Dear Vice Guide to Liberia,
I don’t usually write letters to on-line documentaries, but after seeing your documentary and reading letters trashing you, I felt that I had to speak out. You have created quite a stir Vice Guide to Liberia! Apparently some people think that you presented a skewed, not-very-factual, unfaithful view of Liberia by focusing on the poorest slums, ex-war lords, and shit on the beach; I don’t. You nailed it. Seriously. When you begin work on the Vice Guide to Nailing It: Retrospective on the Vice Guide to Liberia, I want in. Intern. Production Assistant. Groupie. Whatever. Just let me be a part of the magic.
Or I’ll eat you! Naw, I won’t, but I’m super enthusiastic about you guys.
Let me count the ways.
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?
Finally, perhaps the main critique has been that you are asinine for only showing slums, brothels, and talking to ex-war lords (and wearing a swish white suit Shane!) – that if you were really concerned about doing a ‘travel guide’ you would have talked with people who aren’t prostitutes or coked-out little kids or tried to cram your narrative into a pre-conception you have about post-conflict Africa. Bullshit critique! Don’t let them get to you Vice Guide to Liberia, you did it right. If I were you, I’d tell those nay-sayers to plunk themselves squat in the middle of New York City with a camera and try to do a travel guide that wasn’t about bagels, yellow cabs, and Central Park. Can’t be done. That’d shut them up. They just don’t understand how certain places that may appear to those that live there to be vibrant and layered are really only about nitty-gritty things that make auteur Shane Smith look like a badass.
I hope that you come back to Liberia soon Vice Guide to Liberia. As Shane Smith notes, the U.N. is leaving in less than a year, which is January 2011 (which goes against reality, but Shane Smith O.B.E. said it, so it is true), so you better get a move on fast! I’ll be here, waiting, and having 100% of my conversations be about cannibalism, probably because I will bring it up in every conversation.