Magazine article The Spectator

Arts Feature: Is Vice's New TV Channel a Con?

Magazine article The Spectator

Arts Feature: Is Vice's New TV Channel a Con?

Article excerpt

For all its much-vaunted rebel soul, Viceland is just BBC2 in disguise, says Neil Armstrong

When a new TV channel calls its flagship food show Fuck, That's Delicious , we might surmise that the Reithian ideals are not foremost in its corporate philosophy.

You probably haven't heard of Viceland. You certainly haven't watched it. It seeped on to the airwaves with little fanfare and few viewers. Viceland is the new 24-hour TV channel of Vice Media, the Canadian-American outfit that describes itself as the 'world's preeminent youth media company and content creation studio'.

Vice began in 1994 as a magazine but now encompasses a news division, a record label, a film studio and myriad digital ventures. It prides itself on being 'alternative', 'disruptive', sticking it to The Man and on appealing to young people -- the highly prized 'millennials' -- who watch the videos it produces on their phones and tablets. It claims hundreds of millions of viewers in more than 30 countries.

Not for Viceland, though. The channel launched on Sky on Monday, 19 September and, in its first few hours, ratings peaked at an estimated 17,200 viewers. Viceland's schedule is built around documentaries and unscripted programming and, according to its website, it is 'for and by young people curious about life right now'.

It's a description that summons up memories of the 'yoof TV' experiments of yesteryear: programmes characterised by high-speed editing and jerky camerawork, featuring hyperkinetic presenters addressing the ishoos of the day. They were meant to be made by the kids for the kids but were actually made by people like Janet Street-Porter. The kids didn't watch in their millions, the phenomenon fizzled out and Janet Street-Porter became president of the Ramblers' Association.

Viceland marked its opening with a distinctly underwhelming two-hour documentary reeking of the bad old days. The Viceland UK Census asked young people questions about their lives and filmed their answers. It turns out that some young people work, some don't. Some worry about money, others not so much. There are those who think Britain's OK. There are those who think it's awful.

A couple of other offerings also failed to convince. Big Night Out saw presenter Clive Martin -- 'Vice's T.S. Eliot of rave' -- travel to Donetsk to get drunk with Ukrainian teenagers. That appeared to be the sole aim and it was achieved without incident, despite the commentary's attempts to generate a sense of jeopardy: 'I was going to have to go behind military lines ...which wasn't going to be easy'.

An episode of Black Market was a sympathetic portrait of a pair of young drug addicts who shoplift around £400 worth of goods a day to finance their heroin habit. Joints of meat, woks, irons and male-grooming gift sets ('People cannot get enough of them at the moment!') were all grist to their mill. Their plight was, the film suggested, the indirect result of spending cuts that have created the black-market economy that sustains them.

So far, so predictable. But scrabble around the schedule and there is some excellent stuff.

The Vice World of Sports slot currently has two startling documentaries, each of which is positively Reithian. Boys of Bukom tells the story of an impoverished, ramshackle village on the coast of Ghana that has produced more world-champion boxers per capita than anywhere else in the world. …

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