Bash Compactor: Butt Naked and His Men

Written by Jordan Galloway on . Posted in Bash Compactor, Posts.

“We used to be obsessed with cocaine, supermodels and rare denim,” Shane Smith confessed. “But that was before we went around the world.”

The Vice magazine founder went around the world and back again to wind up at the Crosby Hotel last Wednesday night for the premiere screening of his globe-trotting experience-his new documentary The Vice Guide to Liberia.

It felt like a good portion of Williamsburg too had wound up in the hotel for the event, and though there were enough all-black ensembles in the room to make it resemble a wake, the vibe seemed fitting given Vice is itself Brooklyn based.

Having arrived halfway through pre-screening cocktails, a friend and I downed our drinks and preceded to the overflowing screening room in time to hear Smith make that introspective introduction.

Over the next 60 minutes we watched footage of the 10-day trip Smith took the West African country where he apparently found his inner serious film maker and lost all sense of self preservation while chatting up rebel war lords in Liberia’s post-war apocalyptic landscape leaving me to wonder what the fuck he was thinking. Coincidentally that was the first question I asked him post screening.

And according to Smith he really wasn’t. At least not past his plan to track down men with names like General Butt Naked—dually monikered for his clothing-optional combat attire—and get them to share their perspectives on Liberia’s recent civil war history and current aftermath.

“I never have any preconceived goal because I always just say I’ll find the story when I get there,” Smith reasoned. “We knew that there were a lot of war lords, we knew that there were a lot of child soldiers, we knew that there was a lot of poverty, but we didn’t know that they were going to say ‘Yeah we’re ready to fight now. We’re ready to go back to war.’ We didn’t know that people like Butt Naked were doing the things that they’re doing.”

And what exactly had Butt Naked been doing? The kind of things that made me glad they weren’t serving hors d’oeuvres with our pre-screening cocktails and Smith second-guess exactly what he’d got himself in to.

“For us there was definitely a period when you’re there and are like ‘I don’t know what the fuck’s going on,’” Smith said. “I didn’t have any sort of reference points or anything. There were generals and it was scary, and then you meet this general and then all of a sudden it’s not as scary, and then you realize he killed 20,000 people. It’s so fucked up.”

Fucked up indeed, but not enough to take the party out of the evening or out of Smith himself who chalked up his calm demeanor onscreen to a serious case of Stockholm syndrome.

After speaking with Smith I headed out to the after party to calm my nerves with a drink and gauge the perspective of the partygoers. What I found is that they much preferred to discuss rare denim or at least topics more lighthearted than Liberia. Not that I blame them. Through the crowd I spotted the only other person in the room that did not get the color-optional outfit memo—I was wearing a turquoise dress. He was wearing tiger-print suit, so of course we decided to go talk to him.  What we found was a case of small-world syndrome.

His name was Baron Ambrosia and after tipping his top hat to us he explained that he too had spent time in Liberia and not just that. He was acquainted with General Butt Naked as well and impressed with how quickly Smith had managed to get so close to the rebel war leader. (Smith said his method was actually simple: He carried a lot of cash.) Ambrosia, a TV personality from the Bronx, didn’t seem to have the same deep pockets however because he spent two years trying to track down Naked over much of West Africa in order to get the rights to his life story. But Ambrosia’s attempts in the country weren’t as successful at first as Smith’s, so he had to go a different route to gain access to the general. “I finally found him on the Internet.”