Open letter to Shane Smith

(Shane Smith is the co-founder of Vice Magazine, a publication which, until recently, I enjoyed reading for their snark and incisive commentary on modern life)


You recently traveled to Liberia to produce a “Vice Travel Guide to Liberia.” What a great idea, I thought at first. In spite of a difficult post-conflict phase and of the many challenges it has faced in recent years, Liberia is on the move. Its lush tropical rainforest, its incredible beaches and its growing service sector are all assets that make the country an increasingly attractive one for tourism. I know you worked with Myles Estey, a Canadian journalist who works for Journalists for Human Rights and writes an interesting blog about his time in Liberia. Myles has written for Vice before, and I’m sure he gave you a good primer on Monrovia and Liberia. Why, then, Shane, must you produce a video where you portray Liberia as full of heroin addicts, blood-thirsty ex combatants, whores and criminals? What kind of drugs were YOU on? Did you even open your eyes between the times you were in a heroin den and when you went to visit General Buttnaked at the church where he officiates?

Shane, I’m trying to understand how exactly your video is a “travel guide”. If it were an actual travel guide, perhaps you would have wanted to include actual places to visit – I wouldn’t have held it against you if you wrote about Liberia’s surf culture, like 90% of foreign journalists who come to Liberia and think they’ve stumbled upon an untold story. I might have rolled my eyes a bit if you recommended the Kendeja, the new multi-million dollar resort that caters to rich expats, as “the” place to stay. I wouldn’t have been surprised if you had chosen to visit the Ducor Palace, a former luxury hotel in the capital, which was completely destroyed and looted during the war, and offers stunning views of downtown Monrovia*. But, as Liberia expert Shelby Grossman wrote on her blog about your travel guide, “it perpetuates the idea that Liberia is violent and dirty and squalid.   It feels like a modern version of a colonial travel diary.”

View from the Ducor Palace

What kind of editorial choice was it to only show images of people getting high, cemetaries and church services held by former warlords? You must realize how completely off-base this is. Did you not meet any friendly, funny (and peace loving??) Liberians? And by the way, Shane, which hotel did you stay in when you were in country? Please don’t tell me you stayed at the Mamba Point, the Cape Hotel or the Royal Hotel – otherwise I’m going to be really pissed that you failed to mention their sushi bars, well stocked bars and wi-fi! I suppose you did not have a chance to meet Seanan Denizot or Menipakei Dumoe, who created WOW Liberia, a tour company that offers custom trips in different parts of Liberia. Did you not pick up a copy of Liberia Travel + Life Magazine? Maybe next time you come to Liberia, instead of hanging out in the slums, you could pick up a copy when you go to one of the three or four high-end supermarkets in the capital – it’s the same spot you most likely purchased overpriced Doritos.

Your video stirred a lot of debate among people who care about Liberia. The consensus, it seems, among people who know Liberia, is that your sensationalist, naive and utterly narrow take is not only misguided, but also really doesn’t help improve the country’s reputation. I’m sure a lot of viewers of the Vice travel guide will end up thinking that Liberia is a crazy place with crazy people, and only crazy freaks like Shane Smith would ever dare visit! Shane Smith is such a badass! (Yawn, Shane, yawn.)

I wasn’t going to join the “let’s-criticize-Vice-for-their-idiotic-travel-guide” bandwagon, as many eloquent, well spoken Liberiaphiles already responded to your absurd video. However, this morning I woke up to an email with a link to your interview in the Huffington Post. And what was originally mild contempt became indignation. Dude. Where do you get off talking about Liberia in the way you do? Excerpts:

Q: “The situation in Liberia, whether it be the violence or the poverty or the mounds of rotting garbage that are everywhere, appears pretty bleak. What surprised you most about the country during your time there?”

A:”Cannibalism was a big deal. How many people talked about it, how it was sort of prevalent. During the war, people would eat human flesh for necessity, but also for ritual. And it still continues. People would point at the old Masonic Lodge and say, ‘Oh, there was a lot of cannibalism there.’ Some of it is probably rumor and some of it is urban myth, but every single person you talk to is like ‘oh, yeah, yeah.’ And cannibalism is just something you never experience, or talk about over dinner; it’s never a discussion you’re used to having. And when you talk about it all day with everyone you meet, it starts to get a little bit unsettling. I’d say 90 percent of my conversations had some sort of cannibalism in them.”

Excuse me, Shane, but who are you speaking with that your 90% of your conversations involve cannibalism? I don’t think I discussed cannibalism a single time during my two months in Liberia – and maybe a handful of times in the three years that I’ve been working with Liberians. With everything that’s going on in Liberia, especially in lively Monrovia, the “most surprising thing” to you was talk about cannibalism…. That’s incredible. Literally.

