Tapped out

We Americans are an obstinate bunch. We don’t want to change our lifestyles, even when confronted with evidence that our creature comforts are slowly killing us. I’ll never forget when, back in college, a friend of mine saw Fast Food Nation in its opening weekend and proceeded to dine at McDonald’s right after the screening. It’s a bit like watching Jaws, then diving knowingly into shark-infested waters.


We should know by now that if it’s fast and cheap, it’s probably out of control, too. Previous documentaries have lectured us on the pending apocalypse if we continue to kill the electric car, pollute our environment, expand our carbon footprints, consume fast food, guzzle crude oil, buy prescription drugs, support agribusinesses, Wal-Mart and supermarket chains and partake in whatever other ideological cause du jour that prompts a righteous activist to pick up a camera.


These movies are all the same aesthetically, following the formula popularized by An Inconvenient Truth (and though it’s not about our overconsumption, the new release Countdown to Zero follows the same formulaic criteria): A human story to connect the audience with a larger issue, an expansion of that issue, the diagnosis of the problem, data to support that diagnosis, emotionally doom-laden prophesies from pedigreed experts, a tidy summation of what we learned today, the vital What You Can Do To Help coda and, finally, a plug for the cause’s website and the credit scroll, accompanied by a second-rate pop or folk song bemoaning the issue at hand.


The latest feature-length attack on a modern American convenience is Stephanie Soechtig and Jason Lindsey’s Tapped, which arrived on DVD Aug. 10. The film identifies bottled water as an evil scourge that is damaging our health (via the harmful chemicals in PET, which is in our plastic water bottles), depleting our natural resources and turning our oceans into soups of discarded plastic (so says one of the emotional, pedigreed experts). Bottled water is impure – despite the false advertising of its supposedly virginal nature, it’s 40 percent tap water – and like most corporately controlled industries, it’s amoral: Tapped is most effective in its journalistic exposing of the Nestlé corporation’s water mining in Maine and other water-fertile states, where, thanks to a legal loophole called Absolute Dominion, the company is permitted to steal the region’s natural water supply, even when massive droughts force fire trucks to provide basic drinking water.


The directors lay the blame liberally, from lax FDA regulation to a decline in recycling. But most of the film’s venom is directed at the major corporations, which deceive us into believing tap water is somehow “impure” and turn a blind eye to the health risks of bottling water. But do we really need another moral lecture on how monolithic corporate entities are trampling on the little guy and plundering his land? Corporate America’s inhumanity should be no surprise to any of us by now, especially after Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott’s The Corporation, still the crème de la crème of the activist documentary genre, coldly diagnosed corporations for psychopathy back in 2003. That all-encompassing thesis project had enough in it for dozens of films and, indeed, it has spun off numerous redundant features in its wake. Compared to The Corporation, the singularity of each of these studies – Tapped, Food, Inc., The World According to Monsanto, Who Killed the Electric Car?, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price – make them seem naively myopic in their worldviews: If we can just eliminate bottled water from the face of the earth, the earth will have a happier face – if you can still see its smile through all the soda bottles and milk cartons, of course.


Still, I feel conflicted watching movies like Tapped. The film critic in me notes its clichéd formula and questions its manipulative editing, but the concerned citizen and regular consumer of bottled water in me is scared half to death, just as Fast Food Nation left me flummoxed and disgusted; I haven’t had a fast-food burger since. I will no longer support the bottled-water industry so much as I can help it, which speaks to the fact that Tapped, like its peers, is wildly successful at connecting on an emotional level, if not an intellectual one.

; [email protected]


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