THE BIG SCARY “S” WORD – Review by Lois Alter Mark

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The problem with many must-see documentaries is that the people who really must see them probably won’t.

So I’m hoping that “those people” (I’m talking to you, Fox News viewers) will head to the theater to see The Big Scary “S” Word, thinking the “S” stands for “sex” or something, and they’ll end up getting a lesson in – of all things – socialism.

It’s hard to think of another word that’s been as misused and misunderstood – as is made evident in the first few minutes of the film when everyone from politicians to members of the media to people on the street weigh in on its meaning.


After listening to them spew some of the most ridiculously absurd and completely inaccurate definitions, it’s no wonder so many people are terrified of the term.

It may even be time to retire it altogether and come up with something less divisive because the policies behind it are, as Cornel West describes it, “as American as apple pie.” In fact, the Republican party was started by socialists – what?! – and Teddy Roosevelt, popular among both parties, actually leaned, according to another interviewee, “left of Bernie.”

Director Yael Bridge has taken a subject that could be considered dry or academic and made it totally engaging, filling the documentary with surprising and fascinating facts. If it were part of a high school or college syllabus – which it should be – it’s fast-paced enough to actually keep students’ attention and get them thinking.

Some of the things the film will have all viewers thinking about include the fact that five individuals own more wealth than the entire bottom half of the human population combined, that socialism gave us benefits like the minimum wage, free public school, social security and unemployment and that sociologist Vivek Chibber warns that the “unceasing pursuit of profit, no matter what the ecological cost” could mean the end of the planet.

Bridge follows everyday people as they find themselves unexpectedly becoming activists and running for office out of desperation. They are so frustrated with the broken system and understand that, if you want something done, sometimes you just have to do it yourself.

As small battles are won, Bridge offers hope that another world is, indeed, possible.

“A world worth fighting for would be a human society that is able to harness resources, technology and productivity in such a way as to deliver a higher standard of living to all human beings in an environmentally sustainable manner,” says Kshama Sawant, organizer-turned- Seattle City Councilwoman. “This can be done.”

Really, the idea of caring about the good of all should be inherent in who we are as a country.

After all, as someone says early on in the movie, “We’re supposed to be working together. It’s the UNITED States of America.”

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Lois Alter Mark

Lois Alter Mark is an award-winning writer who reviews films on Midlife at the Oasis. A former contributing writer for Entertainment Weekly for more than a decade, she also reviewed films for for many years. She is a member of San Diego Film Critics Society and tweets from @loisaltermark. She writes about travel for USA Today and Forbes.