I’ve been on a documentary kick lately, watching several on Netflix and checking a few out on Redbox. I’m normally an action, comedy or stoner movie fan and that’s about it but a co-worker suggested I watch The Wild and Wonderful Whites, a movie about a mountain (white trash) family in Boone County, West Virginia. Johnny Knoxville was one of the executive producers (funded the show) and I believe, had a good part in reviewing, editing and approving the final release of the film. I’ll come back to this show and J.K. in a bit. Here are some of the other shows that I’ve watching in the last week or two;
- Super Size Me - A farce of a ‘documentary’ that became an agent of change for the McDonald’s Corp. A man eats all of the happy meals and food that McDonald’s will serve to him (it’s not that bad but pretty close). The only science or facts in the movie are based on junk science, equivalent to the junk food. If you actually watched it, it was an exaggeration and dramatic representation of a real problem. Unfortunately the movie was more drama than reality. Fortunately, it got so much hype that McDonald’s actually did change some things but the movie didn’t fix the problem…the people who order and eat the crap on a daily, almost religious, basis.
- Food Inc. - It’s an interesting documentary, very one-sided against modern meat packing. They don’t disclose the rates of disease, infection or bad, yucky stuff for those not following FDA standards but they make it sound like they’re a lot better. It’s a sad show but what’s more disturbing is that we all still buy this stuff because it’s cheaper and faster than the real thing. Once again, they make the ‘big corporation’ look like the bad guy but don’t talk about who enables or drives them to this…you and me and the government/tax breaks that enable them. Lots of conspiracy theories and fear mongering, as if everyone in the U.S. has the same problems but the interviews are regional, not national. It all sounds great but unless you have the money to afford real, natural foods, it’s just a more depressing and humiliating show.
- Bowling for Columbine – A parlay off of a horrible and tragic incident to dramatize faux-change by targeting a major national retailer as the cause or co-conspirator in an act of violence committed by psychotic and drastically disturbed individuals. What you don’t see are any stats about actual change other than a publicity stunt (PR terrorism/extortion – I think Michael Moore made more money from this movie than Wal-Mart lost in gun sales…tell me the real purpose of the movie again?) . If you couldn’t tell, my problem with the movie is that it’s extremely one-sided and declares a victory by hurting one company, not solving the problem.
- The Cartel – A movie about how broken the public school system is, almost exclusively about New Jersey. This movie did try to show both sides but their scope was just TOO narrow. This is a national problem and they missed the boat by focusing on a tiny number of state(s), when the real root of the problem is federal support. It will never change until you follow the money folks and it almost all comes from D.C. There is little (no) audit process once the feds give out the money, what do they expect! When you write a huge check and don’t follow up, don’t expect anything. When people start getting fired and going to jail for sucking at their job or stealing, then we’ll see change. Corporations have to do it to survive, why not schools?
- Marijuana Inc., Reefer Madness and Super High Me - I lump these all together because they’re interesting, entertaining and do an interesting job of exposing the ‘problem’ and the current proposed solution, legalization. I recommend all three but will they impact you to the point of change…about as much as smoking a joint. No, I’ve never tried weed and don’t care to BUT I do care about Dave Chappelle and several other comedians who make movies like Half Baked. I watch these shows because they make those movies funnier and I guess they help educate me about something else I just don’t care much about, other than making me laugh.
- The One Percent – a movie about and by a rich kid who can’t comprehend why his family stays rich, instead of helping the rest of the U.S. catch up…even slightly. There are chilling quotes/interviews about and by the wealthy in this movie as well as indirect, possibly inadvertent, but very powerful realities for those who are not independently wealthy. Here’s the hint…those who have it, think in terms of 3-5 generations when they consider money. The rest of us think day-to-day or in terms of our lifetime. It does not consider the nouveau riche (new money) because almost all of them keep that other mindset and are broke before even their generation is over…they are irrelevant. A good show but zero solutions here.
- Client 9 – Eliot Spitzer’s hooker story with some great back story about Mr. Spitzer and his accomplishments prior to his lambasting by other politicians, the FBI and Wall Street. It’s an interesting and sad story but the only thing it solves or discloses is that some guy made a mistake (big surprise) and others benefited, far more than his fall, by lambasting him and working with/through the FBI to get a story out. It’s interesting.
- Methadonia – this is a sad and painful show to watch because you can’t really relate but you know it exists or know people who live this life. It keeps you somewhat disconnected because they don’t show an example of someone going from clean to methadonia, you just have to watch the end-game of these poor people. It reminds me of the 60’s marijuana movies where they show you the worst-of-the-worst in hopes of scaring you out of trying it. I think the point of this movie was suppose to be the problem with the recovery system and drug industries solution (staying on equally messed up drugs). It doesn’t pose a solution, doesn’t scare you enough to act or wrench your heart enough to open your wallet and make change happen. It’s a real problem but in the end, I don’t feel connected or like I can relate to these people at all. I end the movie at 3am with a sigh…”well, that’s not me;” no bad dreams, no tears, no more than going to a Hollywood drama and walking out thinking ‘dude, that person’s life sucks.’
- The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia – about a white trash family who one or two generations back had a couple of marginally famous southern tap dancers. The movie chronicles the lives 1-2 generations later and they’re (almost) all junkies, criminals, the worst representatives of ‘the south’ on the planet and look like real-life characters from Resident Evil (and not the hot ones). Here’s why Johnny Knoxville and the folks who did this movie rule…they didn’t try to solve a problem, didn’t try to expose an issue that the world wants to change. They simply showed the lives of idiots and the fact that they survive and fight the good fight, just like the rest of us. They just do it in jail, on drugs and while screwing each other’s boyfriends. It is a great example of life and the challenges we all face (not the same ones, I hope) and must overcome or plow through, just to survive. It’s life at its best (worst). I would say this is more ‘reality’ than documentary but the history behind their story may slide it into the category. Nonetheless, worth the watch.
So, what have I learned or gained from watching all these documentaries? I guess a couple of things; first, some are simply helping the guy shooting the film and don’t actually solve or do anything…other than buy laborghinis or Bugattis for the guys who carry or stand in front of cameras (what’s new there?). Second, is that life for everyone is hard, even for the ridiculously rich kid who can’t get over the fact that he’s better (financially) than 99.9% of us will ever be. Yet we all live it, we all move through it and we all make it out…dead. Some of us may remember more, do more for others, go to jail, be smarter, not be, have better adventures or choose to look at life as a horrible thing. But we all have to do it.
How we choose to do it, look at it and live it IS the story.