I.O.U.S.A: a wake-up call
November 10, 2009 1 Comment
In making the documentary I.O.U.S.A, director Patrick Creadon’s purpose resembles that of Al Gore in making An Inconvenient Truth. In the same way as Al Gore toured the US with a slide show on climate change in order to draw attention on the gravity of the global climate crisis, Creadon with I.O.U.S.A aims at alerting his fellow citizens on the gravity of the economic situation in their country.
Director Patrick Creadon said of his documentary, which was first shown at the Sundance Festival in January 2008, that it is a “primer for ordinary Americans on the financial state of an economy saddled by a rapidly growing federal debt.”
A tough subject, made simple
The notion of federal debt can be tough if for those among us who are not very familiar with economics, and I sometimes found it hard to understand the economic and financial jargon used throughout the documentary.
To simplify the complexity of the subject however, Creadon resorted to many graphs and animations which make the documentary easier to watch.
The documentary is well structured into four parts, one for each type of federal debt. These parts explain in a chronological order how the debt came into existence and what problems America is facing today.
The documentary follows David Walker, U. S Comptroller General, on his ‘fiscal wake up tour’. It presents Walker’s perspective, which in my opinion is an approach that works well, because as a viewer, I sort of identified with him and had the feeling that I was “inside” the story myself.
The movie is a succession of interviews, satirical fragments about a leaflet “Don’t buy things you can’t afford” and other historical material. The combination of these three ingredients makes it lively and at some points even humoristic.
The documentary only becomes slightly boring when the ex-politician Alan Greenspan is interviewed, partly due to Greenspan’s monotonous voice.
Creadon carefully made sure not to choose any political side, or as Walker puts it: “The facts aren’t Democrat or Republican. The facts aren’t liberal or conservative. The facts are the facts.” I think Walker has a very good point here. If Americans want to combat the debt, they will have to do it all together.
Yet according to the documentary, most Americans don’t know what is going on in their country, and are not aware of the gravity of the situation. On of the most striking scenes in my opinion was when ordinary people were asked to guess the size of the federal debt. No-one even came close to the correct answer.
Besides raising awareness, the documentary also wants to urge people to take action.
Unfortunately, citizens are not the only ones to blame for the dire economic situation. The documentary suggests that governmental policies also need to be reformed. In one fragment, former US President Ronald Reagan is seen pointing out correctly that “for decades we have piled deficit upon deficit, mortgaging our future and our children’s future, for the temporary convenience of the present.” But as he speaks, graphics point out that during Reagan’s eight year presidency, the national debt almost tripled, from USD 909 billion to USD 2.6 trillion.
Former President George W. Bush receives a similar treatment. In a press conference, he is seen proudly awarding himself “an A for keeping taxes low and being fiscally responsible with the people’s money.” But as graphics demonstrate, the US national debt rose from USD 5.7 trillion when Bush took office to almost twice that much when he left. I don’t think there is any curve in the world on which that performance merits an “A.”
Surprisingly enough, one American woman in the room disagreed with Creadon’s views during the debate that followed the showing of the documentary. She even felt offended in a sense that his message seemed to be that the U.S is the only country with a problem. “People in Europe,” she argued, “are just the same.” She said that some Dutch friends of her American sons are “bigger spenders than they are”.
As for me, the documentary worked as a wake-up call. I wasn’t aware of the gravity of economic situation in the US and I wonder if it will affect the Dutch economy even more than it has already.
The documentary urges citizens to change, but offers no practical solutions. In fact, my criticism would be that it ended too abruptly. I had the feeling that the story was unfinished.
My hope now is that the new US President Barack Obama will prove capable of dealing with the US federal debt.
By Jasmijn van der Ploeg
Jasmijn van der Ploeg is at third year student at Zuyd University, department for Translation and Interpreting, school for International Communication. She is currently doing an internship at the European Journalism Centre.
More video clips: I.O.U.S.A.