The majority of us are most likely inherently good people. Riiiiight?
The problem is we’re left in the dark a lot, and that’s the way some companies like it. Once we learn the truth, though, we make informed, if not healthier AND more ethical, decisions.
“Consumers” (i.e., people) have a right to know what harmful stuff might be lurking in what we buy.
These five Netflix documentaries open the door to truths we might all want to know as citizens of the world. In some cases, we should not just be conscious consumers but concerned humans.
For better or for worse, Robert Reich has a way of breaking a complicated system down and explaining it to us, in a way a fourth-grader would understand. He says, “There’s nothing inherent in an economic system that makes it either immoral or moral, or good or bad. It depends on how it’s organized, and if it’s organized for people, then it can be a good and moral system.”
Saving Capitalism (coincidently named since Reich to date may have appeared to lean in a different direction) contains the type of stuff we didn’t find in our high school textbooks. The influence of corporations on our legal and political system should, however, be taught to every American. Having this fundamental knowledge helps to understand why many decisions are made in the country.
Reich says, “We have a huge system now of corporate welfare — aide for dependent corporations, subsidies and tax breaks that have no economic justification at all, but are there because individual corporations or specific industries have lobbied to get them.”
The paradox argument between carried away government oversight or no involvement at all doesn’t exist, according to the film. In reality, the government will always be there. Once we can recognize that, we must then ask how we want it to get involved. The film is less about justifying capitalism and more about exposing the cracks in the system and runaway corruption.
The Animal People
A Netflix documentary produced by Joaquin Phoenix, the story follows a group of activists who must stand trial for their advocacy against cruel animal testing in labs. In one of the most relevant courtroom dramas on the streaming platform, the main characters are the good-hearted “revolutionists.” The villains are many. This film forces an issue out into the open that’s purposefully hidden behind the scenes — animal abuse.
The protests focus on Huntingdon Life Sciences, a contract research organization for pharmaceuticals and other products. Leaders in Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) found an intelligent approach to try and shut them down by severing Huntingdon’s partners and finances. They also made protests personal — showing up in numbers at top researchers and CEOs homes with signs shaming their moral conduct.
For six members, though, what began as free speech and assembly cases turned big brother, directly following 9/11. The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, supported by companies from big beef to Sea World, was passed to stop this type of civil disobedience. Now, any threat to disturb profits for animal enterprises is criminal and considered an act of terrorism.
The Animal People dives into complex questions, like what is the more significant terrorism — nonviolent but aggressive actions made to raise awareness about a believed injustice or brutally abusing monkeys and beagles who get drugged, mutilated and thrown into isolated cages? Or why are we recklessly throwing the terrorism word around like that? Also, in what ways will our First Amendment rights hold up in a court of law? And, why would our government direct so many resources and collaborate with corporations to silence advocacy for animal welfare?
Many of those answers lead to money. Both parties want to keep getting our money, dark secrets be damned.
What The Health
Laid-back California surfer tone of the film’s director and narrator aside, the substance of What The Health is hard-hitting and alarming. As consumers with thousands of daily food choices, this film points us to a lifestyle of clean meals and investing in our own health.
In the next 25 years, one in three Americans will have diabetes. Most people have heard about this rise, but less is known about the scientifically-proven link between animal products and fatal diseases. So why are organizations like the American Diabetes Association promoting bacon-wrapped shrimp? Because they’re sponsored by the big meat and dairy.
Again, another story of a corporations running amuck. The film parallels the issue with a famous tobacco industry memo saying, “doubt is our product.” Meaning, if there’s enough confusion around the degree of how harmful something is, then consumers will continue to buy it and accept the uncertainty of risk. In an irony to affirm we should all know better (despite the hundreds of millions spent on advertising and lobbying politicians to pass gag orders), there’s a law that protects big industry from our repercussions called the Commonsense Consumption Act.
Watching this film delivers a kick in the butt to finally try eating healthier. If getting grossed out is an effective method to keep you on the path, then you’ll love the pus scene or the decomposing pigs remarks. But, to be fair, the filmmakers may have also went a little far on some of their claims, as some reviews outlined after is was released.
Sure. We may not stop eating pizza and hamburgers all together, but even a small change to clean up our diets is a step in the right direction for us and the planet.
The Devil We Know
Credits roll in with 1970’s Stepford-like housewives claiming how this new product changed the cooking game in a series of retro commercials. Fast forward to today, The Devil We Know’s story begins with an emotional recap of a young man who lives a life greatly affected by the chemicals he was exposed to before birth. While he grew in the womb, his mother worked in a Teflon producing plant in Parkersburg, West Virg.
DuPont had weaved itself into the community through the many people they employed as well as involvement in churches, local sports and schools. When a letter went out from the company saying there were traces of a particular chemical in the water, the statute of limitations clock started ticking. While most residents initially trusted them in saying it was safe, one man slowly grew more suspicious, leading to a class-action suit against the chemical giant.
It’s not just Teflon pans emitting harmful chemicals, though. They’re nearly everywhere you look — from weatherproofed clothes to fireproofed furniture. The toxins C8, PFAs and PFOAs exploded into many other industries. Almost every single baby born today has at least some level of these toxins in their blood.
“It’s too horrible to believe that every day we get up we’re at the mercy of a corporation that might lie to us, might poison us, might create a product that’s going to kill us… for profit,” says Trial Lawyer Mike Papantonio. But we are. So the need for consumers to educate themselves is imperative. Although we’re dealing with chemicals that never break down (ever), we can holistically see the issue and take steps to limit exposure in all our rituals. Getting rid of all your Teflon in the kitchen is a good start.
Stink! picks up the chemical education where The Devil We Know left off. The film dissects a myth we all believe to some degree — that the stuff we put on our bodies and bring in our homes has been tested and regulated for things that might kill us. It hasn’t. On top of that, companies are allowed to hide their toxins in an umbrella ingredient list called “fragrance.”
“Most fragrance ingredients don’t come from flower fields in France. They come from chemical factories in New Jersey,” Director Jeffery Hollender says. The fragrance loophole allows companies to hide ingredients under the claim that the formula is proprietary, or a legally protected secret. In products of concern, however, scientists have redundantly found Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, that have been found to mess with our hormones and even DNA, among other harmful additions.
This documentary lets us nerd out on how trade associations work, contracted by companies to push back on laws requiring transparency. Thanks in part to their work, only 10 chemicals put into cosmetics have been banned in the U.S., while Europe has banned more than 1,200 ingredients. An estimated 700 billion tons of toxins per year get dumped into our planet and bodies. To slow the flow, we need to be concerned about the chronic use of chemicals, avoiding them where we can.
Okay. We can all go back to watching Gossip Girl and Next in Fashion now.
Photo credit: The Animal People film