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The documentary “Baltimore: Anatomy of an American City” made its debut in 2012. It was aired to an audience of more than 260 million households. The documentary portrays Baltimore as a city full of young men wasting their future in bleak street corners. It creates a picture of a city characterized by blocks of boarded-up houses, drugs, crime, prisons, and death (“Baltimore: Anatomy of an American City”).
The scenario depicted in the documentary raises a lot of questions. For example, one may wonder whether or not it illustrates what is really happening in the city. The film appears to be a negotiation between reality on one hand and interpretation and bias on the other.
In light of this, the author of this paper will adopt a radical doubt approach in analyzing this documentary. The aim is to come up with an uncorrupted and unbiased understanding of Baltimore as a city and the real issues at hand (Olsson 123). In addition, the author explores a number of aspects in relation to the creation of the film.
The aim of this exploration is to show how a documentary can evolve from a ‘representation of the reality’ to a ‘negotiation with reality’. Consequently, the importance of adopting a radical doubting stance with regards to real-life situations is made apparent.
The Primary Framework of the Documentary
Consensus paradigm is the primary framework applied in the production of the documentary. To this end, the city of Baltimore is illustrated as a community consisting of like-minded black Americans who agree on goals that are important for their survival. In other cities, the society acts as a system of mutually supportive institutions.
Each institution contributes to the existence of the system. However, in the documentary, Baltimore’s institutions are seen to work against one other. Most individuals have accepted that crime and drug are the only ways to earn a living in the city (“Baltimore: Anatomy of an American City”).
At one time in their lives, most people interviewed in the documentary were involved in drugs. Some were part of the gangs controlling the illegal industry. The documentary shows how the rate of crime involving black American youth has increased in the recent past.
The increase has prompted the authorities to carry out a war against drugs and arms in Baltimore by incarcerating a large number of young men. Patterns that shape Baltimore are clearly seen in the documentary. For instance, in less than 24 hours, Aljazeera reports three crime scenes involving gun shootings and murder. The reporting portrays the city as a violent and unsafe place (“Baltimore: Anatomy of an American City”).
The reality of the Conflict in Baltimore City
After watching “Baltimore: Anatomy of an American City”, one is left wondering whether the portrayal of the city is the reality or it is just a wisely crafted documentary to generate social buzz and short-lived press attention. It is evident that the film focuses only on the negative aspects of the city.
Such elements include crime, high incarceration rates, and drugs. Such portrayals are a common trend in contemporary documentaries. The reason is that the associated negative and untold stories are more likely to attract people’s attention than those reported in conventional documentaries focusing on ‘normal’ issues (Olsson 102).
It is important to look past the intentions of the producers and into the major issues addressed in the documentary. An analysis of the film from this perspective raises doubts with regards to how the issues were addressed. A case in point is the state of prisons in the city. Most of the facilities are full to capacity. In addition, it is not surprising that most of the inmates in these institutions are young men of African American descent (“Baltimore: Anatomy of an American City”).
The authorities try to explain the high rate of incarceration. They claim that is the only way to deal with drugs and crime in the area. However, a critical look into this issue reveals that mass incarceration is a cleverly plotted scheme by the government to address prevailing social and economic problems.
When convicted individuals serve their time, they are denied public housing, health insurance, and access to certain jobs by the government. Such practices contradict the administration’s assertions since they deny the ex-convicts the chance to earn an honest living. As a result, they resort to crime and drugs. While this may be the case, producers of the documentary appear to blow the issue out of proportion.
The documentary shows that the war on drugs and crime is a set-up in which poor black people are socially controlled in a way that is equivalent to slavery (“Baltimore: Anatomy of an American City”). As such, one wonders about the real intentions of the war. It is not clear whether it is against drugs or African Americans. The cover-up for the faulty social reality is seen in the misleading speech given by the mayor as she tries to portray Baltimore as a safe city in spite of the rise in crime.
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Practicing radical doubt is important given that testing the validity of information helps one to make critical decisions. In addition, it is clear that radical doubt should be supported by facts. It would be meaningless to doubt everything while looking for the hidden truth.
“Baltimore: Anatomy of an American City.” Fault Lines., Aljazeera, Washington. 21 Aug. 2012. Television
Olsson, Erik. “Not Giving the Skeptic a Hearing: “Pragmatism and Radical Doubt”.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 70.1 (2005): 98-126. Print.