In Wall Street, Gordon Gekko famously declared “Greed is Good.” While this idea might go against Boston College’s Jesuit values, Netflix’s new documentary series Dirty Money proves that greed at least makes for good television.
This new show has six episodes investigating a matter of corporate greed and malpractice. Each episode is a standalone event directed by a different person, so each of them has a unique feel, and you walk away from the series with a broader perspective than if they all had the same director. Each director connects the scandal to the bigger picture, so in conjunction with the fact that all the episodes cover recent events, the show surges with a sense that it is urgently relevant, and not just a historical examination of the old days.
The six episodes follow the stories of Volkswagen’s emission scandal, the rise of Trump Inc. and how it helped Donald Trump get to where he is today, predatory loans, big pharma price gouging, cartel bank laundering, and a multi-million-dollar maple syrup heist. These stories might sound more or less enjoyable based on the interests of the viewer. The absurd lengths that these companies go to for profits and their subsequent attempts at coverup creates a show that is riveting for everyone. It is impossible to look away.
The series benefits greatly from Netflix’s guidance, as the show is expertly and enjoyably made. For a show where the climaxes are usually reporters or regulators finding discrepancies in files, the viewing experience is always visually interesting. The directors do a great job of interviewing everyone and anyone they can find, of intersplicng court or news footage, and even displaying documents in an eye-catching way. These flourishes make the series stand out from many other documentaries that focus on simply getting the information out, rather than telling a story for the viewer. The aesthetic of the show sets the tone for the series early, with the title sequence being displayed over Run the Jewels’ “Lie, Cheat, Steal.”
This chorus brings about an interesting aspect of the show. It does not always villainize the people making the decisions, but rather shows that the system they are placed in allows them to get away with such behavior without having to face consequences. One CEO in an interview summarizes this idea of social and business Darwinism: “Whenever there is war, fewer remain in the end. There are always winners and losers, and I intended … to emerge victorious.” For them, it’s a game they are trying to win, not the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of their employees. The show makes the point that many of these scandals are not even illegal, just wildly unethical, and there is nothing in place to stop many of them from happening again.
When examining these billion-dollar cases it can be hard to put these numbers into perspective. One thing Dirty Money does well is it puts a personal face on these high octane corporate scandals. Whether it be people who can’t pay for the newly priced medicine, those affected by the increased pollution, or victims of Trump’s shady deal-making and lies. It’s moments like these where the viewer is reminded that this is a documentary where real people are being affected.
Dirty Money is less a series and six independent documentaries that are loosely connected by the idea of greed and its consequences. The season is remarkably consistent, as every episode is enjoyable and hard to take your eyes off. The episodes will stick with audiences, leaving with a sense of unease similar, in a way, to The Big Short, where you realize that some of the smartest people in the world making billion-dollar decisions are unconcerned or oblivious to how it affects the average citizen. These six episodes are perfect examples of what business can be without morals.
Featured Image by Netflix