Shane Smith: At any time, anywhere you would go, you’d be surrounded by 30, 40, 50 kids, and young people and whomever, and they all wanted money, they’re all starving. And if we didn’t have generals with us we would have been totally fucked up and if we hadn’t quite frankly lucked out a couple of times we would have been fucked up.

Q: You mean they would have just jumped you?

A: Oh, for sure. The crime rate in Monrovia is astronomical. The crime rate in West Point [a notorious slum] is even higher. If you have 80 percent unemployment, you can do the math: 80 percent of the population is doing something criminal then just to survive. And there’s not a lot of opportunity to get cash, so if some guy comes in with a car and a camera and a fucking nice pair of shoes, it’s more money than they’ve ever seen. So that part was scary.

Shane – really?? Are you really saying that 80% of the population are criminals? What’s absolutely baffling to me is that Myles – who helped you produce this video – is responsible for writing a series of well-researched, interesting and insightful blog posts entitled “Gettin’ By“, where he challenges the 85% unemployment rate figure (at least get your facts straight.) In this series, he talks about the t-shirt sellers, water vendors, or cell phone card vendors and other various occupations which are not taken into account when official statistics are produced. What he shows, in his series, is exactly the opposite of what you say. Not only are these 85% not criminals, they are courageous entrepreneurs who attempt to make a decent living for themselves, for their families, in the face of adversity. Oh yeah – and don’t forget to leave your “nice fucking shoes” in your fucking fancy hotel room if you don’t want people to eye them with envy, ok?

Hard working farmers in Bong County

You really miss the point, Shane. I guess this is a vanity project, and you probably feel so cool that you came back alive from West Point and your adventures with General Buttnaked. I can’t wait for you to visit Vladivostock, where they, as you say, “make this huge mountain out of garbage and then just shove it into the sea.” Sounds like you know your stuff! I’m sure I’ll know everything there is (not) to know about Vladivostock after you visit it.

Beautiful Liberia

I wish you had met the Liberians who are working so hard every day to improve their country. Those are the Liberians I know. I, like many others who reacted to your video with disgust, have the privilege of working with a lot of truly inspiring people in Liberia. Maybe you could meet the parents of the little boy with permanent brain damage from a vicious attack during the war (no doubt, that would interest you) who created the first center for children with disabilities. Maybe you could meet some of the women who work with Robertsport Community Works, and who are picking themselves up by the boot straps to improve their lives. Maybe you could get in touch with the locals who write for CeaseFire Liberia or pick up one (or even two!) of the many newspapers to see what’s actually happening in the country (hint: it very rarely involves incidents of cannibalism). Maybe, Shane, you can just open your eyes and your mind. Drop your prejudice and your romanticized notions of what you’d like Liberia to be. Maybe, then, you could actually produce something that is more than an appallingly substandard “travel guide”.

Del Johnson, founder of the first center for children with disabilities in Liberia, and his son Andre

* my bad – Smith goes to the Ducor in part 4 of the series. But, of course, fails to mention it by name or discuss any part of its history. Sigh.

49 thoughts on “Open letter to Shane Smith

  1. Penelope,

    If there was ever a time I wish I had started a website, it is now. I would like to post my photos of my life with Liberians over the many years I have lived and worked there. When I saw the Vice series I was so upset and decided to comment to various journalists who do have websites. I have also contacted many Liberian actors I work with and other Liberian friends who I knew would want to see this series.
    Unfortunately, many do not have access to high-speed internet so they cannot view the series.

    Shane and his ilk only seem to want to appear cool and brave and fool their readers/viewers into thinking they have ventured into parts of the globe where no one would think to step foot cause of the dangers! HA! I am a middle-aged woman under 5’5″ and have never felt personally threatened in the many years I have lived with Liberians in Liberia. I think this so-called documentary says more about its makers than Liberians. That is the real rub for those of us who have lived in Liberia.

  2. I’m a white American woman that has done projects in West Point, and neighborhoods like it, for four years. I’ll tell you what happens when you walk over there–all by yourself, without some sort of “bodyguard” or “general” (note: the war is, um, over):

    1. Someone, typically a community leader, asks you what you need. Let’s suppose you’d like to talk to some of the folks living around there.

    2. People try to round up a bench, so you can sit down. Said bench is dragged into a shady area, since they assume you are not used to the heat (which, even after four years, you most certainly are not).

    3. You talk to people. Most of them have some petty business. A lot do odd jobs to make ends meet. Some do, in fact, steal. Guess what? It’s a rough area in a major city. Is this news?

