I spent the weekend at a film festival. I will tend to gravitate toward documentaries I guess because we don’t have an independent film theater in Birmingham, so if a documentary is not made by Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock, it doesn’t screen in this town. I also tend to see documentaries demonstrating injustices because…um….I don’t know, maybe I like to be mad at the world or something. Anyway, I saw three such documentaries.
Zipper is a documentary about the decline of the amusement district at Coney Island. So basically the story goes like this, a real estate investor buys a large chunk of the property in the amusement district (basically overpaying for it). But he doesn’t want the land for its zoned use, amusement. He is banking on being able to convince the city to rezone the land for condos, malls, restaurants, and big box stores. To help that process along, he shuts down the amusement rides and attractions on the property he owns, just to help the area fail. Add a business-friendly mayor (hello Michael Bloomberg) and said developer pretty much gets exactly what he wants (the amusement district has been reduced to 9 acres), everything else rezoned for the stuff the investor wants to bring in. I am sure the Coney Island Applebee’s is very special though.
In God We Trust is a documentary about the Bernie Madoff scandal and his former personal secretary’s pursuit of exposing everyone who was behind the scheme. Spoiler alert, Madoff was an assclown. It was interesting to hear a little bit about how the scam worked. Things like the fact that Madoff and his cohorts occupied a single floor of a building in which pretty much no one else was allowed, while legitimate business was conducted on all other floors. Or that they used an ancient computer (IBM AS/400) to produce the fake statements (I wasn’t quite clear about why that was. It seem like the gist was that the statements would seem more legitimate, but I’m not sure why. And also his coconsiprators were not particularly well-educated.
Blackfish is a documentary about killer whales in captivity for entertainment, particularly one named Tilikum, that has a track record for killing trainers (3 to be exact, most recently in 2010 at SeaWorld). Now I always thought that the whole SeaWorld thing wasn’t the most ethical thing in the world. But it actually appears to be worse than I thought. I guess I always wanted to think that the ‘why’ they have the whales in the first place would be something like they were sick or something. Reality is they were hunted as baby whales for the sole purpose to be used for entertainment. I also wanted to think that at least SeaWorld had some educational value. But it turns out SeaWorld lies about whales to better fit what happens to them in captivity, (For instance, they will say killer whales live on average of 25-30 years, when truthfully they live 50 to 90 years. Seaworld killer whales only live 25-30 years. Or that 25% of all killer whales have collapsed dorsal fins when that percentage is closer to 1%. It’s the SeaWorld killer whales that have the collapsed dorsal fins.) Apparently SeaWorld doesn’t have much value.
But really all of these are the same story. It’s all about making as much money as you can however you can. The real estate guy will no doubt bring in business that technically will generate more revenue than, say, ‘Shoot The Freak’. Free market says that means we are better off. But I would imagine the clientele that is enjoying the area is quite different. Say what you will about Bernie Madoff, but he made a lot of money for a long time. SeaWorld brings in billions. But it doesn’t seem like the “invisible hand” of the free market is really working here, does it? Is it the most efficient use of resources?
- Blackfish: A killer documentary (mission-blue.org)
- Joe Sitt, Coney Island, and the Tea Party playbook (theweeklynabe.com)