Monday, 6 April 2020

TV review: Dirty Money, season 2, Netflix (2020)

I was pressed to find a linking theme for the six episodes in this season of the show but agree with comments seen on Twitter: it is good journalism. It won’t please everyone though. Each ep chronicles a type of fraud or corporate wrongdoing, ranging in seriousness in terms of the extent of the corruption involved and in the amount of harm done.

In each case the narrative progresses quite fast, so you’d better concentrate if you want to keep up with one of these stories. If you zone out for 20 seconds then come back into focus on the screen you might miss something important. Parts that are in a foreign language are properly subtitled, so there is no danger of missing anything because of a lack of Chinese or Spanish.

I can’t really pick out one ep for special comment as all are excellent exponents of the genre, but the one that seemed to get people exercised on social media was episode 3, ‘Slumlord Millionaire’, which is about Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. He had used various unethical tactics to maximise the yield of his real estate holdings and was, to be quite frank, callous and deceptive in his dealings with tenants and with local government.

The final episode in the series sticks out because it’s different in nature from the other eps. It is titled ‘Point Comfort’ and is about Taiwanese manufacturer Formosa Plastics’ industrial plant polluting a Texas town. While the other eps had money at the centre of the drama, this one dealt with poor conduct in relation to the environment. It chronicles the efforts of whistleblowers and community activists to make authorities take notice.

Episode 2, ‘The Man at the Top’, is about Malaysia’s ex-prime minister (Najib Razak), who allegedly used a company called 1MDB to siphon money out of state coffers. Episode 4, ‘Dirty Gold’ combines the environmental and money themes and is about the use of illegally mined gold from Peru to launder cash earned from the sale of drugs in the US. I’d have to say these are the most serious cases chronicled in this season of ‘Dirty Money’ simply due to the quantity of money involved in each case. With Razak’s corruption you’re talking about billions of US dollars stolen. 

But episodes 1 and 5 compete for prominence in the seriousness stakes because they are about systemic failure. Ep 1 is about a US bank named Wells Fargo that over-serviced some customers with unnecessary products. Ep 5 is about the US guardianship system and uses, as material for its storytelling, two cases of elder abuse, where senior citizens were exploited by various people in the community who profited from schemes aimed at institutionalising them and stripping them of their assets.

Apart from money, two other things unify all of these cases: concerned citizens and the media. In each case, some people who knew about the corruption spoke out. The media had a role in the end but its action was delayed.

The media comes in for a lot of criticism from many people – you can see their thoughts now because of social media – but without it our societies would be more oppressive places to live in. One message that has to come from watching this show is the importance of financially supporting the media. Newspapers and TV stations may not always get it right, and they might not express views that agree all the time with every person in the community, but a free media is essential for a healthy polis.

No comments: