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When he lived in Chicago, Jason Mojica sang in punk bands, ran a record label, and owned a café and a video rental shop (Jinx and Big Brother, respectively); he even wrote a few art reviews for this magazine. In December 2006, Mojica and two friends traveled to Chad with a camera to explore why Darfur couldn’t be saved. The result was the 2008 documentary Christmas in Darfur. Now living in London and working full-time as a producer for Al Jazeera English’s The Listening Post, Mojica, 36, spoke to us about his trips earlier this year to the Middle East to produce segments for The Vice Guide to Everything, which premieres Monday 6 at 10pm on MTV. “It’s 60 Minutes meets Jackass,” explains Mojica, who had freelanced pieces for VBS.TV, Vice’s online television network. “Hard-hitting international news meets damaged genitals.”
Watching VBS.TV’s international pieces, I’m always impressed that a bunch of hipster journos can charm their way into foreign underground scenes. What’s Vice’s secret?
What shouldn’t be journalism’s dirty little secret, but all too often is, are what are known as fixers—locals who have the inside connections. You find a good fixer and you just start asking questions. You generally pay them a daily rate. During the piece on illegal street racing in Ramallah, one of the people our fixer roped in to demonstrate how to steal a car decided he wasn’t compensated adequately. He decided the fixer ripped him off. So I ended up having a very heated argument through a translator with a guy who looked like Vin Diesel. I’ve never been shaken down through a translator before.
In one segment, you go to a Jordanian arms fair. Were people übersuspicious of dudes in rock T-shirts?
They definitely weren’t used to press who might think what’s occurring there is fucked up. The Chinese weapons manufacturers, looking at a bunch of scruffy hipster guys from Brooklyn and myself, were the only ones smart enough not to talk to us. Somehow we were given special access to something called the Warrior Competition. Special-ops teams worldwide compete to determine who’s the most badass I-can-sneak-in-and-slit-your-throat guy. It was like being at a SPECTRE training camp from a James Bond film.
Were you hit with any unexpected revelations while in the Middle East?
I learned Israeli officials are a lot more interested in you when you leave the country. They found a couple of Palestinian flags someone had given me, so I moved to the bonus round where you get taken to the back and strip-searched. The other thing I took away is that it’s very hard to go anywhere in the Middle East without meeting an Arab who did not go to school at Northeastern Illinois University. [Laughs] I was telling someone I had studied Arabic at Northeastern, and just then, a Jordanian colonel piped up and said, “Oh, I went to Northeastern University!” A few days later, I was in a West Bank kebab shop. The owner asked me where I’m from. He was like, “Oh, I lived in Chicago. I went to Northeastern.”
When producing a segment for Vice, do you approach the story in a different way than at Al Jazeera?
It’s more challenging to do the Vice work actually because you know the viewers have a short attention span. You can’t just get an expert to tell them that something is important or fucked up or interesting—you have to demonstrate it.
The Vice Guide to Everything is on the same station as Jersey Shore. Which show is more indecent?
It’s hard to figure out what could be more offensive than Jersey Shore. There’s going to be plenty of ridiculous, juvenile high jinks on the show, but that’s just the sugar that makes the medicine go down.