The World of Dirty Money | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

The World of Dirty Money

TV's Madeline McInnis criticises the bias and bad-taste of the first episode of Dirty Money, Netflix's controversial new documentary series about big business conspiracies

Everyone wants a good conspiracy theory, and it is even better when those theories turn out to be true. Dirty Money, a new Netflix original documentary series, launched on 26 January. It has six episodes, all approximately an hour in length, and all focusing on different high profile business scandals. Netflix was surprisingly tight-lipped about the themes of the episodes until the premiere, and when I saw the episode titles, I understood why. In order of episodes, the series focuses on the Volkswagen clean diesel scandal, the downfall of Scott Tucker, the pharmaceutical company Valeant hiking drug prices, HSBC and its ties to the Mexican drug cartels, a Canadian maple syrup heist, and an investigation into the business deals of Donald Trump.

It seemed promising, and I could not wait for that last, juicy episode — and that is probably what Netflix was counting on. I had high expectations, and, unfortunately, they were not met. Within the first 10 minutes of ‘Hard NOx’, the Volkswagen episode, the aim of the show became quite clear: this is a show to infuriate, not to educate. The filmmakers juxtapose shots of an average American family trading in their Volkswagen Jetta, due to the emissions scandals, with shots of Adolf Hitler commissioning the first Volkswagen factory. They even admit that the mention of Hitler is controversial, but he is connected to Volkswagen so he is worth mentioning.

There is no connection between Hitler and the scandal, and it seems like a really cheap way just to get people angry
To be fair, they do start to outline a history of the company’s history. However, a history of the company is not what the viewer expects or is promised on a documentary series about American greed and the struggles of late capitalism. Other than the original commission, there is no connection between Hitler and the scandal, and it seems like a really cheap way just to get people angry. But they make that connection — and I think it was not only a stretch, but a distasteful lack of regard for human decency. By the tail end of the episode, of their interviewees, an American lawyer who represented angry clients in the scandal, compared Volkswagen using American people in their emissions tests to the gassings in the Holocaust.

Now, I do not get to say what is or is not offensive to the families and memories of the millions of people that died as a result of these catastrophes and I have no personal connection to the Holocaust. But as a student of history, it makes me incredibly angry that this comparison is being made without looking into the implications of that metaphor or the complexities of the events behind it. I finished the last ten minutes of the episode, but stopped watching after this point. It was such an obvious blow just for the sake of making people infuriated. They made me angry all right, but not at Volkswagen.

They are not trusting their viewers to think critically or come to conclusions based on the facts
Another notable flaw in the documentary is how biased it is. By the end, the viewer learns that many of the men who seem to be involved with the scandal are still walking free. However there was no indication that the filmmakers attempted to discuss these events with any of them. They only talked to the people who were angered by the scandal, missing an important and, I would assume, equally damning side to this story. They are not trusting their viewers to think critically or come to conclusions based on the facts. That seems to be a trend: emotion is important than the facts, and especially in a documentary, that is disappointing to see.

The series is composed of found footage, dramatic recreations, and talking heads style. Overall, it is fairly well filmed and edited, just incredibly long and drawn out. If you cut out all of the extra, irrelevant jumble, this easily could have been a 40 minute show. Instead, it was a 75 minute extravaganza that strings out the plot to the point of exhaustion (pun intended). I did not come to watch how a car company developed. If I wanted that background information, I could have read the Wikipedia summary in 30 seconds instead of wasting 10 minutes on irrelevant footage. Furthermore, the court recordings were used obsessively in the first episode, leading to the feeling that they simply had no other evidence or visuals to support the anger they wanted to inflict.

The first episode did not say anything new or tell me anything I did not know from the news coverage. Their thesis was weak and overdone. We know that capitalism and the search for money makes people do illegal and stupid things. There could have been a new angle on this story, and I promise that Hitler was not it.



9th February 2018 at 9:00 am

Last Updated

7th February 2018 at 3:18 pm

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