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Very Frustrating and Extremely condescending despite its good intentions
on June 20, 2014
I wanted to like this movie. From the opening quotation from Emerson about looking beyond the pretense of life, Tom had my attention. But as this theme rolled along I became more and more frustrated. Allow me to paraphrase; "We should pursue community", "we have become too competitive as a society", "we aren't living the right way".
All I can think is, "well duh". Really? This is the big insight? What I find most condescending is the myopic and ethnocentric approach of the film. Not all society globally has rejected community. In fact, most have not. Only an American (and I am one) would imagine that community is a dead concept. And not even every American has rejected community. Look at religious groups. Look at the Amish. Look at Mormons. Look at conservative Jews. My guess is that these groups don't fit Tom Shadyac's worldview very well. But make no mistake, these groups succeed because of their sense of community.
Thankfully Tom's message doesn't seem to reject competition completely. And I did give the film two stars. But I get angry when it is a typical overachiever like Tom who suddenly realizes the error of his ways. Many of us NEVER WERE overachievers. Many of live with a balanced view of competition. Some people like myself, while recognizing the merits of competition, have no interest in competition themselves. It is so typical to paint the world AS WE SEE IT.
And the thing is, a documentary doesn't need to be a one-sided conversation. Balance is possible. In fact, a documentary fails completely when the audience feels compelled to scream out the questions the filmmaker should be asking and answering himself.
Tom avoided the harder route. He could have looked to various and competing points of view and then attempted to synthesize them. Instead he simply went to one side of the spectrum. It is his film and his right to do so. But it doesn't make for good movie making. And oddly, as some have pointed out, he assumed the synthesis of religious points of view where none exists. The closing quotation that "I AM" the problem with the world is a very western/christian way of thinking. It assume that the individual has control of his or her destiny. This goes against several religions (some even that are Christian). Don't get me wrong, I like this sentiment and in fact this one subject I agree with Tom on.
My final frustration is the topic that Desmond Tutu most speaks to; The idea that "family" is this communal force we all require. And again, it isn't that he is wrong. But again my reaction was, "well duh". Many (perhaps most) Americans know about how important family is. We don't need a condescending Hollywood millionaire to remind us.
I suppose my opinion is pretty well laid bare. I just find it ridiculous that we need a man who has enough money that he can sit around all day philosophizing, telling the rest of us what we already knew to be true; that Community matters, that greed and materialism aren't the answer, that competition has some benefits but serious limits as well. You have to live in a bubble like Hollywood to not know this. To me it is like the drug addicts that finally get clean telling the rest of us to avoid drugs. Right. We all knew that. You didn't which is why YOU and not ME got strung out on drugs.
I am truly glad Tom found himself. But don't assume because YOU found yourself that the rest of us have ever been lost.