Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders
Director: James D. Scurlock
Late into James D. Scurlock’s scathing indictment of the credit lending industry, we are faced with this upsetting revelation, “The U.S. Government spends more on interest than on homeland security, education, and healthcare combined.” As shocking and maddening as this bit of data is, it echoes the information, tone and sentiment offered up by the copious evidence utilized in the film that’s designed to both frustrate and repulse viewers. Although some critics were incensed by what they perceived to be the overt liberal slant of the piece, this valuable and well-researched film outlines one of the greatest debacles facing the livelihood of our country that now owes more to foreign sources than they owe to us—namely, the problem of credit. Of course, it’s not always a problem—the convenience of the little piece of plastic most Americans carry around in their wallets helps us out tremendously on a daily basis and it’s easy and fast to swipe our card for small purchases, gasoline and any emergencies expenses that arise. However, as Maxed Out illustrates, if misfortune should befall us whether it be in the form of a disability or if a spouse dies, we may find that we will be paying for these little purchases the rest of our lives without the ability to clear the debt until our death and even then, the bills will not stop and, as Scurlcok points out, neither will numerous other offers of credit that come in the mail. In what should be mandatory viewing in American high schools, we are introduced to some of the predatory practices by credit companies looking to hook college students during freshman orientation, a pastor who tells his congregation that if parishioners don’t give money to a miracle working God then they will no longer be able to expect any miracles such as getting out of debt, two smug young men in Minnesota who open a collections operation and compare their tactics on the phone to being a pirate walking people out on a plank, a reporter who realizes that the credit problem is actually a form of modern day sharecropping or debted slavery, and a Harvard professor who warns viewers that if things don’t change soon we will become a two-tiered society with the absence of a middle class. Of course, not all of us are in monstrous debt and a majority understands how to use credit wisely but the film’s alarming statistics and interviews illustrate the way that seemingly intelligent and kind-hearted people have suddenly been flooded with overwhelming debt after health scares and the death of loved ones. While Scurlock does point an angry finger at the government, revealing that Bush’s biggest supporter was MBNA who incidentally rewrote the controversial bankruptcy bill in a way that will hit the middle class the hardest, he’s also careful to point out the contradictions of their own actions including the usage of credit and IOU slips used by every commander in chief since Reagan along with some choice footage that highlights the struggle faced by a U.S. solider unable to make ends meet for his wife and family as he gets news that the government wants to make sure that Iraqi people are not in debt, ignoring the growing epidemic in our own country. Available from Netflix both as a rental and as a part of the Watch Instantly collection, James D. Scurlock’s Maxed Out is a worthwhile documentary that recalls Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me and not just because the two documentarians have names that rhyme.