    4. You go home. You take a bath from a bucket. You eat some rice. You go to bed.

    Yeah, it’s not really so exciting. But I guess if you’re desperate to come off as brave and edgy, you don’t mind denigrating some poor people far away to do it.

    Huff Post–really? This is the best you can do?

  3. Here here, well written response…I hope he can stop telling his “cool” stories and read this…though I fear it is too late for that guy to change…what a tool.

  4. This should be stated up front: Liberia descended into self-destructive behaviors because of US ‘REGIME CHANGE’!

    It was the US, under the evil vegetable, president reagan, who sowed the seeds of Liberian destruction, by instigating coup by the Destructive Doe!

    Americans’ fangs are dripping with the INNOCENT blood of murdered Liberians!
    And US WILL, in time, have the karma returned; because the evil one sows SHALL return to one.

    Now, Penelope’s and other OVERREACTION to the ‘Vice’ propaganda video is laughable.
    And those reactions only show the continued failure of SOME Africans to digest the HISTORICAL FACT that EUROPEANS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN ENEMIES OF AFRICAN PEOPLES!

    Now, are YOUR HISTORICAL ENEMIES expected to say nice truths or nasty lies about you?

    When was the last time that the wicked white invaders of Africa are ever interested in recognizing and representing the many positive things about Africa and Africans during the long course of African history? When?

    It is for Liberians, and Africans in general, to tell their own story; because your ENEMIES WILL ALWAYS represent you in a bad light.
    No need to get a heart burn over it, and leave your ENEMIES with the impression that his worthless point of view has value. IT HAS NONE!

    It is obvious that the makers of ‘Vice’ video on Liberia, was MOSTLY INTERESTED with so-called ‘cannibalism’, and to portray Liberia/African in the usual light of his racist brainwashing from back home!

    The important thing to recognize is that are MANY representations of ‘cannibalism’.
    The transplanting of the body parts of others in the West IS ALSO cannibalism!

    And humans living in inhospitable conditions EXIST IN EVERY COUNTRY, even in rich America.

    Those Africans who would ‘respect’ too much the views of the wicked white man, WILL ALWAYS be placed on the defensive!

    The African IS The First Man!
    The African IS The Template of Mankind. And The African IS The Primary Image of the Creator on Earth.

    This means that Africans in a bind should be ‘looking within’ for a way out of challenging situation.
    Paying over attention to the wicked white man, YOUR HISTORICAL ENEMY, is a waste of time.
    And, allowing your ENEMY as ‘guest’ is ALSO foolish and self-destructive; because by letting your ENEMY (like shane) in Liberia, you are sowing the seeds of your own heart burn!

    1. Fella,

      I can agree with SOME of your sentiments, whole heartedly.

      I know that they are nearly a year old at this point, but I feel that it is my responsibility, in the spirit of rational discourse and progress, to beg you to reconsider your need for America to pay for its previous wrong doing.

      First, let me say this. I am an American, 100 percent. I was born and raised here.

      I had nothing to do with Regan, Clinton, Bush… or any other major political figures. Barrack Obama was the first man I ever helped to elect (take that for what you will.)

      While I do believe that the blood is on my hands, I do not believe that I am personally responsible for the atrocities that have been committed by my country in the past. I am however, responsible for setting them right.

      There is as much work to be done in my country. Those of us whose eyes are open, are charged with the task of purging ignorance from those around us. Our neighbors have lived generations of lifetimes in perfect comfort, and we have to move those people to discomfort. We have to break down walls that have been designed specifically to maintain comfort.

      We have to force those who have, to give; but we cannot do this at gun point.

      This is not easy, but there are many of us who are committed, and we will not fail. Results will not be as immediate as they need to be, and believe me I understand frustrations with that, but my countrymen and women are programmed. Much like people everywhere, we live our lives (metaphorically) chopping wood and carrying water.

      This is a frustrating cycle, especially when our struggles are miniscule in comparison to the struggles abroad. Our wood is much easier to chop, and much more readily available. It is even more frustrating when our government acts more in its own self-interest, rather than for the greater good of all people.

      Our country is just as corrupt as any. 80 percent of our collective wealth is owned by the top 15 percent of our society. People here unknowingly and instinctively struggle to make their way into that top 15 percent, though few ever succeed. THIS IS DISGUSTING to me, but it is also reality.

      In order for us to change, we have to let go of self. We are on our way, but only just.

      Our way of life is still causing the world harm, and for that we are guilty.

      It is the responsibility of every living, breathing human-being to remedy the inequalities and injustices that exist in our world today. Praying or hoping for one group to suffer, even as retribution, is the opposite of progress. We must not look toward the past, but into the future.

