You know, it’s funny – my favorite types of stories are either fantasy tales with witches and dragons or non-fiction that actually teaches me more about the world. Yes, these things are total opposites, and I get that those preferences don’t make much sense when looked at together. But I guess I figure if I’m not going to be escaping into Oz, I might as well be expanding my education.
I really loved school. While I don’t have much of a burning desire to go back and continue my education (too much work for too much money), I do love learning. The movies and books I’m discussing here are ones that have totally rocked my world. They have made it so that I will never look at North Korea, dead bodies, or birth again. They’re also the sort of stories that are absolutely captivating, even if it’s not a subject matter that you’ve ever given much thought to. I promise that you won’t be able to put them down.
1. This Film is Not Yet Rated
G, PG-13, NC-17… we know what these terms mean generally, but where do they really come from and what is their purpose? This Film is Not Yet Rated is a documentary about the history of the movie rating industry and The Motion Picture Association of America, a trade association that has created and enforced the rating system guidelines that still dictate much of Hollywood’s films today. From its persecution of homosexual relationships, differences in depictions of male and female sexuality, and its opinions on violence vs. sex, you’ll never look at a “R” rating the same way again.
2. Going Clear by Lawrence Wright
Most people have vague ideas about the dangerous tactics and brainwashing methods of the church of Scientology. Going Clear is a deep investigation of the history and inner workings of the church. Beginning with the childhood of its mentally troubled sci-fi founder L. Ron Hubbard, writer Lawrence Wright outlines Scientology’s evolution including the legal attacks on the IRS, its aggression towards critics, and often torturous treatment of its own members. I think there is no doubt this is the most brilliantly researched documentation on the church today.
3. The Business of Being Born
I’m not sure if I’ll ever have kids, but The Business of Being Born convinced me that if I do, I’ll go with a midwife instead of a doctor. This 2008 documentary film explores the corruption in the American healthcare system that emphasizes high amounts of medications, costly interventions, and the view of childbirth as a medical emergency rather than a natural process. Including film of actual home and water births, the film asks parents and medical experts to really consider about what is best for families and babies.
4. Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick
North Korea has been the subject of news and many jokes in the last year with the release of The Interview and subsequent digital attack on film studios. But what actually goes on in the heart of this country is tragic and far closer to a 1984 existence than anyone in the western world can comprehend. Barbara Demick explores what it is actually like to grow up and live in dis-utopian North Korea through interviews with escapees, including an orphan who grew up on the street, a couple falling in love, and a mother who was the perfect example of “model citizen.”
5. Stiff by Mary Roach
What happens when you donate your body to science? That’s what curious author Mary Roach explores in this book about the many uses of human cadavers. From body part donation to rates of decay to transportation safety research, the many functions of dead bodies are at times horrifying while at other times completely heartwarming. Roach’s writing style is captivating and charming, and this is just one of many books she has penned that make you look at science differently. (On that note, I also highly recommend her books Bonk about the history of the science of sex and Packing for Mars about the space race.)
What’s a movie, book, or even a TV show that has made you see something differently?