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Lifestyle

April 5, 2013

HBO's 'Vice': Journo-Tourism for Hipsters

Vice is a brash, Brooklyn-based magazine and international media company, but mostly it's a brand of thinking and marketing that has extended itself over the past decade to a popular website and YouTube channel with bureaus around the world. Vice makes as much news as it reports; a recent foray involved the Vice crew bringing Dennis Rodman to North Korea to meet with Kim Jong Un. There's nothing Vice won't cover or turn into a stunt — culture, news, war, sex, music, drugs — and it seems to do just fine without any assistance from the media establishment or the rules of old journalism.

And yet it wants a piece of that, too. "Vice," a fast and loose newsmagazine show debuting Friday night on HBO, shoehorns the company's sense of swagger into something that looks like traditional TV, setting out for the vast Third World to cover "the absurdity of the human condition." It's a mutual exchange of fluids between old media and new, not unlike public radio's "This American Life's" attempt to flower into a Showtime series several years back.

"Vice" seeks to legitimize the Vice name for HBO viewers who have never heard of it. By pure market value, Vice should have already become the Rolling Stone of its era, but many potential readers have learned to just get out of the way whenever we see it rolling our direction. That's mainly because the Vice voice can be off-putting.

Here, that voice sounds more mature. Hosted by Vice chief executive Shane Smith, "Vice" travels to the world's most contentious and violent hot spots, mainly so that Smith or another correspondent can note that such places are indeed contentious and violent. And here we are, at the center of it — where a bomb has just gone off, where children tote assault rifles and smoke cigarettes.

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