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!
The Hunting Ground
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.
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.
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 ...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Crips And Bloods: Made In America
The relationship between police and people who live in poor neighborhoods is tense, to say the absolute very least, and it's been that way for a long time. You don't need a documentary to tell you that; it's a thing you should just know by now. There's video to prove it and everything. But have you ever wondered how things got that way? I mean, yes, "racism" is a decent answer, but it's also obviously a little more complicated than that.
I'm not saying it has all the answers, but the documentary Crips And Bloods: Made In America does explain some things. Specifically, as the name implies, it provides a history and timeline of how gang violence came to be such a huge problem, and it's that violence that generally gets the credit for the constant police presence in areas like South Central Los Angeles.
It's that relatively tiny part of the country that this documentary focuses on, kicking off with a disturbing bit of trivia about how the long-running feud between Crips and Bloods in just that section of the city has claimed more lives than the 30-year sectarian war that ravaged Northern Ireland.
Situations like that don't just happen. Minority residents in Los Angeles didn't simply wake up one day and decide to split into two groups and start killing each other. A lot of milestones, for lack of a better term, have to be reached before things become that drastic. As you'll learn when you watch this documentary (available on Netflix now), when it comes to the formation of the two most notorious street gangs in the United States, the police were at least tangentially involved at every step of the way.
It kicks off by going into detail about the state of racism in Los Angeles back in our nation's post WWII "glory days," which can best be described as "Not the South but still pretty fucking racist." Most notably, housing laws that ensured black people could find housing only in one specific area of the city were all the rage. That area was South Central.
If Jay Leno still ran The Tonight Show you'd be mocked for not being able to find this on a map.
That's not the doing of the police, obviously, but they were instrumental in making sure the people who lived there stayed there.
As you'd expect, this led to a lot of tense confrontations between police and the residents of South Central. That eventually boiled over into the Watts Riots, which went a long way toward kicking off the Black Power movement. After that movement was crushed by a series of events that definitely weren't orchestrated by the FBI (wink, wink), the Bloods and Crips were born.
While the preceding paragraph is at least slightly more detailed than just saying "racism" and calling it a day, it's still a really basic rundown of one of the biggest turning points in the history of relations between the police and residents in impoverished areas. It's missing quite a few important facts. You can find those in Crips And Bloods: Made In America. Watch it and have all your most burning questions about police brutality sort of answered today!
You know who's fat? The whole world. Maybe that's overstating it a bit, but obesity is absolutely a problem that has expanded (nailed it) beyond the United States. Sure, that spread (again!) is mostly our fault, but there isn't much we can do about that now, you know? It's hard to pinpoint one single thing that led to this predicament, unless the documentary Sugar Coated is to be believed.
As you've probably gathered by now, it places the blame squarely on sugar in all its forms and the suits responsible for selling it. A lot of the focus is on the FDA and their "generally recognized as safe" list, which keeps track of all the foods the government agency responsible for keeping us from dying from food have found pose no threat to public safety. Sugar is on that list.
At least trans fat isn't on the list (as of 2015).
Does that sound right? Isn't an overabundance of sugar in your diet a direct road to diabetes? If you can believe it, the science is technically still out on that matter. As this documentary explains, the sugar industry has done a fantastic job of arguing for the idea that there is no proven link between their product and disease of any sort. Sugar Coated compares the state of the industry today to that of the tobacco industry in the early '90s, when a series of executives famously had the gall to swear in front of God and Congress both that, to the best of their knowledge, smoking did not cause cancer.
That was a mighty bold claim, and one most of the world already knew was bullshit. For all intents and purposes, that truly is the same kind of front the food industry is putting up when it comes to sugar. Any doctor on the planet can tell you that eating too much sugar will give you a life-threatening disease. It became a huge part of our diets when processed foods skyrocketed in popularity in the '80s, and the diseases we now expect to see as a result of that have been on the rise ever since.
However, as far as long-term effects go, even if we started studying it way back then, it still wouldn't be long enough to have tracked the ramifications of too much sugar intake in a way the food industry is willing to admit is definitive. One of the doctors interviewed in Sugar Coated explains that, basically, the food industry wants science to take a group of unwitting participants, feed them more sugar than they should have for like 50 years ...
Or "glucose solids" if those are more your speed.
... and then report on the findings compared to another group that didn't eat a high sugar diet for half a century.
We know how that study will end, but until something of that magnitude happens, the food industry isn't budging on their position that sugar isn't bad for you. Sugar Coated documents the struggles of the medical professionals and various other experts who are trying to force them to believe it anyway and change their tactics accordingly, especially as it pertains to marketing their wares to children.
Most of us will have long since died of fatty liver disease or some shit before they make any progress, but it's still cool knowing someone's out there fighting anyway.
Adam will be telling jokes live and in person with the lovely and talented Jeff May on June 25 in Chicago and June 26 in Madison, Wisconsin. Click on the name of either of those places to get tickets! You should also follow him on Twitter @adamtodbrown.