It’s a crazy old world. Here in the USA so many of us are frequent shoppers, filling our dwellings past the bursting point with our stuff – and then paying rent on offsite storage units for the excess. And all the while the average American household is carrying thousands of dollars in consumer debt. For all that stuff. Most of which we could live without.
This afternoon I saw the documentary film Maxed Out:
Maxed Out takes viewers on a journey deep inside the American style of debt, where things seem fine as long as the minimum monthly payment arrives on time. With coverage that spans from small American towns all the way to the White House, the film shows how the modern financial industry really works, explains the true definition of “preferred customer” and tells us why the poor are getting poorer while the rich keep getting richer. Hilarious, shocking and incisive, Maxed Out paints a picture of a national nightmare which is all too real for most of us.”
It’s good. Very good. I think every high school and college student should be required to see it. It wouldn’t hurt for most adults to view it too. I plan to buy the DVD if/when it’s released. I also intend to buy the companion book. Ann Hornaday’s review in the Denver Post and Washington Post appears below the fold.
“Maxed Out,” a film about the consumer-debt crisis, might as well be ripped from the headlines, in light of the recent stock market plunge. But here’s the man-bites-dog part: This factoid-filled, talking-heads documentary – by a business school graduate – turns out to be amusing, enlightening and riveting.
As unlikely as it sounds that someone has made a taut and entertaining film about credit, that’s precisely what James D. Scurlock has done with “Maxed Out,” in which he delivers a punchy, well-reasoned account of America’s huge problem with debt, how we got there and what the stakes are. (P.S., Scurlock is not the guy who took on the fast-food industry in “Super Size Me.” That was Morgan Spurlock.)
This swiftly moving documentary – adroitly edited by Alexis Spraic – sweeps the nation from Las Vegas to Tennessee to New York as Scurlock interviews experts in the credit crisis, from both Harvard and the school of hard knocks. From the real estate boom in Las Vegas to the junk mail come-ons we all find in our mailboxes every day, Scurlock demonstrates just how completely the concept of easy credit has seeped into Americans’ lives, juxtaposing that culture with an instructional film from the early 1960s, in which two teenagers learn that credit is based on the “three C’s” of character, capacity and capital.
How quaint! As we learn from Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren – an expert in consumer debt – big lenders today have thrown out those fundamentals, instead using their own lack of character and capacity for greed to deplete customers’ capital, preying on our collective sense of entitlement and reaping obscene profits in late fees and usurious interest.
Maxed Out” often uses grim humor to deliver bad news: that banks routinely seek out the young, poor and chronically late-paying; that they’re in cahoots with other powerful forces in government and business (such as the burgeoning field of debt collection); and that no one – especially lawmakers whose biggest contributors come from the financial services industry – seems to care. Scurlock presents case after case of mutual back-scratching between big business and government.
But “Maxed Out” reaches its most powerful emotional pitch when Scurlock turns his lens on the people behind the statistics, the victims of aggressive credit card and collection companies, a few of whom aren’t around to tell their own story anymore.