      I know that had I, an American, been involved in the decisions that led to the situations in; Liberia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, Vietnam, Chile, Uruguay, Colombia… etc, I would not have made the choices that were made.

      I believe in love, for and among all living things.

      America has fucked up, colossally. We continue to fuck up.

      We need a major social movement here. We need to realize that this blood is on our hands, whether or not we individually pulled a trigger. We need to realize that our practices are causing pain in the rest of the world. We need to realize that our “way of life,” is unacceptable whilst people die of such basic maladies as hunger and dehydration.

      Our current behavior is unacceptable, but it is changing, and at an ever increasing rate.

      It is all too easy, especially for a man like me who sits comfortably in my patch of moral high ground, far from bullets and war, to say that we must forgive those who have trespassed before us; but we must. We cannot continue to repay atrocities with more atrocities, you cannot bring peace with war. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

      This is a lesson that has been learned time and time again by humans, but seldom put into action. It is far easier for me to kill he who killed my brother, than to welcome him at my table. We must all sit at the same table, and focus on not killing anyone.

      If you kill a man, even if he killed your brother, his brother will in turn hunt you. The cycle begins to stop with one man who refuses to fight. His neighbors will note his success, and soon we will be free. Do not fall to the temptation of wishing ill on those who have wronged you.

      This isn’t for god, or anyone in specific; it is the only way for our species to learn to co-exist. We have a long way to go, but things will go much more quickly if we put the fucking guns and bombs away.

      This is a new world today, and every day it will be reborn. That is a fact.

      Let’s make the world we live in beautiful, every day. Let’s not avenge. Let’s progress.

      1. Also, countries are just lines that were drawn in the sand by people who are, for the most part, no longer alive. They are bullshit.

        You cannot define the worth of any human based on their birthplace. Human beings are simply products of their surroundings. While humans from certain surroundings may have a tendency to do certain things, these traits are not permanent.

        Surroundings, like all things, can change.

        If you see the world in terms of “us vs. them,” you are mistaken. There can only be WE.

        I am American. I am not your enemy. I wish you, and all other creatures, nothing but the best.

        I will give you whatever I can, and work hard for the ability to give you more. Do not give me bullets.

  5. Seriously? It is a, “VICE” guide not a travel guide. I stopped reading your childish rant the moment you started playing loose with the facts and what Shane actually said.

    Just to point out one instance:

    Q: You mean they would have just jumped you?

    A: Oh, for sure. The crime rate in Monrovia is astronomical. The crime rate in West Point [a notorious slum] is even higher. If you have 80 percent unemployment, you can do the math: 80 percent of the population is doing something criminal then just to survive.

    Shane – really?? Are you really saying that 80% of the population are criminals?

    NO… he didn’t say 80% of the population were criminals. He was specifically referring to West Point, but you choose to twist the context. While I agree the guys play up some of the more controversial issues and steer the story toward those topics, I think you’re being a completely baby about the entire thing. You miss the entire point of the exercise.

    1. There is no point to this exercise, Stillborn. It’s a vanity project for Smith. It doesn’t make any sense, his facts are wrong, he twists reality. What’s really infuriating is that people like you probably get your facts from him. Sigh. As for the 80% unemployment: this is a statistic used frequently to discuss Liberia’s unemployment situation. Yes, according to the books, the country has 85% unemployment. And if he was talking West Point specifically, he should have said : “In West Point…”.
      Imagine if a film maker came to the US (or wherever you’re from), and showed only the worst possible places and situations? It’s not reality. My rant may be childish, but Vice’s “Guide” (travel or not – doesn’t matter) is a puerile exercise in narcissism.

  6. Penelope, are you familiar with Vice Magazine? It’s existence wouldn’t be if it weren’t for heroin to begin with. It’s not the kind of news you can take so politically or seriously, but one must also be intelligent enough to know a biased point of view when one sees one. What I’m trying to say is that Vice doesn’t really give a shit about being politically correct or what their consumers take in. It’s more about fun and fascinating topics for smart [or stupid] teenagers who can’t find this kind of stuff anywhere else. It’s just a raw report of only the aspects of things Vice’s target demographic (who practically run the whole thing anyway) wants to hear about.

    On the other hand, I’d say the Liberia series is becoming completely successful on the publicity side of things.

    Also, Vice’s guides to travel aren’t meant to be actual guides for tourists, it’s just the “Vice Guide to…” catchphrase related to their travels. Consider it a pseudonym.

    1. Thanks for your insightful comment, a. I’m familiar with Vice, yes, and usually appreciate their material. I just don’t find “fun” or “fascinating” to basically disparage a whole country. And I – like others who know and love Liberia – can’t help but be pissed off when we see Shane recounting his own version of the history and reality of Liberia. cheers,P.

