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Why You Should Watch 30 Days
I don’t watch a whole lot of documentaries, but I do enjoy them when I get a chance. When done well, they can outline an issue with eloquence and respect, and give you an entirely new view of today’s world. Morgan Spurlock is one such filmmaker, most famous for his documentary “Super Size Me” in which he ate nothing but McDonald’s fast food for thirty days straight. That movie not only examined the health effects of eating so much fast food, but also the corporate marketing of it. If you haven’t seen the movie, I highly recommend it, but I mention it because the same guy, Morgan Spurlock, is the mastermind behind the television series 30 Days.
30 Days follows the same basic concept as Super Size Me. For a period of thirty days, someone will attempt to live a different lifestyle with three simple rules they must follow throughout that month. The rules vary based on what the person is doing, but they generally involve the participant living with someone that has an opposing viewpoint and stipulations that keep them active and engaged in the issue. To give you some examples, in one episode a conservative, anti-gay-marriage advocate goes to live with a gay man in a predominantly homo-sexual California district. He not only finds trust and friendship, but also an understanding about choice versus being true to oneself. In another episode a devout Christian man goes to live with a Muslim family for thirty days to observe/learn their customs and quickly finds himself inadvertently defending Muslim customs to other Christians who think all Muslims are terrorists. But the episodes aren’t just about differing viewpoints clashing. In one episode a man attempts to see if there is any weight to anti-aging drugs and in another, a former football player attempts to live for thirty days in a wheelchair. The core goal of the show is to highlight a different lifestyle or viewpoint that the participant (and the viewer) might not have really considered before. What results is a heartwarming and intelligent show that attempts to bring everyone together and realize we’re really not all that different.
Here is a link to the entire 30 days series on Amazon. It's in the DVD format.
The reason that 30 Days works so well is because it tears apart the heated debates of our age and boils them down to the human experience. It takes two sides of an argument, black and white, then mixes them together into a grey puddle. For example, in one episode, when an anti-immigrant American lives with a family of illegal immigrants, you can see how he bonds with the people, rather than the issue. It’s one thing to shout off on one view point or another, but an entirely different thing when he is living with the family, seeing their hopes and dreams and seeing the harsh conditions they came from. The show doesn’t instantly change the views of the person who is participating, but rather it’s more like a journey of enlightenment. It gives another side that they hadn’t previously considered and makes them more respectful and open to civil discussion. This show hit me particularly hard because most of the debates flying around right now are so polarized and vicious that it makes me fear if the world will ever agree on anything again. This show gives me hope that if we could just get to know each other a little better, we would be much more productive and courteous to everyone around us.
This isn’t to say the show is flawless. Some episodes fail to get any point across, the most noteworthy being when a mother attempts to become a binge drinker for thirty days to show her college-age daughter how dangerous drinking really is. While I understand why the mother did this (the daughter is completely clueless and on a collision course with disaster) I don’t believe the episode was conducted properly. The biggest problem, I think, is that the daughter was never around to see the effects of the drinking on her mother, and her points fell flat. Similarly, in another episode an Atheist went to live with a family of Christians. As an Atheist myself, I was curious to see how she represented us, but was disappointed when she didn’t clarify her views the way I would have. And that may be a struggle for certain viewers. If you’re close to one of these subjects, you may find that the hour-long episodes (or the people participating) are inadequate to address the issue, and to an extent that is true. I personally believe that every episode could have been its own feature length documentary. While it is still powerful as a television show, I worry that it didn’t get the attention it deserved because people who might be interested in certain issues, would never have heard about the show (as opposed to hearing about a movie that addresses the specific subject they are interested in). It doesn’t help that the show seems to have been cancelled prematurely.
There is also a sense, in certain instances, that thirty days isn’t enough to really understand the problem, either. For example, Morgan Spurlock participates directly in several episodes, but when he is trying to live on a part time salary, or in jail, or in a coal mine, there is the sense that it’s not so bad because he’ll be done with it in a month and can go back to a more comfortable lifestyle. For the most part the show does a good job of addressing this by showing other people who don’t have the privilege of ending such a lifestyle, but I can see how some people might belittle Morgan Spurlock’s message because his movie brought him financial success. I don’t personally think that it hurts the message he is sending, and since most episodes feature new people anyway, it’s a small point.
But, overall, this is certainly one of the most eye-opening shows I’ve seen in a long time. In a world where reality television has been mostly reduced to back-stabbing competitions and gross/humiliating stunts, it is refreshing to see a show tackle the tough subjects and send a good message to the viewers. Think of it less as a television series and more as eighteen, one-hour-long documentaries. This one comes highly recommended.
For more great movies and television you may have missed, visit my feature: Why You Should Watch.