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Jim DeRogatis

Vice Returns to Chiraq But Still Offers Little Insight

Two years ago, with great fanfare, the voyeuristic cultural tourists at Vice’s Noisey parachuted into Chicago with the stated goal of exploring “the poverty, segregation, political issues, and violence that continue to challenge the residents of the South Side,” or what they and others have called “Chiraq.” Yet despite eight segments averaging 15 minutes or longer, the documentary series provided little real insight into the cause of these problems, much less exploring the solutions.

Mostly, host Thomas Morton reveled in the glow of the one-dimensional gangsta poses struck by the leading lights of the then-ascendant drill scene.

Last week, Noisey returned to Chicago for an update, though nothing much has changed—in the streets, or in Vice’s new hour-long doc. The first series built to an anticlimactic encounter with Chief Keef, in which we saw him and his pals tearing up the lawn at a beautiful suburban mansion with their ATVs. The new episode builds to a long and anticlimactic scene of the now West Coast-based rapper playing the grown-up version of “war” or “cowboys and Indians” with $10,000 worth of fancy paintball equipment. 

“We spend a lot of time with these characters; I think we are really trying to do justice to them by letting them speak for themselves,” new host Zach Goldbaum, a former comic turned Vice correspondent, said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun. “This is immersive journalism.”

Actually, it’s much closer to an episode of MTV Cribs. The film is “immersive” in the sense that, yeah, we see a lot of Keef—and a lot of weed and paintball and hover-boarding around another nice mansion. “Journalism,” however, would indicate that maybe Goldbaum asked a probing question or two of Keef, challenging, say, his nihilistic celebrations of violence for his own profit, or how his much-ballyhooed deal with the amoral Interscope Records fell apart so quickly.

No such luck. The closest anyone gets to assaulting the moral bankruptcy of Keef’s pose are some comments from the Rev. Michael Pfleger, the ubiquitous activist priest from St. Sabina. And why would Vice dig any deeper than the local TV newscasts to find an alternative pro-community, anti-gangster voice?

Another problem: Much of the new film seems to have been shot before the movement that has been building since the Laquan McDonald case, and coverage of it is shoehorned in and given only the most cursory treatment.

To be certain, the tensions and violence on the South and West sides of this city is one of the biggest stories in America today. But it remains largely untold, immersively or any other way.

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