  7. I think this is very silly indeed. Vice Guide’s are famous for being not mainstream journalism. Look at what they did with “Heavy Metal in Baghdad” and they didn’t make anything up that I can see. That people who live there are upset is normal. But what would you have Vice do? Report on how its pretty ok there now? I have been to Liberia and the fact that there are many ex-combatants living in abject poverty struck me as well. We were working with the UN and I won’t even go into how terrible that was. If Liberia wants young people to be interested in it then this is the type of thing that will get them interested. If you want a puff piece then write it yourself. I think this doc is spot on.

    1. At some point early on in the Vice series, they film their co-producer, Myles Estey, speaking with a Alfred Sirleaf, nicknamed “the blackboard blogger”. Every day, this guy updates his blackboard on Tubman blvd (a major street in Monrovia) and writes news summaries – free of charge – for Liberians to stay up to date on the news. I wish Vice would have taken a moment to speak to this interesting guy, who represents hope and moving forward , as opposed to painting a very misleading picture of what the country is like. They didn’t make anything up, but their editorial choices are very questionable.

  8. A friend told me about this “vice-guide” to Liberia. As a Liberian myself, I’ve lived through three civil wars, one when i was 5, another 7 and the last one 10. I have lived in the U.S since the age of 11. I went back to Liberia, by myself in 2008. I walked around with a huge green Versace bag that my step-father bought me a camcorder and a camera, and I traveled to places (open market) with only my 12 year old newphew, i never got robbed, nobody attempted to rob me nobody attempted to kill me, and everyone could tell that I had traveled recently to Libera. As A Liberian I was apalled to see this video. I went to Libera at age 22 and I had nobody try to rob me. THere were times I had 10 plus children around me but they all wanted their pictures taken, they all wanted to see my video I even handed them the camera to mess around with and they gave it back to me. I was so angered watching this video.
    I meet “Evangelist Blahyi” when i went to Liberia. I was kidnapped by NPFL rebels (Charles Taylor rebels) while running away from him in 1996 when he was general butt naked, he was an evil man but that man is truly changed. Shane or who ever he is a very decitful man, he “intentionally” forgot to mention that the last war that Mr. Blahyi fought in was the ’96’ war when Blahyi was only 25, there was a war in 97, 2000, 2003 (the worse wars which Liberians refer to as WW I, II and III) and many other outbreaks of war in different areas and Mr. Blahyi has never fought in a single war since his transformation in 1996. He has traveled from displacement camp to displacement camp throughout Liberia, Ghana, and Ivory coast telling his story, and begging for forgiveness from Liberians he wronged since 1996. He even told me that there are attempts on his life daily. People that he fought against LURD and NPFL rebels now work side by side because of the rehabilitation home he started to unite ex-combatants and take them off the street. Shane also fail to mention that Mr. Blahyi takes these boys back to people that they’ve wronged and have these boys ask for forgiveness and is also equipping them to fix houses that of people they’e destroyed during the war. This Documentary is a bunch of BULL, I was in Liberia in 2008, The LIberia i left in 96 and the Liberia now are worlds apart. Beautiful locally owned beaches, clean streets in parts of Monrovia, public buses, trash trucks, electricity, running water in parts of Liberia, many foreign investors; even many Leabones who lost there business in the war have return and feel safe in Liberia. I will admit that there is poverty, there are lots of uneducated ex-combatants, Liberia has only had 7 years of peace since the choas that lasted from 1980- 2003, poverty and unemployement can be expected for any country that has gone through what Liberia has gone throught, it takes years to rebuild a country. This documentary is soo false, it has distorted many facts, it has used the situation of desperte people in Liberia and has painted a picture that couldn’t be any further from the truth about Liberia. Here in Washington D.C the drug poverty and AIDS rate is alarming, and D.C is the capitol of the United States of America, who would have thought, there are horrible places in every country. Liberia is a bit worse beause of the years of civil war. But this documentary was just rediculous.
    Cannabalism, this was something that rebels practice ritualistically, people did not eat human flesh because there wasn’t any food, what is known as witch doctors, and warlocks are the one who practice these horrible things; Liberians as a whole do not adhere or condone such a thing. In 1990 @ the age of 5 i still remember what we did when we ran out of food in the supermarkets and street vendors, we lived on the food from the land; We ate catfish for weeks, than we ate ‘bubu’ john greens, then we ate paupaya, then green banana, then we ate sugar cane, then people who had shared with other people who did have; This lie about people eating humans because there were no food, is this guy serious; in Liberia it’s nasty disgusting and dispicable to eat a human being as it is frowned upon in America and the West. The few idiots who did these acts drugged up and high on stuff do not represent the majority of Liberia, I’m done ranting,
    Thans for posting this letter Penelope, It’s good to know that there are people who know the real Liberia, the not so perfect but building itself up Liberia.
    Mr. Shane Smith really did a diservice to many Liberians and it’s a shame that many people will believe that mess of a Documentary!!!

