Monday, April 28, 2008

Movies about money -- good and bad

I watched a pair of movies with 'debt' in the title over the past few days. One I liked, the other I didn't like much.

I expected In Debt We Trust to be an activist movie in the style of, say, Michael Moore or the Super Size Me guy. It was more like the latter, without even as much balance as the former.

Danny Schechter takes on the credit industry from the point of view that people who fall victim to crushing debt are hapless victims of an exploitative monster industry. While I don't disagree that Americans in particular have been buried by sometimes questionable practices of credit companies, I felt the film let the consumers off the hook too easily. Yes, people are sucked in by too-good-to-be-true offers which shouldn't be offered in the first place. Yes, people are sucked under by payday loans. But after all the reading I've been doing lately, the reality that spending less than you make is the key to staying afloat is virtually ignored. The film portrays slow death by debt as a virtual inevitability in American society.

I really did like the spooky prescience of the movie's portrayal of the housing bubble. It was made before the recent credit crunch, but predicted it precisely. It said sub-prime lending was the hot hot thing, but pointed out how ludicrous and ultimately doomed the whole scheme was.

All in all, I'd say pass on In Debt We Trust, unless you get a kick out of reinforcing a victim mentality.

On the other hand, I was angered and entertained by Life and Debt, which I found when I was looking for the other movie. I got the titles all mixed up.

Stephanie Black's film about how the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have affected Jaimaica taught me a lot. Stuff I didn't know about Jamaica, but more importantly, stuff I didn't know about the IMF and World Bank. I had no idea how those bodies worked and what they do to countries.

The movie felt balanced, yet outrageous. It was entirely sympathetic to Jamaica, and unflattering to the IMF. The World Bank and America come off like an evil empire. Sure, that's fashionable here in Canada, but it appeared to be backed up with fact. It has the same "holy sh!t, do Americans know that their country does this?!" impact that Michael Moore's films do, without the sense "oh, come on, dude, you must be kidding" angle that Moore sometimes brings.

If you're itchin' to get mad with a movie about debt, choose Life And Debt over In Debt We Trust.

Spend wisely, gang.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't like either of these movies. The both just state very simply that if you can't afford to pay back loans then don't borrow the money.

    I mean come in, in debt we trust starts out with the chick that commits fraud to get a credit card with a limit way higher than she should have and proceeds to rack it up until she couldn't pay it? How stupid are these people?

    I do understand unemployment, death in the family, medical bills etc. That's who bankruptcy is for. If you just buy too many clothes you should be forced to work in a sweat shop at minimum wage until your debt is paid.

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