The indefatigable Alex Gibney is back with another solid documentary guaranteed to leave you staring into space with a horrified look on your face. He’s probably made another one in the time it took me to write that sentence. Like Taxi to the Dark Side and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, two others of his I’ve admired, Park Avenue seems at once sober and manic. The research is clearly thorough and thoughtful, the ideas are presented clearly, the charts and graphs are cleanly designed and easily understood, but at the same time there’s this edge of hysterical incredulity running just under the surface the whole time, like the narrator’s forever on the brink of screaming “Can you effing believe this shit?!”
From the PBS web site for the film: “740 Park in Manhattan is currently home to the highest concentration of billionaires in the country. Across the river, less than five miles away, Park Avenue runs through the South Bronx, home to the poorest congressional district in the United States. In Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream,Gibney states that while income disparity has always existed in the U.S., it has accelerated sharply over the last 40 years. As of 2010, the 400 richest Americans controlled more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of the populace — 150 million people.”
Anyone who’s been paying attention already knows stuff like that, and that one is seven Americans receive food stamps, and so forth. But the film still manages to shock me again and again. The saddest part for me is seeing working-class and middle-class people duped by politicians into thinking that it’s the poor (and the unions), not the rich, that are responsible for their problems. The second-saddest part is seeing that even Democratic administrations seem powerless, in the face of multi-billion dollar lobbying efforts, to do anything about income disparity. You come away from this feeling like if you have a dime, it’s because the 1% have decided it’s somehow to their advantage for you to have it.