As I watched Maxed Out, a documentary written and directed by James D. Scurlock that indicts multinational credit card companies’ marketing and sales tactics, I kept thinking of that bumper sticker, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”
Seeing the stories of people who had fallen prey to lenders’ greed, and learning of the credit industry’s connections with members of the top-ranking U.S. officials, I felt once again truly appalled to be part of the same nation our Dear Leader and his cronies are raping and pillaging, and I realized I have been adopting a duck-until-it’s-over attitude toward this administration. Right now our family’s portion of the national debt is about $90,000 (and people think our taxes are high now – we haven’t even begun to pay this off!). Unfortunately, that debt is only part of the picture.
Maxed Out reveals how politicians recently changed the rules about marketing to people who have declared bankruptcy. Now, credit agencies can sell credit to anyone, which doesn’t seem like news of great import until you learn the dirty secret Scurlock spells out for us here: the credit-card companies’ prime targets are usually the people least equipped to handle paying off their debts.
Because the credit card industry is an economic engine, it gets a lot of credit for driving the economy. In his selection of interviews and anecdotes, Scurlock makes it abundantly clear, however, that the credit industry is no boon but rather a drain on most people in this society. Their sales and marketing tactics are contributing to a gulf between the haves and the have-nots that is splitting society into two distinct tiers: those who can pay off their debts and those who cannot. After watching this film, the way the credit and debt marketers go after their prey seems criminal.
Gee, Mr. Money, Do Girls Have to Learn This, Too?
Maxed Out is not sexy, and it’s crammed full of talking heads (and excerpts from a cute 1950s instructional reel showing a dialogue about credit between two earnest students and a character simply named “Mr. Money,”) but the information in this documentary still made my jaw drop down near my clavicle on several occasions.
Some of the most egregious behaviors were the cronyisms: Ole Boy Gee Dubya Bush appointing another Ole Boy, the head of a scandal-ridden company, to “clean up corporate welfare.” We also come to understand that MBNA, the U.S.’ largest credit-card issuer, is the largest Bush campaign contributor — and that’s got to be saying something, with all the Halliburtons and Exxon-Mobils in the world clamoring for the attention of this simpatico administration while they still can.
Down and Out of Beverly Hills
Other interviews detail tragic side effects of this heightened industrial and governmental debt-mongering: the relentless effects of debt and bad credit decisions have caused numerous suicides, and survivors’ stories are damningly juxtaposed with the boiler-room debt-collection operations that endlessly plague the people most easily drawn into the vortex of high interest rates and minimum payments that never touch the loan’s principal.
This film isn’t one you need to see on a larger screen — the subjects themselves would probably agree that economics professors and debt marketers aren’t the most telegenic people on the planet. Yet like The Smartest Guys in the Room and some of Morgan Spurlock’s work on his cable reality series 30 Days, this is the kind of investigative journalism that isn’t being duplicated by magazines or newspapers. It is powerful enough to scare you debt-free: after seeing Maxed Out, you may choose never to apply for another credit card again.