Documentaries can be dull for several reasons. You usually have to care about the particular subject explored (like how our food industry has been tainted (in Food, Inc.) or why there has not been more wide spread innovation in the electric car industry (Who Killed the Electric Car?). Part of the problem is that given the nature of the genre, these films tend to avoid things that makes stories interesting, things like characters and plots. The ones that do incorporate elements of story can find a large audience—March of the Penguins, anyone?
Generally, documentaries are designed to inform first and entertain second.
A good documentary offers a point of view on a socially relevant topic. Thinking about what informs the filmmaker’s point of view is important, for that dictates the info that gets interpreted and integrated into the film’s message. The best documentaries appear open-minded and explore content with integrity, vetting their sources and avoiding grandstanding (where possible).
Walmart: The High Cost of Low Prices is one of the good ones. (Watch the entire film here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jazb24Q2s94).
As demonstrated by his ideas in the Book of Nahum, prophet Nahum would have loved it.
The film takes a hard look at Walmart’s business practices and their negative effects on the communities in which they operate (and to the country at large). One of the startling facts uncovered is the way Walmart leverages its power to secure tax breaks (for ten years, for example) in a town, arguing that their job creation is in the community’s best interest. Who doesn’t want jobs, right?
So the store gets built.
When the ten year tax gift expires and the community can finally collect on the business taxes, Walmart pulls up stakes and, in its wake, leaves an abandoned store and parking lot, often relocating to the next town over, where they can enjoy a new ten-year tax break. This abhorrent, though legal, practice has created a lot of abandoned buildings. As the film discusses, there were over 27 million square feet of abandoned Walmart store space around the U.S.
Nothing like using the land, draining it, and then moving on.
Turns out this practice of abusing the land (and communities) for profit is nothing new. In the Book of Nahum, the prophet Nahum chastises the great city of Nineveh and its merchants, who have stripped the land for all its uses and then fled (3:16).
During this era, the city of Nineveh thought it was untouchable; a society above reproach, one that believed it could conduct itself any way it saw fit. This explains their attitude to how the land was used, apparently. But Nahum has a warning: Thebes, the former capital of Upper Egypt that also believed itself bad-ass, was brought down. So to, then, can Nineveh fall.
The key here is how you respect what you have and show some humility.
Thus the real lesson in this book is one that is fairly relevant for us today: we too live in a land of prosperity and we, as a nation, pay little mind to the impact our actions have, allowing unfettered use of resources by a select amount of corporations (like WalMart). I wouldn’t wait for God to intervene, though. No, we should take the time to learn from past mistakes and course correct so that we move forward in a way that respects the world in which we live and the people with which we share it.