Vice magazine is growing a conscience. The new issue isn't as hilariously mean, especially the fashion DOs and DON'Ts: "This girl looks like she was abandoned in an alleyway at a young age and raised by garbage," which is pretty tame by Vice standards. It also features photo essays about black teenage mothers and kids in the child-sex trade, including a shattering letter from a 16-year-old Bucharest prostitute published without even a ghost of a smile.
The new Vice Guide to Travel DVD wears the same "We're still fun but we're slightly more reverent" cloak, which is more complicated and interesting than the "fuck all y'all fuckers" vibe that Vice has thrown out since its arrival in 1996. There are, of course, the requisite badder-than-thou moments—David Cross eating dog in China, a conspicuous correspondent (tall, blond, in a suit) getting shot at (or at least shot near) in a Rio slum, artist David Choe talking about his search for a dinosaur in Africa while naked Congolese hookers jump on a bed behind him, Vice cofounder Suroosh Alvi walking through the world's largest illegal arms market (in northern Pakistan), casually talking ballistics with jihadis.
But there's also the bad liberal conscience. The introductory paragraph in the accompanying booklet reads: "Sitting in our Western comfort, it's easy to forget that most of the world is hell. War, disease, famine, genocide, and poverty dot the globe like chunks of cancer. Basically, humans are fucked." There are segments on what's left of Chernobyl, how easy it is to buy a warhead on the black market in Bulgaria, and a harrowing piece on the "PLO Boy Scouts," training clubs where 8-year-olds learn to become suicide bombers. Basically, humans are fucked, but there's a nihilistic joy in watching the Vice crew cover the fuckédness in high style with a bitchin' soundtrack, ranging from rockers the Black Lips to Brazilian funk band Bonde Do Role.
The biggest problem is a distracting sloppiness. This paragraph, from the booklet, is a tiny example of what's right and wrong with the Vice Guide to Travel, as well as Vice in general:
"The first time I experienced the war-as-party-time phenomenon, I had just turned 19 and had ended up in the former Yugoslavia by mistake (vodka and Cyrillic train schedules tend to fuck one up) right as the fighting broke out and the borders were closed. It was the best time of my life. Everyone thought they were going to die, so we got drunk, fell in love, fucked it, sucked it, took drugs, and fired off machine guns just to see the tracers fly into the hills like fireflies on jet fuel. It were loverly."
"Fireflies on jet fuel" is a great, evocative phrase. "Tend to fuck one up" is awkward. "It was the best time of my life" reads like lazy hyperbole. And "it were loverly" is an ugly, pretentious phrase that needs to be cut, as does the editor who let it go. But, on balance, it's a good, adventurous paragraph.