I strongly advise against going on a documentary binge when you’re feeling down. The documentary is rarely a happy art form. Even if you try to go for something seemingly non-depressing like “Yellowstone Revisited” or “Life in the Serengeti,” you wind up feeling depressed because the volcano at Yellowstone will annihilate half the U.S when it erupts and you know it’s just a matter of time before the cheetah wins and eats the gazelle.
Anyway, last night I was feeling restless and bored and definitely didn’t want to do anything productive, so I turned to netflix, as I often do when feeling less than cheerful. I was unhappily scrolling through thousands of possibilities when I stumbled on an online dating documentary. I’m new to this whole online dating thing, so I was immediately interested and pressed play. Big mistake! I learned several things. Apparently, women’s biggest fear about online dating is that they will meet up with a serial killer. This seems reasonable. Men’s biggest fear? Their date will be fat. That was a little disheartening. I like to think of myself as pleasantly plump, like maybe I could have been one of Peter Paul Ruben’s muses if I had lived back in the 1600s. But now I have to deal with the fact that when I meet up with a guy for the first time he may be as scared as if I were a serial killer! But short men have it rough too. Apparently, for every inch under 5’10, a man needs to earn $40,000 more to be as competitive as his taller counterparts. This means that a 5’0 guy would need to earn $400,000 more than a 5’10 guy.
Life’s tough for people who don’t meet society’s standards of beauty. But not as tough as it is for people living in Skid Row. I was already feeling down, so I figured I’d go lower. My next selection was a documentary that followed the lives and perils of the residents of Los Angeles’ Skid Row, which is home to one of the country’s largest permanent homeless populations. In 2011, there were an estimated 4,316 homeless here. That will surely get you down. I’d seen places like this when I was working in Medellin, Colombia, where you actually see people at their lowest, most undignified points, but it’s not the kind of thing you think exists in the U.S. At least not when you’ve grown up in Centreville and your notion of American poverty is food stamps and affordable housing. But yesterday I learned that it can get much worse than this, especially when mental illness and substance abuse are involved. According to the documentary, two-thirds of those in Los Angeles’ Skid Row suffer from severe mental illness and/or substance abuse. The documentary featured one man with a long arrest record and cocaine addiction who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, gender identification disorder and HIV. How can life deliver so many blows to one single person?
I started watching a documentary on genetically altered foods afterwards, but decided to go to sleep instead. As my sister said, it was a downward spiral and it’s a good thing I decided to go to sleep. I think this was probably for the best. In the future, I will avoid watching documentaries late at night.