  9. What would you have them do not tell what they saw? I too have been there and I saw what Shane reported. People got mad when they reported from North Korea as well. Should they have said that everything in North Korea is ok as well? They came and were shown the worst parts of Liberia by Liberians who are upset. Should they not show that? That Liberians are upset that their dark underbelly and problems are being shown warts and all is understandable. But you have to understand THAT IS THE PRESS’s JOB! you want a puff piece real journalists don’t make puff pieces. I think this doc is well done and does a great job at showing the PROBLEMS that still exist. If you want to sweep them under the rug then shame on you.

  10. They did interview the worlds only analog blogger on Motherboard and it was picked up all around the world. DO your research.


  11. I just want to add my voice to the many voices of condemnation against this greedy, selfish and idiotic Western journalist in person of Shane Smith who could only identify the odds of a post-conflict nation in its slum community and ignore all the developmental projects and remarkable achievement that we Liberians are pushing for tirelessly.

    What makes me glad is the fact that he is being condemned mainly by many of the dozens of real Western journalists and the hundreds of ordinary Westerners that pour into our beloved country daily.

    If Smith took some heavy money in the form of grant or whatsoever and decided to justify it by “exposing” only the inevitable evils that are present in even countries that have fought war like Liberia, then let it be known to him that our nation, fresh from recovery after 14 years of turmoil, should not be his destination.

    What does he hope to achieve anyway?

    Again, thanks to the lot of people who have been heavily debunking him.

    Nat Bayjay

  12. I think the controversy surrounding this piece involves the expectation that the individual has before viewing. If you were expecting a traditional documentary you were disappointed. If you were expecting a neutral, fact-finding expose you were disappointed. However, if you approached the piece as a launching point for debate regarding deeper ethical and moral questions (that extend far beyond Liberia’s borders) then I feel that Mr. Smith did his job. Mr. Smith never gives the pretense of neutrality (which is more than I can say for traditional “news” outlets who try to mask their bias behind their press passes.) For those of you who complain of his bias or one-sided reporting, I challenge you to find me one single piece of objective (truly objective) reporting. The truth is that, even if by omission, bias exists. Agendas exist. At least Mr. Smith is forthcoming in this regard. If his viewers are unmotivated to research and compare other accounts of Liberia, the fault rests with them. That said, I rather enjoyed thinking through the incredible ethical dilemma surrounding the story of Mr. Blahyi. After viewing the documentary I poured through at least 30 articles covering his warlord past, his conversion, and his years as a minister. For that alone, I applaud this film and Mr. Smith. Had Mr. Smith presented this documentary as the “be-all, end-all” study of Liberia I would readily join your chorus of criticism. However, I feel that your accusations are similar to the complaints that Afrikaans had about the media focus being on Apartheid in the later 20th century. They should have asked themselves, “Why else would cameras come to South Africa?” That may be a callous world view, but I find it true. So now I pose the question (and I mean no disrespect): Why else would cameras come to Liberia? Sadly, I don’t think stories of rebuilt hotels, newly staffed education centers, or flourishing tour companies are packing movie theaters nor being downloaded in droves.

  13. I watched the Vice documentary and for me it was an introduction to Liberia. I was intrigued, and it has since inspired me to read more about Liberia and its history. Before this, I knew very little about the country.

    I am not so gullible as to believe the documentary showed a representative view of the country. That would be extremely short sighted. That’s why I went to other sources after watching. But without the documentary Liberia would not have entered my conscience.

    You do the documentary makers and the viewers a disservice when you claim that a representative view was purported. It clearly wasn’t, and we (I speak for myself) are intelligent enough to understand this.

    The documentary would not have happened if there was no underbelly or post-war trauma to report on – this is precisely what attracted Vice. A documentary about the positive aspects of Liberia, or indeed anywhere, would not have been made by Vice.

    It may be upsetting that this documentary focussed upon the negative aspects of a place you are connected to, but please take heart from the fact that it has opened peoples’ eyes, in many cases for the very first time, to Liberia as a country…

    …and I would hope we are not all so narrow-minded as to base our entire view of a country upon 1 hour of footage of slums, addicts and ex-warlords.

