Monday, March 8, 2010

What Are You Documenting? -umentaries

Anything truly good and serious deserves its own subversive genre.

Documentaries used to give us all sorts of great information about wars, people, events, and the like. Then, someone got the great idea to make a documentary about something that wasn't real. And you can't just call it a documentary if it's fictional, right?

The first "mockumentary" may well have been Orson Welles' War of the Worlds broadcast on October 30, 1938, but it certainly wasn't called that at the time.

The word mockumentary gained ground after Rob Reiner's This Is Spinal Tap (1984), which is still the standard that other mockumentaries try to live up to. Then the floodgates opened, both to types of documentaries and to the words used to describe them. Two of the more popular are
  • rockumentaries are documentaries about rock bands. According to Wikipedia, Bill Drake used the word rockumentary in 1969; Led Zeppelin's 1976 The Song Remains the Same is certainly in this genre, predating This Is Spinal Tap by nearly a decade. In more recent times, we've seen rockumentaries from U2's 1988  Rattle and Hum to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' 2007 Runnin' Down a Dream. Since MTV and VH1 hit the airwaves, rockumentaries have been a standard musical coming-of-age for any band who made it past their first album.
  • shockumentaries are documentaries designed to shock. They grew out of the 1960's Mondo films, which exploited taboo subjects such as sex, drug use, racism, and torture. As once taboo subjects became more common and acceptable, shockumentaries either drifted toward extremes (like John Alan Schwartz's Faces of Death) or slipped into more fictional or "dramaticized" venues (such as The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activities).
Now that the rhymes-with-dock-umentary portmanteau has caught on, it is appearing everywhere:

And on and on. There's no end to the crowdsourced creative mind. Think of any word that even remotely rhymes with or sounds like "dock" and tack it on to -umentary, Google it, and you'll find that someone has already either thought it up or has even created it -- from glockumentary to hickorydickorydockumentary.