People usually opt to talk to Commander Anorak or Sergeant Two-Shoes because it’s so easy to sensationalize them based on their names, you know? But you guys dug deep. My only complaint is that when I met your crew at the Mamba Point casino while you were taking General Butt-Naked out on the town the cameras weren’t rolling! Imagine the triage narrative of ex-war lord, evangelist, and man-who-enjoys-relaxing-at-casino! But, I’m probably wrong. After all, I’m not a genius documentarian….you guys were probably just worried about people back home not being able to relate to the story of ‘man-who-enjoys-relaxing-at-casino’ – or maybe it would overcomplicate the already nuanced story you were presenting.

Second, let me just say, secondly, that I’m with you and auteur Shane Smith who felt that everyone in Liberia would have jumped you. It’s a dangerous place. It takes a special kind of person, like Shane Smith, to throw caution to the wind and let a local journalist show him around. No one believes me when I tell them that there is strong undertow at the beach, or that if you order the spicy tuna salad at the Royal Hotel on a Friday night, you will have to wait fooooorever. Walking to the grocery store to stock up on cereals, French cheeses, and prosciutto is a deadly gauntlet. For example, once I had someone stop me to ask me how I was doing. Hellish. I mean, sometimes you hear about documentarians or imbedded journalists who play up the danger of the scenarios they face, because it sells or might get them laid. Not you guys. You walked through shin high swamp! Bad. Ass. The scene inside the Liberian National Police station where you guys manned it up and greased some palms had me greasing my own palms so that I could knock one out to the sight of auteur Shane Smith working his magic in that sweet, man-boob-enhancing vintage tee.

Thirdly, I was riveted by the way that you extrapolated broad themes from things that a particular person would say. Some people hesitate to do this, because they don’t want to cut against reality or common perception or statistical data, but we all know that they are just skirting the truth with Age of Reason bullshit. When an ex-warlord (who has no interest at all in impressing auteur Shane Smith) tells you at his former headquarters outside of Monrovia (which looks kind of like the Ducor hotel in downtown Monrovia…) that he could overthrow the government in three hours, that’s just how it is. I believe him. I mean, he said it right?”

Sean gets awarded a whole box of Lucky Charms for that one. (The rest is here. Hat tip to Blattman.)

If you’ve recently watched the Vice Guide and are looking for a more nuanced view of Liberian life to use as a chaser, we highly recommend Glenna Gordon’s Liberian Girls project, as well as Estey’s “Gettin By” series about the country’s informal economy.

Amanda and Kate


  1. I think you gotta consider the source. If Vice did a guide to New York it'd be about scoring coke in Brownsville. If they did a guide to London it'd be about people getting stabbed in housing projects. If they did one on Paris it'd just be a collection of pictures of dog shit.

    They're scumbags, and they play up the scumbag image wherever they go so they can sell more AA hoodies… it's just the nature of the beast.

    • Dickie,
      You know that, but from the hundres of thousands of Westerners who have seen this video and knows nothing about LIbiera. They take this video to be an accurate representation of Liberia! No one has the right to exploit, or misrepresent an entire nation the way this Vice Guide video was done!

  2. Yeah, agree with Dickie. Their whole modus operandi is just plain wrong – and anyone who would pretend their intention is: (as they write in their 'apology' statement) "to look at what happens to former child soldiers, former generals, and other people left behind by the massive development effort in the society" and then openly undermine the local police by using money to get the guy in prison (yes, parts of the police might be corrupt, yes they took the bribe but that does not lessen Vice's role), and spend the rest of the “documentary” (using that term lightly) sensationalising and trivialising an entire country – is so lacking in basic morals there’s not much you can even say…except WTF?? (clearly an ongoing theme in wronging rights posts 😉

    Shame on CNN. I don’t expect much from them, but still. You'd think a major corporation that, ostensibly anyway, is about good news reporting would have at least one (!) person on staff that should have recognized the appalling nature of Vice.

    Also, re comment Blattman makes about Vice and huffpo on his site – agree, and what's left to say about huffpo? Except – How the hell has it so insidiously taken over popular culture? It's a tabloid rag with poor reporting, NO ethical or moral standards [the story about the NSFW pics is an ongoing issue. I have made complaints to Huff po about the use of Horrific pictures – one showing children – in an Entertainment piece no less….the mind boggles] and, it would appear, a deep seated desire to be the new Perez Hilton of the “news” – or should that be “Factoid” world. Forget objective facts! Who needs em?

    When watching the vice video it reminded me a lot of the movie “idiocracy” (2004 I think? worth watching….with Luke Wilson, about the dumbing down of the US). I could just see Shane Smith as the prototype “documentarian” of the future in the vision “idiocracy” shows.

  3. The Vice Guide to Liberia is exactly what it says it is. Granted CNN gave it exposure to a large non-vice demo/psychographic, but It's a VICE documentary about Liberia. It's fucking VICE and you know what, not all of us have want everything covered in rainbows and frolicking unicorns. The documentary was a cold, unflinching, uncensored slice of our depravity and it is in more than one way, eye opening. Simply put, do you not feel more aware of what is actually going on in our world even as you sit there on your computer and your stupid fucking blog and complain that a documentary was too sensational? The Vice Guide to Travel was a good video. Fuck off.

    A concerned reader.

  4. It's a show about the shady side of life; in Liberia no less. Yes of course it's going to be edited so it looks more sensational – it's on TV. But these responses showing a general ignorance to the fact that there is definitely some *stuff* that's still very wrong there.

    I live in Canada, and for the most part it's clean and beautiful. However if you've ever seen the Native reservations in north Ontario you'd probably think we're a backward thinking slum country. That's obviously not the case, and if that's all you ever saw about Canada you wouldn't ever want to come here.

    All that being said, if someone DID come to Canada and they only reported on Uniake Square in Halifax or the reservations in North Ontario where getting clean drinking water was still a huge issue – I would applaud them . It highlights political, social and economic issues that most Canadians don't know about; because it's a small subsection of Canadian society.

    This Sean kid doesn't seem to appreciate these facts. It's not called "How to be a hipster dick in Liberia while searching for French cheeses with a deluded sense of reality from a privileged perspective". Although there's about 90% of Canadians who have no idea that there are large swaths of population living in 3rd world conditions here, so why would I expect it to be any different anywhere else in the world.

    Perspective is a great thing – if seen from all angles. Just because Vice took it from this angle doesn't make the content any less valuable; when stripped of the sensationalism.

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