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!
2 thoughts on “Review: Maxed Out”
So you’re right, the the film didn’t focus on why people spend more than they can afford, but I personally thought the film’s purpose was more on how predatory credit card companies are. The fact that we are all easily manipulated into borrowing says something about their practices: they make it almost irresistible to borrow that cash and get sucked further in. That’s how I took the movie; it’s a warning. Kind of a “know your enemy” of sorts. This is an institution that will gladly prey on your weakness.
Now I’ll agree that the tone of the film was definitely more towards “look at what they’re doing to us” and I agree that it’s a somewhat sided point of view because, at the end of the day, you should know that no one is going to just give you money so don’t sign something if you can’t get your way out of it (unless you’re a mentally handicapped person and the credit card company is telling you to copy your name on the dotted line [probably the worst thing I’ve heard in a very long while]). But the movie did a good job at showing you that once you’re in the quicksand, the more you struggle, the more you sink.
So in that respect, I thought Maxed Out worked really well. It got me fired up and reminded me why I need to think about when I borrow.
That is why I think a better thing to look at would be the weakness, i.e. the desire for these material objects, rather than a lender that allows you to get it. If you smarten up with what you feel you need then other things will fall in place. This obviously doesn’t mean that people who borrow just to survive don’t deserve help, they do, and that is why a sweeping general look at something is often skewed, but I am looking at the people who just abuse a credit card then look at you like why did this happen? It would be more interesting to see why they felt the need to spend the money rather than at the instrument that made it possible to to spend it. If we didn’t want all these things, then wouldn’t that help sidestep a lot of the problems? The movie felt a little like blaming McDonald’s for making you fat. And I didn’t want to walk away from the movie feeling that. The movie fell victim to the strawman argument where you build up one side so strongly and the other side very weakly that the counterargument can’t help but fail, and that is where the film lost me. I do not agree with the credit cards preditory tactics, but the film left a lot of holes in the argument by not putting itself up against a stronger counterargument. I do not defend the cc companies and because I side more with the filmmakers, with a few modifications, in their point, I wish that they had done a better job.