  14. liberia is just another african sh**hole full of tribal fighting. colonization was the best thing to ever happen to africa. you got education, gov structure and stability, technology, environmental and preservation, construction equipment and tools and so much more.
    when colonization ended, africans devolved back into the tribal fighting monkeys they were before. i may say it a little too blunt but it is the truth.
    sudan, sierra-leone, somalia, south africa, kenya, nigeria, liberia….all countries no one gives a shit about because they dont care about themselves or world opinion. again, typical black behavior. their neighborhood or what they can see is all that matters.
    and these people keep breeding. my god, if disease, lack of sterile medical attention, lions, elephants or some mercenary guerilla’s dont kill you, starvation will. to bring a child into such a dangerous, unstable world when you cant even protect yourself is evil. pure evil. which is why the world will never care about albino fearing, magic trusting, cow blood drinking, 419 scamming, backwards thinking semi-animals who want more than anything to keep the world in 335BC.

    as for your rant about liberia…more typical black behavior. blame the white guy for showing whats wrong with liberia instead of focusing on its problems. lets just sugar coat it with the fairy tale projects you try to tell people are changing things. lol….you remind me of that video of the iraqi general who, while on tv outside his office, is denying american forces are nearby while the shots from usa tanks are clearly heard down the street.

    “Everything is lovely. ignore whats going on behind me in liberia..hey, look we have a blog! and a group fighting climate change! oh, those bodies…um, ignore those. no problem here.”

    liberia was given to former slaves. now lets look at that. slaves were sold to slave traders or just plain taken against their will. examine who got taken: prisoners from other tribes, mentally retarded, criminals, cowards and those who were too slow to get away. its not like the slaves were the “best of the bunch”. so there you have the people who founded and ran liberia from the start and the hood rat gangsters ruining usa.

    so until you have a reliable gov or even a police force, dont go screaming at people for exposing the ugliness your trying to hide while telling us all how great of a place it is.

    somehow evolution just hit the stop button in africa after a certain point. maybe nature decided they just werent worth the effort.

    i guess the protection and wealth spells are not working too good are they?

    1. Yo dude, I think you dropped your hood. It’s just there on the floor, next to the burning cross and the black guy you left swinging from the tree.

    2. @”mike”: The fact that a human being somewhere actually sat down and took the time out of his life to type that meandering, barely-coherent pile of stupidity and hate is more than a little unsettling. You should probably do the world a favor and drop dead.

  15. C’mon. You want him to recommend nice hotels to stay in? This in no way is meant to be a “travel guide” and that much is obvious. And if you are befuddled, well, what can I say.

    He told a story and it was dark and it was true. It was never meant to give the complete history of Liberia and every one of its citizens from start to finish.

  16. I think you may be confusing Vice with a legitimate journalistic organization. This is something that no reader of Vice would actually do. Honestly, the reputation of Liberia as relates to potential tourism, or anything else for that matter, is really not nor can it be endangered by anything that Smith or Vice may write.

    While the passion and commitment to Liberia expressed in this article is admirable, and even informational, it’s sort of like getting pissed off that the biggest asshole on the schoolbus called you a dickface.

    Deal with it . Consider the source. Move on. Hell, even revel in it. It’s sort of like being called a Nazi by Glenn Beck. You know that you’re doing something right.

    P.S. I’m not saying that Vice doesn’t have it’s place, otr that it’s not funny, I’m just saying that confusing it with serious or factual journalism that anyone cares about, is sort of fucking retarded.

    1. But unfortunately, most people don’t consider the source, as is the case with Vice’s documentary on North Korea.

      Just visit Vice’s own website here and read the responses, most of whom are people who buy Shane’s version of North Korea at face value. I also fell into the trap before I did more research on NK. Prior to having seen the NK documentary myself, I had never heard of Vice magazine. I found the documentary interesting (yes, with satire, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the content is fabricated), but then I read from people who have actually visited NK that Vice’s version of the country is inaccurate.

      We all know that North Korea is somewhere we wouldn’t want to live (undemocratic, human rights abuses, no basic economy, etc)…and it’s sad to have to make this disclaimer, because any sane discussion on North Korea questioning the accuracy of the country’s portrayal in the “Western” media risks the accusation of sympathizing with the regime in Pyongyang. But those who have actually been to North Korea have noted that Shane grossly exaggerates some aspects of North Korean life. Some who have visited NK have commented on Vice’s website about this, but those respondents are few and far between.

      The inaccuracies were more obvious to me when I saw the documentary the second time around. For example, Vice claimed to be entering the country as tourists, not journalists, and before entering the country, NK officials had them swear that they were not bringing any electronics into the country (mp3 players, radios, etc), yet bringing a large camera was perfectly okay. Another examples is Vice’s account of North Korea’s inedible food which contradicts other travelers (many of them on youtube) who are taken by their North Korean minders to delicious banquets. Albeit, most ordinary North Koreans don’t eat lavishly, but there is evidence on Youtube that other foreign visitors in North Korea have been traken to some pretty good banquets by their guides, which contradicts Shane’s experience.

