Viceland Cable Channel Shows Promise for Reporting on Youth, Education

By Mark Walsh — March 01, 2016 2 min read
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A new cable channel debuted this week from the Vice Media empire that is geared to a young adult audience.

The channel is called Viceland, and one of its new shows demonstrates the potential of Vice Media to explore angles of the U.S. education system.

“Noisey” is a documentary show about music, but in the very first episode, about the rapper Kendrick Lamar and his roots in Compton, Calif., Vice’s cameras take us into his high school.

“Our mission is to ensure all students are successful and college-prepared,” Madie Adams Robertson, the principal of Centennial High School in Compton, says as she somewhat rotely professes the classic mission statement of thousands of schools, whether they live up to it or not.

Zach Goldbaum, the preppily dressed young host, asks the principal whether she believes the American dream is alive and well in Compton.

“I believe so, yes,” she says.

Just as the Vice cameras are filming the school jazz band, a fight breaks out on the school grounds.

While Centennial High looks like a tough school, the brief visit makes it seem like an oasis of safety compared with Compton’s often violent streets and alleys, where gangs rule.

The thrust of the “Noisey” episode, which airs at 10 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday on Viceland, is that many young African-American men see limited options for themselves in Compton: be a gangbanger, or try to catch on as a rap artist like Lamar, the 28-yer-old multi-Grammy winner.

“Poverty is the great marginalizer” in these neighborhoods, Jorja Leap, a UCLA anthropologist and gang expert, says on the show. “These have always been lower-income, underresourced areas. Underperforming schools are here, school dropouts are here, guns are here, drugs are here, violence is here, and the wounds of incarceration are here.”

Most of the hourlong “Noisey” episode focuses on the neighborhoods of Compton nicknamed “Bompton” for their dominance by the affiliates of the Bloods gang.

We meet a young rap hopeful named Lil L, who is just out of Los Angeles County Jail and is back in the studio. Goldbaum asks him and other subjects whether Compton is safer than it has been and whether gangsta rap is a positive or a negative.

In a hallmark of Vice Media projects, the rawness of the street and the subject are evident in the language used (including the N-word and variations of it), open drug use, and more than a few interview subjects willing to show off their weapons.

At one point when Goldbaum and his crew are interviewing a group of young men on the street, a car they perceive as menacing approaches, and the Compton residents all begin to scatter.

“Stop, drop, and roll,” one of the young men tells Goldbaum. “You all do it for a fire drill. We do it when we get fired at.”

Vice Media includes its Vice News channel on the web and Vice documentaries on HBO, which have touched on education topics.

Viceland is a joint venture between Vice Media and A+E Networks. Its other debut shows include ones about marijuana, food, and gay travel. Film director Spike Jonze (“Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation”) is the creative director.

Some have questioned whether now is a good time to be launching a cable channel focused on documentary or reality programming. (See the demise of Current TV and Al Jazeera America, these doubters say.) But even if Viceland only occasionally trains its cameras on American schools, it will help tell the story of American education for a new audience.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.