October 12, 2022

I Watched ____ So You Don’t Have To

So there’s a long-running trope in the writing of tough reviews that starts this way: “I watched ____ so you don’t have to.” This signals that the review will pan whatever the thing is and offer an invitation to bask in confirmation bias instead. This move belongs solidly to the various tropes we might list under the heading “clickbait.”

So yesterday I tweeted this:

I “appreciate” the trope when it helps me avoid nonsense. But I did read this review because I’m interested in defining what a documentary is.

Proposition: Some documentaries engage in propaganda, but propaganda that employs features of the genre of documentary only as a rhetoric of legitimacy is not a documentary. Opinion and a strong point of view are necessary in the emotional medium of video/film. But there must be a foundation of information and knowledge.  Neil Postman offered an interesting way to think about this foundation. Information is statements about facts in the world. Knowledge is organized information embedded in a context. Many documentary projects live in these two formulations. The best ones, however, include Postman’s third feature: wisdom, the capacity to know what body of knowledge is relevant to solving significant problems.

[S]election Code fails all three. How do I know this? Not from the review. I know if because responsible journalism has already examined the information regarding the 2020 election and published knowledge. In a few cases, perhaps even wisdom. And none of it points to election fraud. All of it points to the Big Lie.

So, [S]election Code is not a documentary.

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