Documentaries are trustworthy. We can't trust the news (because of social media), we can't trust our relatives (because of social media), and we certainly can't trust social media (because of social media), but documentaries are still a legitimate source of information, right? Surely there's some kind of review board somewhere ensuring that- hahaha, of course not! Everything is a lie and the world is your enemy. Think we're overreacting? We are! It's sort of what we do. But even so, this is some pretty shady stuff ...
It might not shock you to learn that the typical American diet is rather unhealthy, but What The Health promised to drop some harsh truth bombs about what disgusting trash monsters we really are. We were all prepared to hate ourselves based on reasonable and true information. (The best way to hate yourself!) But no, it was basically propaganda as written by your overzealous vegan cousin who apologizes to his salad before eating it.
Among other absurdities, What The Health claims that eating an egg is the equivalent of smoking five cigarettes a day, thanks to artery-clogging cholesterol (the type of cholesterol in eggs doesn't come with over-consumption risks, unless you intend to become more egg than human), that there's no such thing as protein deficiency and you can get all the protein you need from rice (protein deficiency is absolutely a condition you need to avoid, rice lacks key amino acids, and we don't just eat the same one thing endlessly because we need a variety of nutrients to function), and that milk causes cancer (also not true, unless ... has Big Milk gotten to us too?!).
A.U.M. Films & Media
While claiming that meat, dairy, and eggs are the cause of all illness in the world, What The Health gives a free pass to sugar. In fact, the film argues that sugar's been needlessly vilified to shift our attention from the true evil that is animal products. But sugar is fucking terrible for you, and has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cavities for a long time. If anyone has been trying to shift your attention, it's the sugar industry and its countless attempts to downplay sugar's negative effects.
With the aid of scary music and unqualified talking heads, What The Health pushed an "Eat all the sugar you want, but don't you dare smoke any eggs" diet, while arguing that doctors, the government, the American Cancer Society, and the American Diabetes Association are all complicit in covering up the ills of animal products for financial gain. It's essentially Loose Change for vegans, to the point that even regular vegans had to denounce its rambling bullshit. And when vegans are telling you to tone down the rhetoric, you know there's a problem.
Morgan Spurlock got his factually rocky start with Super Size Me, wherein he took the bold stance that fast food is bad for you. Then, for his next film, he took an even bolder stance: "Osama bin Laden ... maybe a bad guy?"
Where In The World Is Osama Bin Laden?'s pre-release blabber promised that it would be a more serious affair than the often-comical Super Size Me. Spurlock would travel the world, tracking the history of bin Laden and exposing the various cultural problems responsible for him. This would take him to many dangerous areas, and maybe even to Osama himself. It also discusses possible kidnappings, and shows Spurlock taking combat lessons. This was touted as a genuine effort from start to finish.
Then in 2008, the documentary came out. It opened with this scene:
It doesn't get any better. Spurlock peppers random locals with questions that would make Borat seem like a crack investigative journalist. He also uncovers profound, never-before-heard truths like "Women don't enjoy as much freedom in Saudi Arabia as men, what's up with that?"
At least Super Size Me reached a conclusion, even if that conclusion was scientifically unverifiable. Where In The World is a glorified holiday video of a man rambling around the Middle East with all the grace of a drunken college student. When he visits the caves of Tora Bora, he yells "Yoo-hoo, Osama, where are you?" in the goofiest voice he can muster. When he has the opportunity to visit a territory Bin Laden was actually thought to be at the time, he ... promptly chickens out, stating that it's not worth the risk.
The Weinstein Company
Spurlock did manage to get some genuinely moving interviews from regular folk in the Middle East, talking about bin Laden and America's reaction to him, and how both had affected their lives. Then he shoehorned in some cartoon clips of himself fighting bin Laden Street Fighter-style, and hoped the Earth wouldn't tilt off its axis from the sheer force of seven billion people rolling their eyes at once.
GMO: OMG is the brainchild of Jeremy Seifert, a man whose works Scientific American calls "intellectually lazy" and "emotionally manipulative." Wow. Getting Scientific American to throw shade is like getting a nun to flip you off. What could possibly warrant that kind of response?
For starters, the few scientific studies that Seifert remembers to quote are all by Gilles Seralini, whose work has been thoroughly dunked on by the scientific community. Running increasingly thin on evidence, the film quickly resorts to straight up lies about the WHO's stance on GMOs. Then Seifert dresses his children in hazmat suits and forces them to cavort in fields of GMO corn as if he expects them to hideously mutate upon exposure. He also gives his children some ice cream ... then warns them that said ice cream's GMO dark magic might hurt them somewhere down the line if they eat it. These kids are going to grow up with serious trust issues.
