Finding Virtue in 'VICE'

The Dennis Rodman-North Korea fiasco doesn't do the HBO show justice.

Shane Smith, left, is CEO of VICE media and host of HBO's "VICE."
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At times, the news hook is nebulous at best, but "VICE" often focuses on a fresh angle to make it relevant. For instance, in the case of the Afghan suicide bombers, it highlights how the Taliban preys on children's religious ignorance to turn them into unknowing "martyrs."

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"A lot of times the best stories happen to be in the dangerous places," Smith says. "But we don't go to a place just because it is dangerous."

The gun- and explosion-laden opening credits suggest that "VICE" will embrace a violent machismo in its reporting. But Smith insists later episodes will explore cultural, economic and environmental issues as well. "I was just editing one today [set] in Europe. There's not one gun in the whole piece, if you can imagine that!"

He also promises that "VICE" will look at stories here on the homefront, from – in his words – "body snatching in America" to "the lost boys of polygamous cults."

As reviews have noted, the camera often reveals the correspondent's involuntary reaction to what he or she is experiencing, be it nausea from a car ride or speechlessness rendered by the thought of losing one's own children to a suicide bomb.

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"We are human, we aren't auto bots, and consequently, we get affected by the story," Smith says. It nevertheless plays into the raw, documentary form of reporting – what Smith calls "immersionism" – on which VICE prides itself.

"Does it punch you in the face? Is it going to be something that you are going to say, holy s---, and talk about the next day at work or at school or at the bar or whatever?" says Smith, of his criteria of what makes a story "VICE"-worthy.

People were certainly talking about the North Korea ordeal, so the controversy fits Smith's model.

"Quite frankly, though, 'VICE' has been either loved or hated since its inception, which is fine with us."

It would be a shame to let the Dennis Rodman fiasco alone make that decision for you.

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