For many people, documentaries are a mind-expanding experience. We watch them to learn some new truth or to expand our worldview.
Despite our expectations, there’s nothing about a documentary that makes it immune to deception. Here’s a list of nine documentaries that bent the truth for various reasons.
“Was #3 An Outright Lie?”
Morgan Spurlock’s documentary about the dangers of a fast-food diet is seen by many as having pushed McDonald’s in a (relatively) more health-conscious direction, removing the super-size option from their menu and adding healthier options all around.
Problem: Spurlock ate five-thousand calories a day with zero exercises. This would have resulted in weight loss regardless of what was consumed: the recommended caloric intake for even active adults is two-thousand less.
The film that spawned the Truther movement was brimming with so many irrefutable facts that it has been revised three times to excise false claims. That said, the second edition was viewed millions of times, so many people didn’t seem to get the message.
That said, Loose Change is likely to be mistaken in its premise rather than intentionally misleading, so for anyone still hanging on, here’s a blog that documents many of the things Loose Change gets wrong.
Before moving into more commonly explored conspiracy theory territory, Zeitgeist begins by discussing popular points of Jesus being a myth. Unfortunately, this involves astrology, which the film botches almost immediately.
Case in point: there are more or less than twelve signs of the zodiac depending on which civilizations and the time period you are talking about. The lesson: don’t hang your argument on something you haven’t fully researched.
6Bowling for Columbine
It’s easy enough to take a hatchet to Moore’s documentaries, but Bowling for Columbine remains his more popular film, so we’ll take that. In a scene intended to show how easy it is for Americans to get guns, Moore acts on a promotion that promises a gun to anyone who opens new savings account at the local bank.
In the film, he’s shown getting the gun at the bank itself after clearing the background check. This was staged, seemingly at Moore’s insistence: one of the key points of the promotion was that the bank would give you a certificate to exchange for a gun at a local gun shop. The change makes Moore’s point all the more obvious, but wouldn’t it be just as valid without the deception?
5Mermaids: The Body Found
This was just one of a series of “documentaries” aired by Animal Planet that was pure fiction. It should have been obvious given the premise, and the show itself included a few disclaimers throughout making it clear that it was a for entertainment purposes only, but the style of the footage and the educational nature of the network misled many.
4Forks Over Knives
While advocating for the vegan lifestyle FoK makes a poor choice by looking to Nazi-controlled Norway for evidence. It concludes that Nazis claiming livestock for themselves left the citizens with a meatless diet, which greatly reduced the number of deaths caused by respiratory diseases. It’s wrong to assume that there was no access to meat just because Nazis took livestock, but focusing on one category of deaths to create a link is incredibly misleading.
One of the key scenes in this 2010 anti-fracking documentary is of a man setting his tap water on the fire, implying that chemicals released by fracking have leaked into the water supply.
What the film conveniently leaves out is how reports of people lighting their tap water on the fire in the area go back to at least the Seventies. It’s not a unique phenomenon and predates fracking by a considerable margin.
Maybe the greatest staged-documentary moment that still haunts pop-culture is in this film. A scene that depicts migrating lemmings throwing themselves off a ledge into the sea below is deceiving on several fronts: it was filmed at the Bow River, not the Arctic Ocean; the breed of lemmings shown do not even migrate, and the lemmings themselves were pushed.
This A&E; documentary series was canceled at the last second when participants revealed that the producers provided them with a narrative that the series was intended to follow, essentially making a reality show out to be a genuine documentary.
By the confessions of those being filmed, it seems that almost everything caught on camera was to be staged to some degree.