HBOWatch continues its look at the documentaries featured in the Summer Documentary series. This is the fourth of eight in the series and the main body of this post is a gut reaction to that film. We look forward to your feedback!
Overview: The term “Hard Times” could refer to just about any stressful situation. So, just what exactly is going down out on Long Island that warrants this film? Well, it is a piece about the financial distress known as the Great Recession. Of course, this piece could have been filmed anywhere in the U. S. of A. The gloomy economic scene hangs over the entire country but there must be something in the stories of the families in this piece that encapsulates the problem.
Expectations: I must admit that my expectations of what I want out of this film are pretty high. Since there are stories aplenty in the neighborhoods, daily newspapers and nightly news all across the country what does this story have to tell us that haven’t been heard? I actually have a preconceived notion that I am going to be irritated by the film based on a few factors I’ll elaborate on below. I’ll see if that emotion holds strong after watching HARD TIMES: LOST ON LONG ISLAND.
Gut Reaction: I am full of admissions this post. As stated my first reaction, even before watching the documentary, was one of irritation. It quickly arose over the show’s title and theme. I was annoyed that this piece needed to take place on Long Island. I realize that it was probably done so because the filmmaker had access to that locale and could quickly find subjects for the piece without travelling elsewhere. Since it is a widespread dilemma across the country affecting people of all walks of life couldn’t this piece have been more representational of the entire problem? How about filming a family in Arkansas, Iowa and Ohio as well? My next annoyance is probably a prejudicial yet honest one. I had thoughts of “Okay, it takes place on Long Island. I better not hear stories of families whining of tough times because they had to fire the gardener, cancel their memberships to the Yacht Club and sell the vacation home.” I am not going to be happy listening to those types of complaints when there are people a lot worse off in this country.
Now, that I have watched the documentary I can say that I was somewhat off the mark with my feelings going into it. The people chronicled here are real people like the rest of us and Long Island is just as legitimate a locale for the economic distress as anywhere. I understand the concept of the piece being filmed in the birthplace of suburbia and it was a good plot device to get us into the plot. As usual for a documentary some factoids are put up to highlight the statistics of the situation. As usual I cannot remember 99% of them a day later except the one that stated that suburbia is the largest sector of the populace moving into poverty. The families depicted represent suburbia and are not lazy riff-raff living off the system but fighting the system and their depression to get back on their feet.
There were still a few comments from time to time that struck me as arrogant. The expression of having it all, living the good life and being undeserving of the fallout kind of rhetoric, though you can clearly understand where it comes from, nagged me a bit. There is also a tinge of the too proud and to over-qualified to work just anywhere tone. But, in the end they are comments that should really not be held against them. They all stuck at the heart of a big problem in this country – the death of the American Dream ideal.
In Conclusion: The families featured in this piece are not the type I was worried I was going to hear about. I’m glad that perception proved wrong. It also makes sense to have a documentary based on their situation exclusively and not an overview of the crisis country-wide because it gives a good lesson. Those who are lower-middle class and poverty class live the struggles every day. They were born into that condition and it is all they have ever known. But, the upper middle class, families that made $60,000 to $100,000 let’s say, have crashed really hard making their dilemma more interesting to see play out in this film. Lastly, I must say, with no surprise, that the system is broken and families across the economic strata are in jeopardy and it is evident by watching HARD TIMES: LOST ON LONG ISLAND