GMO: OMG's laziness and cheap tricks prompted ... uh, solid reviews from respected outlets such as The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Village Voice, and The Toronto Star? Dr. Oz has raved about it? And millions of eyeballs saw the thing on TV? Well shit. Look, form your own opinion on GMOs, but don't take pointers from the guy inventing new and interesting forms of child abuse.
What The Bleep Do We Know!? was advertised as a film about quantum physics, but with a healthy dose of philosophy thrown in to help illustrate that we don't understand nearly as much of the world as we think we do. Which is at true ... at least for the people who made it.
They did get some good subjects, though, like a Columbia University professor of philosophy who also studies quantum mechanics. Wow, he sounds like a perfect fit! Except he claims he wasn't told what the film was really about, and he wasn't happy with the finished product, arguing that it was "swarming with scientific inaccuracies" and "wildly and irresponsibly wrong." He also said that his interview was heavily edited to misrepresent his views. Why don't you decide for yourself, based on a few of the claims the film makes?
-The structure of water can be changed by good or bad thoughts.
-The ships of European explorers were effectively invisible to Native Americans because they had never seen a ship before, so they couldn't process what they were looking at.
-Transcendental meditation can lower the violent crime rate.
-Psychics can channel the spirits of the dead.
That sounds like some shit we wouldn't buy in an Interstellar sequel. But OK, let's talk about the water thing first. In the movie, they show some water being "exposed" to negative thoughts and forming weird shapes. Trippy! But, uh, that happens no matter what. When water freezes, there will be irregular crystal formations. It's an explainable process; the filmmakers just picked out one example they thought looked sinister.
The European ship nonsense was based on one cherry-picked, misinterpreted anecdote, and is hopefully self-explanatory. Have you ever seen something new? Yes? Well, that makes sense, because that's how eyes work. If you couldn't grasp new concepts visually, you would never see anything, because there has to be a first time for everything you see.
There's plenty of evidence to suggest meditation has its benefits, and it could very well be true that it can make some people less violent. But the study the film references was performed by a university that's based around the practice of transcendental meditation, which doesn't exactly make for an unbiased source. They claimed the violent crime rate in Washington, D.C. was reduced by people practicing TM, but reduced compared to ... what? They considered no other variables, and also (minor detail) the murder rate actually went up during that time.
At the end of the film, two things happen. First, the fictional photographer who's followed in a framing story throws away her medication, because she doesn't need it now that she's capable of creating her own reality. Then one of the talking heads, whom you thought was a middle-aged woman, is "revealed" to be an enlightened 35,000-year-old spirit from Atlantis being channeled by the woman. So in conclusion, you are now slightly dumber just from reading a brief recap of this movie. Sorry, we should have warned you.
The Hunting Ground explores two central themes: sexual assault is rampant on college campuses because of the actions of calculating serial predators, and colleges do nothing when sexual assault is reported in an effort to protect their reputations. Essentially, colleges are horror movies written by Kafka.
The argument about serial predators is based almost entirely on a 20-year-old study with a sample size of a single commuter college. The study's author even expressed reservations about how The Hunting Ground used his research, since it wasn't explicitly focused on college sexual assault, and shouldn't be extrapolated across the whole of college campuses as through it were. So when the documentary claims that 8 percent of men on college campuses perform 90 percent of its sexual assaults, it isn't true.
Hunting Ground also cites the commonly heard statistic that one in five (or four, depending on the source) college women are sexually assaulted, but not only is that not true (the data was probably inflated by non-responses from women who had never been assaulted and therefore didn't feel it was right to fill out the survey they had been sent), but it is in fact more likely for non-students of college age to be sexually assaulted (7.6 and 6.1 out of 1,000 women, respectively).
The other main point, that colleges do nothing about sexual assault, is made using a case from Harvard. The film implies that the school railroaded the accuser while stalling an investigation and allowing the assaulter to stay enrolled. But in reality, Harvard hired an outside investigator, temporarily expelled the accused for a year, briefly readmitted him after a vote, then expelled him for good after a grand jury indicted him on felony sexual assault charges.
There have certainly been cases in which colleges have offered inept responses to sexual assault accusations, and the act of reporting is difficult for all sorts of reasons. But students generally believe that their campus would handle an accusation well, and implying that it would always be a futile nightmare doesn't help.
It's also worth noting that the accused in the Harvard case wasn't a serial super attacker -- it was his first offense, which is less scary but a more accurate reflection of general reality. College campuses aren't being prowled by a small cadre of turbo-predators going on rape sprees; they're just another place in society where otherwise "normal" men do shitty things because they think they can get away with it.
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