Dec 08, 2023, 06:24AM

The Cult of Documentaries

I’ve reached the “cheaper pancakes and documentaries” age bracket.

Aaaabs3lzrw2q9pt1ctr4lg007epnlfzu2hqpndmojwciyjcemwasd2bv2 h4dx5vt6md9vvzlnc4qgs2cflwcoerksse0 4k6pjnvun.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

There was a time when I watched reality tv. I watched The Real World and Survivor when they were big and in recent times have watched Alone, but it’s never really been my genre. I’m not sure I’ve been a huge TV person. In the 1970s I watched Happy Days and Brady Bunch, in the 80s my favorite show was Moonlighting, and I loved Facts of Life and Cheers.

Then I went to college and unlike today with Roku and Fire sticks, we generally didn’t have tv in our dorms, and I got married right out of college and started having kids. My friends have made fun of me for my huge swath of television pop culture failure resulting from these tv-less years of the 1990s. I never watched Friends, Seinfeld or Golden Girls.

Now, I spend weekdays in my reclusive candlemaker life on an island, and have a new Black Friday Fire TV, which means I can boss Alexa around to change the channel when I can’t find the remote. I even have a voice remote to tell me where the remote is. (I’m a smart home junkie, Alexa can change the color and brightness of the lightbulb in the room while she sends me more packing tape, reminds me about an upcoming appointment, and shuffles a playlist on Spotify for me.)

I watch more tv now. I’ve been watching documentaries, perhaps because I’ll be 55 soon and have earned the privileged status of getting cheaper pancakes at IHOP.

Keep your one-plot Hallmark holiday movie BS, I like quirky documentaries where I can be entertained and learn something. I wrote about three good ones awhile ago and for my fellow documentary fans, I’m back with a few more.

If you haven’t seen McMillions, it’s worthwhile. The six-part documentary series on Hulu covers the period of time from 1989-2001 during which the corporation hosted the Monopoly game—remember those little game pieces you’d rip off your fries and drinks, trying to fill your playing board? They were a rip-off, and the fast food fraud was orchestrated by the mafia. The ways they did it are surreal; it’s an incredible story worth watching.

Currently, I’m watching documentaries about cults. Once you see one, the algorithm has your number and will feed them to you. First was Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey on Netflix which depicts the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and its absolute cult leader Warren Jeffs, who had 78 wives, 24 of whom were underage. As a survivor of the Catholic Church’s zealotry, I’m always interested in what goes on in other churches, and this one’s a doozy: the institutionalization of child molestation in the name of Jesus, but really in the name of money and power and sex. Some fucked-up things go on in the name of the Lord, and in creepy handmade pastel dresses.

The next one isn’t a cult per se, but Savior Complex on HBO was fascinating. It’s the story of Renee Bach, who as a 19-year-old American went to Uganda and opened a treatment center for malnourished children and treated them medically. She’s been accused and sued for killing over 100 children because of her complete lack of medical training, and an entire nonprofit organization “No White Saviors” to arise (though ironically with a white founder who was later ousted).

Next was this wacky gem: The Way Down: God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin on HBO Max. It’s the fascinating, rare story of a woman-led cult and Gwen Shamblin’s a real character. Apparently thinking that if her hair kept reaching toward God, she would as well. Her fake religion started as a weight loss cult (lose weight for the Lord! Bow down to God not the fridge!) and ended up involving hypocrisy, murder investigations, and her sugar-mama world of scam and hairspray.


Register or Login to leave a comment