Though we are now living in a world with comparatively (pre-WWW) unlimited media source options, people continue to succumb to easy-viewing television. For those who have lived in or visited countries that maintain strict restrictions on information, you realize why so many idolize America. Yet, what typically happens when you have freedom, or so they say, is that you are less apt to appreciate it. If the internet was heavily censored or no longer available -yeah, just suddenly, one day, you weren’t allowed to upload, download, or post content online- there would certainly be an uproar. And maybe in the end we’d take advantage of it more; go for the challenging or enlightened thoughts. Skip a few sitcoms and check in on more alternatives to mainstream politics, news, opinions, anarchistic activities and other conceptual or investigatory work that goes against the grain and against what the “powers that be” would prefer you to be focusing your attention on.
Enter VBS (otherwise known as Vice Broadcasting System) to remind you of some of the cool shit the internet can provide for an aching mind. Though it’s been a little over a year since it’s launch, they’ve compiled a compelling array of audio/visual content – all free to you. Even though they have some deal with MTV, (which supplies the funds and resources to produce their shows), I don’t believe MTV has any say in content, which is oft on the edge. Much of the foreign undercover or eco-journalism variety filmed despite some kind of mitigating circumstances that adds an element of danger. There are a variety of shows to satisfy a roving curiosity, even in regards to things you didn’t know you were curious about. No lights, no make-up, pretty raw footage, still the quality is solid, the editing well-done, and the sound, considering some of the scenarios, is better than most guerrilla video.
I’d say my favorite thus far, with my fave documentary host, is Shane Smith’s “The Vice Guide to North Korea.” Smith -one of the Vice creators when, in its humble beginnings, was a lil’ Canadian magazine- is subtly hilarious, perceptually interesting, attractively intelligent, and a lot bit lucky. Their ramshackled trip to North Korea (which would have been hard to do any other way) was absolute genius – and I still do not understand how they were able to capture it on video. Yes, it’s annoying that it runs in 14 segments, but that may appeal to a general public’s low attention span and lack of time – but I wish there were a “play all” button. As well, the low res loads quickly, but I’d like the option for full screen viewing. Especially, at least, the segment on the Arirang – absolutely unbelievable (link for that piece provided, but you really need to watch the whole thing to fully appreciate the overwhelming finalé). Seriously, if this crew didn’t win any awards for this piece they should have. (It makes me sad we didn’t take Ben Is Dead Magazine to this level – an obvious next step that we were ill-prepared to make at the time – but boy, if we had the funding now!)
Witnessing the insides of North Korea, as an example of censorship in its most pure form, might be a helpful visual for those naïvely oblivious to limitations on personal freedoms and why its important never to take them for granted or assume they will always be there. In that sense, that this kind of work may appeal to the next generation of more conscious MTV viewers is hopeful.
You know, I’m going to skip getting into detail about any of the other shows – it’s all a matter of taste. Sure there are some misses, though the standards are high (and their viewers seem to expect to not have to wade through junk) but similar to TV you can simply “change the channel” as there are lots of viewing options to chose from within a number of categories á la: art, music, culture, environment, skate, sex… and so on. Personally I enjoyed: Manila’s City of Garbage, Inside Sudan, and the Made in China series which gave us a varied three week tour of the country DIY-style – from punk rock to pop rock to Toxic Linfen. I should mention, Spike Jones, famed “Being John Malkovich” director (who almost directed our “Every Day Is Brenda Day” video during the I Hate Brenda fiasco, ehem) is the creative director for VBS.tv, doing his own “Spike Spends Saturday with…” series – the last one with Britain’s über-hip M.I.A.
So if you find yourself trying to decide between some brain-dead local news reporting, YouTube’s prank video of the week, or catty behavior streaming on Big Brother, maybe give VBS a click and see if it speaks to some of the brain’s less-often satiated, thought-provoking cravings.