There is an entire row of suggested views on my Netflix and HBO homescreens that can be boiled down to Documentaries About Horrible Men and the Horrible Things They Do. I hate and love this row. I’ve watched so many of them, that more keep popping up. If you are into horrible men, there is no end in sight to the number of feel-bad real-life DOCUMENTARIES you can drown in about them. You don’t even have to look to the True Detectives or YOU or Broadchurch to find the best of the bad men. They are very real and very queued up.
Why Are Men?
The internet’s favorite catchphrase for all things horrible men is never more apparent than when you’ve seen show after show about serial killers and cult leaders and sexual abusers and manipulators all while living in a real world where the president is at least two of those things. I’ll let you pick which ones. Why Are Men? is a rallying cry for women who honestly cannot get out from under the weight of #MeToo and #TimesUp and #ChurchToo and real life. And then of course come the mansplanations. “There’s a Lorena Bobbit documentary out too!” We only have to look at the face of Brett Kavanaugh as he systematically strips away our rights to feel the futility of that argument.
The plethora of documentaries highlighting the worst of what men are capable of is its own weight, in a way. We could fill a sea with them and still drown in the shallows.
Sometimes, it’s hard to find the bad in their stories. It’s hidden behind a feisty lawyer trying to get to the truth of what happened. I throw Netflix’s Making a Murderer and HBO’s upcoming The Case Against Adnan Syed (the subject of the first season of the Serial podcast) in this category. These docs are obsessively watchable; there are stakes that involve very real people, their families and justice. And we love to root for an underdog, especially if episode to episode, moment to moment, we aren’t sure if he’s guilty or not. Sussing out the culpability of tertiary actors on the crime is a pastime all on its own.
The problem that I have with these is how easily we forget that underneath all the legal jargon and drama, there is very real woman, brutally murdered. Sure, it’s in our consciousness. But she isn’t the protagonist of these stories. Her family isn’t participating in the documentary, because, let’s face it, they’ve had no choice but to participate in the worst of all possible dramas. Backing all of this entertainment up is … another horrible man (or men) who committed murder. We aren’t sure of his name or how he did it or where he went, but he is very likely out in the world, only a few miles from where it happened, alive, whole, well and free. It’s all so … horrible.
And then sometimes the bad is the whole point. Surviving R. Kelly aired to absolute public opprobrium. And for good reason. R. Kelly has long been believed to be a vile, abusive manipulator that the collective culture gave a pass to because of his musical acumen. The horror of the reality of what he allegedly put young women through (and continues to if the families of his current “girlfriends” are right) is out in the open on our television screens for us to consume. It’s daunting and terrifying to watch. Have we believed black girls so insufficiently that this is their only recourse? This public re-opening of their wounds?
Gayle King interviewed R. Kelly for today’s CBS This Morning, and the interview itself is a painful reminder that women must be stalwart in the face of embittered men. Gayle King refuses to cower to his emotional outbursts, doesn’t let him get away with controlling the conversation and asks him poignant, probing questions with the posture of an absolute queen. How else can you be in the face of another horrible man?
In an explosive new interview, R. Kelly is breaking his silence about the sexual abuse charges that landed him in jail last month. The embattled R&B singer told @GayleKing that all the women now accusing him of physical and sexual abuse are lying. https://t.co/u4AENVsfAE pic.twitter.com/dVtVjc4Fx4
— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) March 6, 2019
And then this week, we have Leaving Neverland, the HBO documentary about two boys groomed, seduced, and abused by Michael Jackson, aired, and (I think I’m right when I say that) all of us gasped in horror. There is a finality to this type of documentary that hammers a nail into your own culpability. The video clips and the still pictures of Michael IN PUBLIC, with young boys, reminders that we called him Wacko Jacko and that nothing he did seemed quite right, all serve to show the viewer: “You knew this. It was right in your face. And you still have Rock With You on your running mix.” It’s a dead weight of sorrow in your gut. WHY did we all let this pass?
Oprah Winfrey joins her best friend Gayle as Queen of the Hard Interview this week as After Neverland airs … an interview of the men in the documentary and the director that sheds light (again, over and over again) on the reality of sexual abuse and how it pervades and permeates society. How many episodes of the Oprah talked about this? And we still didn’t GET IT?!!
I’m tired. I’m really tired of horrible shows about horrible men and what they do. I hate that they are necessary. I hate watching them. But I will continue to. What little have we made of the abuse of women and children that it takes this many of these types of documentaries to get the collective culture to condemn the worst of horrible men?