Saying you should be careful with credit cards is like saying you should be careful when aiming a firearm at your crotch. Why would you aim a firearm at your crotch? I don’t know, why would you buy a 17 foot statue of Thomas Gibson for $4,000 with a credit card? But that’s the main focus of ‘Maxed Out’, a documentary look at America’s growing debt problem, minus the Thomas Gibson statue, which easily would have classed up the movie a bit.
I have mixed feelings about this movie. On the one hand you have giant credit card companies preying on the masses, hoping they spiral into debt, making it hard to defend them. On the other hand you have people who can’t take responsibility for their actions or be trusted to not spend money they don’t have. The credit lenders make it easy to buy things, but nobody is making you purchase beyond your means. I am critical of the angle to look at credit card debt, when there are other forms of debt that seem more unavoidable than that form, i.e. student loans.
The movie focuses on heart wrenching tales of debt that cause suicides, ruin lives, and the debt collectors out there making lives miserable. These cases are very hard to watch. To see a mentally handicapped man taken advantage of by a lender is nothing less than a stomach punch. However, focusing just on these cases skewes the issue. Are the only people in trouble people that were blindsided by the evil credit card companies? If ‘Maxed Out’ is to be believed, the answer is, “yes.” How then do you account for people like the woman that had someone come in and explain her credit problem to her, only to, a few days later, have her eyes light up when her credit card extends her more credit and she says, “I’ll have money in my pocket.”? What about that? She has had someone tell her what to do and she is still willing to push further into debt (granted her situation looked pretty bleak so I do not begrudge her too much in this, I am only pointing out that there are plenty of cases like this where people just take the money even though they know it will do more harm than good).
A better look at America’s debt problem might have been to avoid the whole “blame the lender’s” attitude of this film and maybe focus on why we feel that risking everything is worth it if you can keep up with the proverbial Jones’. I would have preferred a documentary on how the American society is constanly being sold a lifestyle that is just out of reach. Why do we feel that we need the nice car, big house, newest technology, big vacation? If you think about it, you don’t. But with shows constantly selling the luxury life, we constantly feel left behind. E! with its constant display of the the rich. MTV is full of programs that show why having the most money is all that matters (‘Cribs’, ‘My Sweet 16’, etc.). People watch these shows and start to think this is the standard of living that not only they should have, but are OWED. That would have been a more interesting documentary than another finger pointing doc.
I think this film worked in that it made you step back and ask questions, even if the documentary didn’t ask the question for you, which it should have. Maybe it is hard for me to be empathetic when I am so rich though. Rich in sexiness. OW!