‘Viceland’ is a shallow dive into racial issues

by Danny Dyer, Contributor

Racial confrontation is the selling point for Viceland’s newest documentary series “Hate Thy Neighbor.” Hosted by bearded British comedian Jamali Maddix, the series attempts to dissect the mindsets of the most radical hate groups in the world today. From burning Jewish literature under a looming swastika in the company of neo-Nazis, to shooting automatic AK-47s with black supremacists, the show aims to unearth the roots of these extreme subcultures.

One of the central themes of Vice Media is “uncomfortable sociological examination,” which this show exemplifies. All the same, the chief issue with a show like “Hate Thy Neighbor” is how it believes it is shining new light on the toxicity of racism, when in actuality it staples no new discoveries onto the bulletin board of global intolerance. It is all things we have seen before, only revamped with Vice’s edgy flair of an entertainer placing himself in high-tensioned situations with the most radical of the radical. It is cheap situational entertainment blanketed in a paper-thin motif of confronting discrimination.

If anything, the show is more of a reaffirmation for its young, progressive audience and their collective liberal mindset. The result of this is something counterproductive rather than constructive, as the one message that transpires quite clearly is the one Vice’s main fan base is fully aware of — racism is everywhere, and it is a bad, bad thing. That is it. No solutions are offered. No fresh ideas are brought to the table.

And while Maddix’s goofy aura proves successful in the occasional joke, the show’s objective to “confront groups spreading hate across the world” gets helplessly lost in the fuzzy translation.

“I’m not qualified for this role,” Maddix said during a stand-up set. “I am just a comedian.”

His lack of expertise is one of the heaviest hindrances the show lugs around. Each interview rarely delves deeper than the shallow surface layer of the topic at hand. Rarely, if at all, does Maddix puncture into the nucleus of each group’s self-proclaimed bigotry. Latching on to loaded questions while wearing a mask of naiveté, the host takes on the role of provoker rather than investigator.

With Viceland’s transnational audience reach, this style of show has the potential to truly compromise between peoples of different racial views — or at least spark that conversation. And in these unnerving times, that conversation is imperative.

But rather than report on groups that are actively attempting to dismantle racism, they stray from them. Why not feature those issuing out a positively slanted message of multiculturalism such as The American Civil Liberties Union or the Anti-Defamation League? Because such a show would not sell. Pinning a quick-witted man of mixed-race against a die-hard xenophobe however? That generates views — even if that means forfeiting a platform teeming with potential for a positive impact.

In this technological age of information, it is our choice as to what sort of news and entertainment we filter into our minds. To be an engaged viewer, questions must always be asked. With shows such as “Hate Thy Neighbor,” there is one question to ask: Are we learning anything new? Are we equipping our minds with the proper ammunition against racial injustice? Or are we just rubbernecking at the newest racial freeway fire?