5 Problematic Documentaries to Jumpstart your Critical Thinking Skills this Semester
To help back into your habits of over-analyzing every piece of media you consume, here are some biased documentaries with flawed arguments to watch with roommates during syllabus week.
If you’re anything like me, you return to school every Winter semester still in Holiday mode, rusty, and unready to engage critically with course content. Sometimes we need the buffer period of syllabus week before we’re ready to jump headfirst into our textbooks, discussions, and essays. To help wean you back into the study mindset, I’ve compiled a list of five documentaries that you can watch and pick apart with your roommates. Some are blatantly problematic and poorly argued and others only feature subtle misrepresentations of data and few logical fallacies. All of them will jumpstart your critical thinking skills and put you back into the FIMS mindset.
1.The Red Pill
This documentary is a two-hour ‘straw-man’ of the feminist movement for equality, ultimately mistaking class and race struggles for men’s rights issues. This intellectually lazy and participatory documentary makes the bold claim that men have it worse than women. The Red Pill focuses on the naïve and open-minded feminist filmmaker, Cassie Jaye, inevitably taking the ‘Red Pill’ and renouncing her feminist stance. She is ultimately convinced by emotionally charged anecdotes, and skewed representations of data, that feminism advocates for a false narrative, and that men are oppressed. The film’s four main arguments are never followed to their logical conclusions, completely disregards the notion of who holds power in society, and that the feminist agenda advocates for resolutions to most of the issues brought forth by the film. This film relies on appeals to emotion, misrepresenting data, and presenting a young liberally educated feminist switching her views to establish legitimacy among viewers. It is a one-sided propaganda piece that is devoid of any nuanced interrogation of the issues it presents. There are even rumours that it was, in part, funded by Men’s Rights groups.
Stream this doozy of a documentary on Kanopy using your Western login.
2.Vaxxed: From Coverup to Catastrophe
Add this documentary to the pile of one-sided conspiracy theory documentaries that some ambiguous party “doesn’t want you to see” because Vaxxed is an hour and a half of relentlessly pushing a dangerous agenda that’s been debunked countless times over twenty-two years. Vaxxed is produced and directed by Andrew Wakefield, the leading doctor in the disgraced study linking the MMR vaccine to spectrum autism disorder in children and is also the main ‘expert’ to appear on-screen during the documentary. The documentary dwells on this now-retracted study and also utilizes emotionally loaded anecdotes of the parents of autistic children still convinced of the causation. Through talking heads and footage of their children, they articulate the developmental regression of their children and the daily struggle they endure decades after vaccination and it’s heartbreaking. The uncontested approval and application of the study throughout the film plus the emotionally charged personal accounts that prove nothing more than a correlation is enough to present a compelling argument to viewers that don’t bother to inquire further. This documentary is a huge disservice to society, but is an essential lesson in being critical of information that seems valid when presented at face value.
Luckily, this one is hard to find and has been pulled from all streaming platforms where it can be easily consumed. I don’t think you should give Anti-Vaxxers your money, but it is on YouTube to rent for $3.99 if you’re interested.
3.TFW NO GF
A documentary that begins as a sociological analysis of the young adults involved in the infamous ‘Incel’ (involuntary celibate) subculture quickly turns into an overly sympathetic look into five disaffected young males’ lives as they try to justify their violent rhetoric. Alex Lee Moyer, the filmmaker, believes the community of these mentally ill [predominately white] males has been sorely misrepresented and demonized by the media and makes it her mission with TFW NO GF to shine a light on their humanity. She is worried about them, and she believes something is happening in society that causes the loneliness, isolation, and hopelessness endemic among these youth. However, the film makes no attempt to answer the more important question of ‘why?’. It accepts their beliefs as the reason they are disconnected from society and disregards their violent rhetoric to paint them as victims. The doc starts a discussion on the anomaly of the epidemic, but the film is hardly objective and doesn’t do much more than that. It merely gives a massive platform for five people mad at the world to express their gripes against women, and wallow in their own self-pity while completely disregarding the potential danger in the ideology they perpetuate online.
Watch and pick apart this documentary on Amazon Prime Video.
On-trend with other documentaries featured on this list, it is another that “[insert industry here] doesn’t want you to see!” However, it is innocuous and more sincere than the rest because it intends to advocate for more transparency from corporations in disclosing the ingredients they use, and stronger regulatory bodies to police deceptive practices. It is still fundamentally anti-science and effectively fearmongers the use of trace amounts of chemicals in everyday consumer goods. The film omits any scientific evidence that proves that these trace amounts of chemicals are dangerous and instead opts for making its points by engaging in gotcha journalism and appealing to the emotions of viewers.
Stream this entertaining documentary with a critical eye on Netflix.
5. What the Health?
Certainly not the last in the series of films that “[insert industry here] doesn’t want you to see!” What The Health, is a documentary that cherry-picks studies that supports a pro-vegan, anti-meat agenda, and misrepresents them by making claims that the studies don’t corroborate. Kip Anderson, director of the critically acclaimed documentary Cowspiracy, leads this project that blames meat for every modern ailment and hails the vegan diet as the cure-all to everything via anecdotes strung throughout the film. Although it advocates a noble endeavour in limiting the amount of processed meat that Western society consumes, this documentary executes it in a way that butchers the science, fearmongers, and deceives viewers into questioning their diets.
Boot up Netflix and watch What The Health, one of the platforms most popular documentaries.