Much of Smith's 15-minute presentation and the half-hour discussion that followed was a politically-charged tirade about the world's angry young people from Wall Street to Athens to Tahrir Square. He must have used some variation of the word "fuck" at least a hundred times.
"We're at these upfronts," he said, "where we're giving away cars, where we're painting cabs different colors, where we're coming up with all these different show formats for young people, but what the fuck is happening in the world?"
Vice is here to tell you: Segments being mulled for season one of the HBO program, which Smith will co-host and co-executive-produce, according to a press release circulated last week, include: "Taliban child suicide bombers; North Korean slave labor camps; New York’s underground voodoo heroin clinics; Somalian pirates; and Satanic dentists in the Pacific Northwest."
The target audience, and Smith's ability to sell them to people with deep pockets and a profound distrust of their own understanding of young people's ideas, is the reason so many blue-chip brands (Nike, Intel, etc.) are clamoring to do business with him. If it all seems a bit like it was created specifically to shock parents, that's precisely what advertisers are thinking they need.
"Basically, young people all over the world are pissed off," said Smith. "They're fucking angry. And I don't know about you, but there's nothing that's scarier than young people who have no future."
And that's sort of where it gets confusing. Is it the role of Smith's brand of television to incite anger? Or to move angry people to give their money to this brand instead of that? Or to pacify them? In delivering the Angry Youth to CNN, MTV, Bloomberg, Nike and Intel, what is Vice's place in its own generation? It's not quite clear that Smith himself is sure of, or perhaps quite ready to admit, the answer. And he probably doesn't need to.
SMITH'S GENUINE PASSION FOR PARACHUTING INTO the dark corners of the world to tell important stories is matched by a certain zealous swagger. It gets a little tiresome to keep hearing about how he and his Vice cohort actually have the balls to pull it off, as if The New York Times and CNN don't also have boots on the ground in places like Syria and Libya, where, as Smith put it, "young people are actually overthrowing dictators." As if no one else has ever reported on Congolese conflict minerals and two-week traffic jams in China.
"When you're seeing these states failing and you see young people getting more and more militant, you're saying, well, you know, where's the media that covers this?," he said. "If we're the ones saying shit's fucked up, then you know we're in trouble. When you go out into the world and see what's happening now, you sit there and go, if fucking Vice is saying, hold on a minute people, we should fucking be doing something a lot more serious, then you know the world's fucked."