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.”
“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.