The Ambassador, Undercover Gonzo Journalism

I often joke with my girlfriend about our next vacation:

We’d travel to the Central African Republic! A few of my former coworkers have been there. It sounds interesting. Maybe a 5 day trip? I’m sure we could fly through Paris or Frankfurt. Wouldn’t be too difficult. You in?

My last job took me to many countries in Africa–Djibouti, Algeria, Zimbabwe, Angola and Nigeria. That said, I know very little about the Central African Republic. Former coworkers had traveled to Bangui, the country’s capital. Their thoughts were neither overwhelmingly positive or negative. Lively morning markets, a decent Lebanese restaurant, broken sidewalks–a unique location but not the kind of experience you’d share on TripAdvisor as a must-have.

I recently watched The Ambassador, a darkly comic and gut-wrenching documentary that peels back the curtain of global political corruption and exploitation in Central African Republic. It’s a real-life spy movie, rife with black-market credentials and hidden cameras.

The protagonist is Mads Brügger, a quick-thinking Danish filmmaker and journalist. Brügger goes undercover as an inquisitive, well-spoken and groomed Liberian diplomat and businessman, with a goal to build a match factory in Central African Republic. He wits his way through friendships and negotiations, ultimately revealing blood diamond and diplomatic title brokerage corruption. It’s the kind of story that only a long, hot shower can wash off.

Hunter S. Thompson once said that “absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism.” The documentary is gonzo journalism at its finest. It’s told from a first-person, in-the-trenches perspective. To break the story, Brügger became the story.

Another example of gonzo journalism is Emmy-nominated VICE, an HBO series that seeks to “expose the absurdity of the modern condition. It’s a new kind of reality TV, one that showcases political assassinations in the Philippines, brings Dennis Rodman into North Korea and uncovers underground heroin clinics in Mexico.

If you haven’t seen VICE or The Ambassador, step outside your media comfort zone for a night and see just how absurd our modern condition really is.