Disclaimer: This is going to a rant.
This is, by far, the worst documentary I have ever seen.
I wanted to watch this movie because I read an essay on minimalism awhile ago that I found pretty compelling. But this movie has gotten me more pissed off than any movie has ever in the past. I don’t particularly like consumerism at all. For my studies in Marxist critical theory, I have written so many critiques on our culture of consumerism. But after finishing this movie, I just wanted to be as consumerist as possible. I literally want to buy an entire H&M catalog purely out of spite.
Where do I start?
That section where the guy read from his book on the beach literally pissed me off so much. He reads this paragraph from his book and walks along a beach. It is supposed to be deep, I would imagine he intended, but all it resembles is the writing of some pothead who decided to mix weed with acid. His moralizing tone was so condescending, and I couldn’t believe that people actually want to buy his literature. He speaks as if he is a reborn Jesus, preaching the new Gospel for the sheeple of consumerism to convert to his cult. For one, he criticizes people for shopping at IKEA, saying that you don’t need to buy a coffee table or a bookshelf or whatever. Yet, in an earlier shot, we see a coffee table and a bookshelf in his house with eerily similar interior decor that you can see in IKEA. Neat.
Also, who the fuck goes on shopping sprees at IKEA? No one shops at IKEA unless you are looking for something specific. No on panic buys a coffee table or a bookshelf because they wanted to self-indulge.
Then, there’s the guy who claimed to be “homeless”. A couple sentences later, he clarified his statement. What he meant was that he had so many homes he would travel to that he couldn’t decide which one he thought of as “home”. Neat.
There’s also the guy who bought up real estate in neighborhoods to convert to minimalist living homes and resell at higher prices. Some would call that gentrification. Neat.
This movie, if anything, seemed to be a satire of minimalism. If I were to parody the worst parts of minimalism, I don’t think I would do as good of a job as this movie. I think there are a lot of compelling comments on society that is made in minimalist philosophy, but two finance bros making $100k+ a year complaining about how much they were “suffering” (repeated multiple times throughout the movie) seems to ignore the other social problems in this world that make life literally hell for other people who are people of color and not making $100k+ a year. It is the exact parody imagine that I had in mind when I was thinking about the possibility that minimalism is just some self-help scheme that utilizes appropriated Eastern philosophy to sell to prey on unsuspecting people who are lost.
These people are salesmen. And, if I wanted to go there, I would also call them con artists. They sell the idea of minimalism as this get-rich-quick scheme to happiness because they claim consumerism is a catch-all villain of modernity. There entire justification surrounding minimalism is that it just makes them “feel calmer”, whatever that means. This sentiment is repeated and repeated throughout the entire film. If anything, it just reminds me of the blanket anti-capitalism sentiments that exist on the internet. Someone spraypainted “Capitalism is a death cult” on the top step leading down to the Schuykill River Trail. It is a provocative statement, for sure, but that doesn’t make it at all true. It is the same this anti-consumerism rhetoric. For sure, there are a lot of issues with consumerist culture that poses danger for our mental health. But there is a difference between making a compelling critique of consumerism and blaming all of your problems on consumerism.
This movie does not understand the difference between a critique of consumerism and an argument for minimalism. It is full of platitudes such as “money doesn’t buy happiness”. Sure, money doesn’t “buy” happiness. But having a salary of $100k+ a year probably makes it easier to be happy. Having a salary of $100k+ a year probably allows you to live without worry about being evicted. Having a salary of $100k+ a year probably means you don’t need to consume fast food every time you run out of food in the fridge. Having a salary of $100k+ a year allows you to go convert to minimalism and starting people that you have seen God.
People buy of things nowadays. But equating any purchase that doesn’t serve a necessary purpose in life with toxicity is just stupid to me. One of “the minimalists” who own theminimalists.com literally owns a guitar. If a wooden block with six strings that makes arbitrary sounds makes him happy, why is he criticizing people for things that make them happy? I paid $500 a month and lived in a basement last semester. It had of things I didn’t like — like cockroaches and mice — and didn’t have a lot of things that I did like — like windows and heating. This semester, I paid more and lived on the second floor of a townhouse. I didn’t have cockroaches or mice. It did have windows and heating. I can’t say with 100% certainty that having money and spending money is pretty great. Sure it’s not minimalist. I could probably live without windows. But living without windows is complete ass.
God, don’t even bring me to their website. On the top, it says that these two people have “help over 20 million people live meaningful lives.” What the fuck does that mean? Who are these two twenty-year-olds who were making $100k+ a year at one point dictating who gets to live a meaningful life and who doesn’t get to live a meaningful life? Just to point out, the median American income is around $30,000. There are bigger problems in the world than just consuming too much.
What about for everyone else who doesn’t make $100k+ a year? Do they not live “meaningful lives”? The moralizing tone of this movie appropriates the idea of “meaning” as whatever fits their sales pitch. They are selling the idea that you can achieve “meaning” through purchasing their books and consuming their content. They claim they are freeing people from consumerist tendencies, but all they are doing is redirecting their consumer needs to their content.
They claim to be enlightened, but they are the nouveau capitalists. It is quite a Trumpian tactic. They are blaming something that everyone seems to hate — consumerism — to get people to support them, regardless of whether they actually have any sort of compelling ideology or not. They are exploiters in the self-help industry, claiming that they can help people achieve happiness by consuming their media. They tap into a simple collective resentment towards consumerism to profit off of creating literature that allegedly will allow them to live a happier and more “meaningful” life. They ignore the structural issues of racism and cultural hegemony and economic inequality that plague people of color and who, I repeat, don’t make $100k+ a year to sell this idea that happiness is just a product of decluttering your room every now and then.
Two years ago, when I took a Buddhism class, I wrote a 20+ page paper on the mindfulness movement in America. Specifically, I wrote about how Buddhism’s legitimacy as a religion was completely dependent on its acceptance by the white suburban class, who cherry-picked specific parts of Buddhism to assimilate into its own. Even now, when you think of mindfulness, you don’t really think about the centuries of tradition and philosophy that go into it; instead, you just think about some white yoga girl on YouTube showing you how to do a warrior pose. I could go on and on about fetishizing eastern culture as a fascination in orientalism of the exotic that reduces entire cultures to the cherry-picking of western Eurocentric cultural hegemony, but I could really go on and on and on about that.
It is the same with this movie. Minimalism is an integral idea in Japanese interior decoration for centuries, but it hasn’t become a big cultural fad until a couple rich finance bros decide to start “live deliberately”, whatever the fuck that means. Watching this movie, I can’t help but notice how little people of color were included. I don’t think I remember a single person of color throughout the entirety of the film. And, to me, that’s very telling of the audience of the film. The film ignores social and economic issues, instead of pointing to their version of minimalism as the solution to all of our issues with happiness. It is marketed, I would imagine, to other white twenty-year-olds who are making $100k+ a year. But, God, the moralizing…
I have never given a bad rating on a Netflix movie before. This is the first time I broke that rule. I smashed that thumbs down button as hard as I could. This movie has made me so mad because it claims to preach the Gospel when in actuality it just spits out fake deep platitudes about the nature of unhappiness. Its condescending attitude on people who do not live “meaningful lives” paints a portrait of a very specific attitude towards people who do not have the opportunity to work $100k+ jobs. It is a classic example of the fortunate idealizing poverty as Tolstoy did with the serfs.
Excuse me while I bend over my toilet to vomit.