      And it’s sad that Shane feels he has to make things up for his NK documentary, when there already is plenty of real material to report. Others have done so, and even if they have only focused on certain aspects of North Korea, at least they didn’t fabricate.

  17. I don’t know a lot about Liberia; truth or lies. I do know that for that boy in West Point smoking heroin, sniffing coke and being parentless are his truth. The image of that poor child who never had a chance haunts me. The fact that that general killed children and then ate them with his child soldiers gives me nightmares.
    I enjoyed your blog and am honestly relieved to hear that Liberia was mis represented as a whole. The Vice video was of course aiming for shock and awe and it worked. It showed Liberia to be what I would consider Hell on earth.
    I would love to see a documentary that better captures Liberia today. Do you know of any?

    1. Hi Leah,
      Here are some recommendations of documentaries on Liberia:
      – “Liberia: an uncivil war”
      – “The Iron Ladies of Liberia”
      – “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”

      Another cool film is “Sliding Liberia”, about the country’s emerging surf culture.

      If you watch any of these, don’t forget to come back here and let me know how you liked them! Cheers

      1. I personally liked the documentary it was informative as I like many people who saw it, had never seen Liberia that close, and I thought it was awesome that he had the balls to go into the slummiest parts of Liberia and show prostitutes and drug addicts. And i’m entitled to my opinion, as you are to yours.

        If his take on Liberia bothers you that much, make your own documentary and paint a pretty rosy picture and ignore the stench and fecal matter coming from West Point. I’m sure he didn’t photoshop them in post when he shot that footage, that “crap” was already there before he showed up.

        If you didn’t like it because it only showed the bad parts, I get it, it’s your opinion but you can’t deny he didn’t show reality, because unless I missed the casting call for warlords and fake Liberia prostitutes those people were all real.

        By the way a travel guide isn’t always meant as a resource for travel but rather an exploration into a particular culture or location meant to enlighten and expose. I agree that he was very selective and went purely for the shock and awe, yellow press sensationalist journalism. But it’s still entertaining.

        And I for one, am glad he made it. He needs to make one about Skid Row in los angeles, I’m sure most people wouldn’t be stupid enough to think that is how ALL people in Los Angeles live.

  18. The truth is somewhere in the middle… Likening the piece to a ‘colonial travel diary’ kinda tipped your hand.

    There is a coterie of people in this world who takes it as their sole duty to promote this deluded sort of idealism about culture, race, different civilizations, etc. Yes, some of these places ARE squalid. Some of them ARE dangerous. Some of them are just shockingly awful, yet you wouldn’t know that if you asked the idealists, who only report back about the ‘wonderful cultures’ of these places.

    I’ve spent some time in Liberia and while not quite as bad as the Vice piece makes it out to be, it’s still pretty damn bad. It makes the poverty of India look like middle class living in Stuttgart. Did I meet charming people? Most definitely. Still, I left feeling that the only sort of person who would want to actually visit that place is precisely the sort of idealist I mentioned… The one who feels that they’re doing themselves some sort of service by immersing into 3rd world cultures. If you’re that sort of person, Libera’s your place. If you’re looking for a vacation, there are about 190 other countries on earth I’d rather visit.

  19. Shut up, you whingy cow. He isn’t doing the Liberian tourism industry any major disservice. Vice is all about showing the dirty and ugly aspects of human nature. Why the fuck would he go to an awful country full of awful people and show only the good and wholesome? All you need to do is eradicate the urge to have a novel-length complaint when somebody does their job.

  20. And you expected Vice to release a video that encompassed everything, good and bad, that is in the country? No. They went there to get the ugliness, and they got it. Get over yourself.

  21. I just heard about this documentary literally a few hours ago on a Joe Rogan podcast, and i understand that there is a lot of controversey. The thing is, for me anyway: IT’S REAL! It may not be happening to the entire country, it may be as you suggest a small percentage… But you shouldn’t dismiss them like they’re nothing. That’s wrong to do. The people Shane met and spoke to, the warlords etc… they are real people… Who went through something horrific… Liberia may be improving, it’s people may be improving, but you can’t just sweep the past under the rug and pretend that it’s all going to be okay. It may be hard, but we have to own the past, or how else can we learn?

  22. Penelope, this is vice’s opinion of its own experiences in Liberia. Obviously, people’s views will differ depending on their experience. Nonetheless, the documentary has brought attention to not just Liberia’s issues but also Liberia as a country.

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