A confession: I love documentaries. Although I happily read (and watch) fiction regularly, it seems that the older I get, the more appeal a true story seems to hold for me. My husband and I share a Netflix account. He fills our queue with low-budget horror movies while my selections are usually a) movies that critics didn't hate and b) documentaries. It's funny to see the look on his face when he opens an envelope from Netflix. He's hoping for "The People Under the Stairs" and instead finds out that it's "March of the Penguins" or something like that. "Oh, it's one of yours," he says and tosses it onto the table as if it has offended him in some way.
Last year we finally started subscribing to HBO . . . mostly because we got it free when we upgraded our cable. Before too long, I had worked my way through all of the documentaries available through HBO on Demand. I wrote about "American Winter" on my blog a while back.
In addition to watching documentaries, I also listen to stories via podcast. My favorites are "This American Life" and "Story Corps." Here is a recent story from Story Corps. A man was moved to help a member of his church, a young man who became a quadriplegic after a car accident. The older gentleman went to college with the kid and helped him do everything, every day. A dude like that needs to be celebrated - his story needs to be told.
I recently stumbled onto a new way to feed my addiction. I installed HBO Go on my Kindle. It seems to give me access to more stuff than I was finding on HBO on Demand on the TV. A whole A to Z listing of documentaries. Woo hoo! That's right, I am living on the edge, I tell you. I watch stuff on my Kindle when I'm in my bathroom getting ready for work.
There's a weird side effect to all of my documentary-watching, though. I now get pissed off about stuff . . . stuff about which I had forgotten I was angry. For example, the other day I watched "The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib." Now I am newly furious about Donald Rumsfeld and the whole chain of command. It is no wonder the Iraqi people hate our American guts. It's sad to look back on those early post-911 days, when our collective knee-jerk reaction was to round up anyone and everyone who "looked Muslim." I'm surprised we didn't build internment camps and store all brown people there.
I've also learned a lot from all of my documentary-watching. I watched one about the little girls who were murdered in the church bombing in Birmingham (Spike Lee's "4 Little Girls"). I watched a documentary about people in comas and learned a bit about traumatic brain injury. One documentary that really stuck with me was called "There's Something Wrong with Aunt Diane." You may remember this story. A woman named Diane Schuler drove the wrong way down the Taconic State Parkway, colliding head on with another car. The three people in the other car were killed. Diane was killed and four of the five children in her van were killed. The autopsy of Diane's body showed that she had a blood alcohol that was twice the legal limit (they said it was the equivalent of around 10 drinks) and that she had THC (wacky-tobacky) in her body as well. A bottle of vodka was found in the van at the accident scene. The filmaker attempted to make some sense of it all, but mostly failed. It was a good documentary but it didn't uncover the "why." What was striking to me was how her husband and sister-in-law refused to believe that Diane drank and smoked pot that morning. They had the samples re-tested and the results were the same. One theory they presented was that Diane had some dental issues. They thought maybe somehow Diane got confused and mistook the bottle of vodka for water. Okay, let's say that she did. You don't accidentally smoke pot, though. ("Whoops! I'm baked!") It's still an intriguing story as she seems to have been a competent person who, on that fateful day, made the worst mistake ever.
Another one that really made me think was "The Cheshire Murders." You may remember that one, too. Two thugs targeted a wealthy family and killed everyone but the dad, who crawled out of the burning house and miraculously survived. His wife and daughters were raped and murdered. Police quickly caught the guys as they drove away from the burning home. This documentary gave me pause because I'm very much opposed to the death penalty. However, I don't really know how to reconcile that conviction with my thoughts on what should be done with very-bad-people-who-do-very-bad-things. The honest answer is that I don't know. It's no secret that our judicial system has more than a few problems.
I've watched others, but those are the ones that stick out in my memory. It's kind of funny that I am so fascinated with documentaries and such, because when I was a kid, hearing the "tick tick tick" of the clock on "60 Minutes" was the worst sound ever. Watching a news show seemed like just about the worst thing that could ever happen to a person. Now I go out of my way for this kind of stuff. I guess am getting old.