Our new life in this social distancing world is quite a weird one! Before, when not in class, our free time was spent going to meet friends in the Tully, studying in the library, running around to our many different club meetings or various other social activities. Now, we have a selection of “indoor” activities, or as my mom calls them “quiet activities” to choose from. My mom usually mentions these to me when I’m midway through moving furniture into my bedroom. But, you can only move furniture so many times before you get bored or just run out of ways to arrange everything! 

Lately, my quiet activity has been watching various documentaries to grow this big-ole noggin of mine. You guys won’t even recognize me when I get back to campus. Actually, never mind, you won’t even see me because I’ll be so smart that Yale will send me an invitation handwritten by the provost to lead their school into academic glory. So, if you’d like to join me in my mission of knowledge, here are some great docs to get you started!

1) “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness”: 

This one just came out on Netflix a couple of days ago, and honestly, go watch it RIGHT now. It’s a completely crazy story with some of the most ridiculous people that will have you saying, “there’s no way they’re real.” Honestly, it feels like Christopher Guest couldn’t even come up with some of these things. It’s a documentary focused on the world of big cat owners and the groups trying to stop them. But, really, it’s a documentary focused on the most interesting big cat owner, Joe Exotic, who owns a zoo in Oklahoma with 1,200 tigers, lions and bears. I first became aware of Joe Exotic in a segment from John Oliver’s HBO show “Last Week Tonight.”  In 2016, Joe Exotic was actually running for President as a write-in candidate. As we know, he unfortunately didn’t win, and at the start of the documentary, he calls the director from jail after being arrested for hiring someone to murder one of the big cat activists. CRAZY!! This is just such a great documentary series and I can’t recommend it enough. Maybe don’t do what I did and watch all six episodes in one go, but go watch it now, and then email me… we’ll talk. 

2) “Take Your Pills”: 

For me, there’s nothing better than a Netflix Original documentary. I think they try to scoop up content that is not only focused on good stories, but unique ones too. Those that are interesting, but also allow us insight into something we haven’t ever seen or realized. But, Netflix is also able to tell these stories with a lot of modern filmmaking elements: animated graphics and smart editing that just make them a lot more memorable. Almost the opposite of whatever Ken Burns documentary your high school social studies teacher made you watch. “Take Your Pills,” a documentary directed by Alison Klayman, is a perfect example of that. She took a story about the stark increase in both the diagnosis of ADHD/ADD and the use, almost abuse, of the medications used to treat those conditions. As you watch, you first learn about the history of drugs like Ritalin and Adderall. But then she incorporates interviews representing many differing opinions about these drugs and whether or not they should be used and prescribed as consistently as they are. 

3) “McMillion$”: 

The entire time I was watching this, my mom and I just kept looking at each other and saying, “no way this is real!” It’s got everything from McDonald’s, the FBI, the Italian Mob and some sting operations here and there. It focuses on the fraud surrounding the McDonald’s monopoly game that happened for decades, without McDonald’s or the FBI knowing. But, with a tip dropped on the line, the FBI begins operation final answer to discover the culprits through a sting operation involving an undercover television crew and a fake trip to Las Vegas. So cool!! 

Usually, HBO documentaries land somewhere in the middle of a Netflix and a Ken Burns documentary. They’re interesting, but quite traditional in their storytelling format, mixing interviews with photos and other archival materials. “McMillion$” is a totally different story! Though still quite traditional, the story is filled with so many twists, turns and just madness, that “McMillion$” is able to truly compete with some fantastic Netflix docs. 

4) Literally Anything by Louis Theroux:

There’s this British documentarian named Louis Theroux, and he’s my absolute favorite director. Although he’s British, he does a lot of work telling American stories. One of my favorites is a series he did called “Extreme Love” where he focuses on telling the stories of families who are in situations that make care difficult. Situations range from caring for children with extreme forms of autism or children who are violent or non-verbal, to caring for family members that have early on-set dementia and completely forget who their family members are. Theroux also has a three-episode series on the Westboro Baptist Church and its members who are well-known for their picketing at funerals for soldiers, LGBT people and anyone of a different faith. Theroux is the best in the game at being able to interview and connect with people that he might not agree with by talking to them in a tone that is not degrading, but that is attempting to understand them as people, and how they came to have these twisted views on reality. 

The issue with my man Louis Theroux is that his documentaries are nearly impossible to find in the United States. His documentary about Scientology’s reprogramming techniques is on Netflix, but everything else I have to watch through “other” means. I usually have to watch either on Dailymotion or other shady websites… it’s honestly quite tricky. I was so excited when I was in Edinburgh and everything was free to watch on UK Netflix!! But boy is that not the reality now lads!!

Eh… no matter! The things I do for education! Hopefully, this is a helpful start for you, and you can fill some of your free time with these fantastic stories. Maybe one day I’ll be sitting in my rabbit slippers watching a documentary about you… hmmm, what a world that would be!

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-- Editor-in-Chief Emeritus I Art History & Politics --

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