Monday, March 26, 2012


This has been one of those weeks when I thank (insert deity here) for a moment to scratch myself.

When I did finally get a moment, I did what we all do when trying to clear one's head yet avoid complete silence. I prostrated at the altar of television.

While I could have settled for mindless fluff like the Kardashians, I instead was drawn to a gangly Briton named Loius Theroux.

I had seen some of his work before, but nothing like this. Louis visited the city anecdotally referred to as the most Methamphetamine ("Crystal Meth") addicted in America.

With humanity and honesty, he delved into the lives of the drug addicted and the desperate. Very moving.

I'm not here, however, to do a review on the program. You can watch and do that yourself.

What struck me was the depth to which it delved into people's lives. For better or worse.

It occurred to me that, while I was interested in the program and what I learned about these people who's lives had become slaves to a drug, I was discovering an awful truth that would have remained otherwise unseen.

I couldn't help but think: is the growing role of the filmmaker to illuminate truths in the world making things better or worse?

Before Facebook, for example, there were certain things you didn't know about complete strangers. Then, when Facebook appeared, everyone was so excited by this new technology that they uploaded their whole lives online. Slowly, however, we have realised that discretion can be a good thing. Don't believe me? Ask the people who lost their jobs for putting information on their Facebook wall. (

The same is true for filmmakers, in that the technology to make our films (cameras and such) has become very cheap. As a result, there are more and more documentaries being made, leading to a deeper and deeper examination of the human condition.

If one were to judge the welfare of the world, based on this wave of documentary films, you might assume that the we are all doomed.

The question therefore, of responsibility for the filmmaker's message, is becoming particularly important. Are filmmakers, like Louis Theroux, making the world a worse place by exploring our deepest and darkest secrets?

Personally, I think this is simply a matter of visibility. I read once about 'Golden Age Theory', which suggested people always yearn for a "Golden Age" (where the world was a better place) that never really existed in the first place.

Similarly, in the modern age, we are gaining drastically more visibility of each others' lives through documentaries and technology, and therefore it would be easy to think there are more social problems than in the wonderful past ('The Golden Age').

The truth is, however, people have always been weird, perverted and strange. They just kept it a secret.

One of my favourite stand-up comedians, Stewart Lee, articulated this much better than I can. Mr Lee stated that, while we judge the people we see on programs like Jerry Springer, the themes of these shows can easily be found in classic literature. Shakespeare's plays for example were about incest, murder, rape and adultery.

The behaviour, therefore, isn't new. We just couldn't see it in high definition piped right into our living rooms in Shakespeare's day.

While all these thoughts were crossing my mind, Louie's documentary on Crystal Meth addiction suddenly illuminated the truth for me very clearly. As one of the drug addicted young men was preparing to smoke meth, he detailed the fact that his father used to cook the drug and sell it in the 1970's. According to the man, the market for crystal meth was large in the city, even as far back as the 1970's.

In his own words, this man was saying that Louis Theroux, therefore, is not exacerbating this problem by making a film about it. The problem exists, regardless of whether there is a filmmaker there to explore it or not.

Having said that, I can't be completely sure that these documentaries are not making the world worse. After all, someone could argue that awareness breeds curiosity and therefore more of the problem.

I can be certain of two things, however.

First, the capabilities given to us by technology are growing faster than our ability to determine whether we should use it.

And second, I should have just watched the Kardashians.

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