5 Documentaries That Perfectly Explain Society's Problems

I'm fairly certain I've mentioned this on the site previously, but I love documentaries. It's common knowledge among the people I know that documentaries are my favorite shit, which explains why I sometimes receive texts like this when I haven't been heard from in a while.


This one's from your mom.

In case you missed the caption, it says "This one's from your mom." Just wanted to make sure that was clear. Anyway, one of the best things about documentaries is that they often provide a quick and easy way to learn the history and details behind almost any major news story that catches your attention. We talk about a few examples along those lines on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...

... where I'm joined by the co-hosts of the White Wine True Crime podcast, Kari Martin and Caitlin Cutt. I'm talking about the same thing in this column today. Imagine that!

#5. The Hunting Ground

YouTube

I know this is a controversial stance on the subject, but if you ask me, rape on college campuses is completely out of control. That's a thing you should already know if you've just been sort of following the news lately. Up until a few days ago when Orlando became the most dangerous place on Earth for a weekend, the headlines were dominated by stories about convicted rapist Brock Turner.


He's allegedly a swimmer also, but I only know him from the rape stuff.

If you've somehow missed it or forgotten, he's the Stanford University student who was convicted of raping a woman behind a dumpster and received an absurdly light six-month jail sentence for it, sparking waves of outrage everywhere you'd expect outrage to be found. I doubt that anyone other than dudes who wish they had more freedom to commit rapes think any part of this, from the crime to the slap-on-the-wrist punishment, is an isolated incident, but if so, I'd highly recommend checking out The Hunting Ground, a documentary you can watch on Netflix right now.

It goes into extensive and heartbreaking detail about how widespread the problem of sexual assault on college campuses really is, and the uphill climb the victims face after reporting these crimes. In most of the cases it covers, women were actively discouraged from making too big of a fuss over the fact that they'd been raped. Time and again, the colleges and universities in question made it clear that their top priority was protecting their image, lest any bad publicity discourage students from enrolling or alumni donating money in the future. One woman was told by the dean of students that rape is "like a football game" and then asked what, in retrospect, she thought she could have done differently during that game.

ronniechua/iStock
Play better defense?

What crime besides rape ever works that way? If you were shot by your neighbor in a non-self-defense kind of way during an argument, no one would ask what you might have changed about how you handled the disagreement so as to keep yourself from getting shot. It's just accepted that escalating things to that level is criminally wrong and (ideally) justice is served from there. Or at the very least an investigation of some sort is conducted. Even that part barely happens when it comes to sexual assaults reported on college campuses, and The Hunting Ground does a fantastic job of explaining why that is and, more importantly, why it needs to change.

It's a goddamn shame that some people actually need things like that explained to them, but this documentary proves that is absolutely still the world we live in.

#4. Trophy Kids

YouTube

Since we're on the subject of ruining the lives of youths, let's talk about Trophy Kids. I know we haven't had a "newsworthy" stage mom story in the news since that Honey Boo Boo girl's mom moved a pedophile into their house (or something like that), but still, they do appear from time to time, and they're almost always depressing as all get out. The HBO documentary Trophy Kids looks at this phenomenon in ways we don't normally see.

For one thing, instead of the usual beauty pageant winners or pop singers, the subjects of this documentary are hoping to raise world-class athletes. You know, like how Tiger Woods was raised to be a golfer from the moment he was born. What kind of parent wouldn't want to replicate that kind of success?

Sure, there were some problems later on that almost certainly had everything to do with dedicating the entirety of his formative years to getting his handicap down ...

EdStock/iStock
I'm referring to his knee problems, in case you're curious.

... but that wasn't until way after Tiger's parents would've had to deal with any of the resulting chaos his shenanigans caused. In the short term, his practice-all-the-time upbringing paid off pretty damn well. It's not unlike how we'll eventually global warming our great grandchildren into living on a planet that's made mostly of fire, but the guilt is far outweighed by how much we like using oil.

In Trophy Kids, we get a horrifying inside look at what parents who approach child rearing (ha) in this manner are like behind closed doors. Unsurprisingly, it's pretty damn terrifying.

That's the other way this documentary differs from the usual "camera following a stage mom" fare you totally watch on TLC and channels of the like all the time. There is no cutesy reality show stuff happening here. You're genuinely sad and scared for these kids immediately and the feeling doesn't let up in the slightest after the credits roll.

For example, there's a dad who hopes his daughter will grow up to be a professional golfer. He spends thousands of dollars that he doesn't really have to spend on lessons, and it's clear that every hope and dream he has for himself is tied to this investment paying off in the form of his daughter making athlete money someday. When she hooks a drive, he yells at her. When she misses a putt, he walks away and calls her a bitch under his breath. There's a scene where his constant shit-talking leads her to a full-on emotional breakdown in the middle of a golf tournament, and it's the fucking saddest.

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He yells at her for that, too.

Granted, he never suggests that she should kill herself if sports don't work out like the crazy football dad. That was pretty harsh. There's also a tennis mom who throws a whole lot of "I only want this for you because Jesus wants it for you" propaganda into the mix, because parents can never have too many techniques for raising damaged kids at their disposal.

Overall, while on the surface it's definitely a documentary about parents raising athlete kids, it's more like an instruction manual on how to raise kids who will definitely want to kill you in your sleep someday.

#3. Detropia

YouTube

Hey! Remember how I wrote about Ronald Reagan being the worst president ever last week and everyone unanimously agreed? That was dope. Anyway, one of the entries in that column discussed how Reagan's gutting of labor unions destroyed the middle-class in this country. Well, if you'd like to see a real-life example of how powerless unions are today, then Detropia is the documentary for you.

As the name sort of implies, it's about the fall of Detroit. At one point, it was the fastest growing city in the United States, once sporting a population of 1.7 million. That was way back in the years immediately following World War II, when manufacturing jobs were aplenty and even those folks at the lowest rungs of the corporate ladder still made decent money.

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Now it's just this.

Over the years, though, most of those jobs were either rendered obsolete by advances in technology or just straight-up shipped to other countries where the populace was more comfortable working for significantly less money. Workers at plants that did remain were forced to accept similar compromises once unions lost their power in the '80s. When contracts were renegotiated, the choices were either accept lower pay and fewer benefits or risk having your plant closed altogether. That's what you can see happen for real in Detropia. Employees at one of the few remaining unionized manufacturing plants in the city threaten to strike if their compensation situation doesn't improve. The company responds by cutting pay instead. When the contract goes unsigned, the plant is closed. It's a depressing snapshot of what has been happening to American workers for like three decades now.

That's not the only focus of Detropia, though! As the opportunities left town, so did the people. A lot of people. Like a million or so. The most recent census puts Detroit's population at less than 700,000.

Google
I don't know why Cleveland is also on that graph, but it definitely feels right.

What that means is huge swaths of Detroit are nothing but abandoned houses and vacant lots. The rest of the documentary focuses mostly on the various ways the city, be it the government or the citizens, deals with that problem. Arson has become a hugely popular option, for example. Slightly less popular is a plan that, if I understood correctly, would involve moving all of the remaining residents into a more concentrated area and then turning the rest of of Detroit into farmland or something. Detropia deals with all of this and more in a way that's equal parts fascinating and depressing.

I don't remember there being much talk about the school system, though. I suppose that would require an entire documentary all its own.

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