We watch TV to forget troubles, root for teams, wallow in sordid lives, or marvel at singers and dancers. We tune in for the news and to educate ourselves, but rarely do we watch to become enraged.
Yet it's impossible to sit through "If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise" and remain anything but.Spike Lee's powerful four-hour documentary, Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 23 and 24, on HBO, follows his 2006 "When the Levees Broke," the chronicle of those in Hurricane Katrina's path.
Five years ago, the hurricane and government negligence left at least 1,836 people dead and $81 billion in damages. Such staggering numbers are difficult to grasp. What's far easier is to feel what Lee shows: Not that it's been kept secret, but when seen as a whole rather than in nightly installments, it is shocking and infuriating.
"There is a saying (that) God is a trickster," Lee says. "After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and breaching the levees, a miracle happens -- the Saints win the Super Bowl for the first time in 41 years -- and everyone is elated. And everyone thinks we have finally turned this corner. Then April 20 happens."
He refers to this past spring's explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil well and subsequent spill in the Gulf of Mexico and highlights an ugly link: avarice.
"The downfall of America is going to be greed," Lee says. "It was greed that brought about the decrepit safety standards of the levees, and corners were cut. And it was greed that brought about the explosion of Deepwater and those West Virginia miners that got killed, too. We are in a place where people value the almighty dollar more than they value life."
The people Lee focuses on, from all walks of New Orleans life, live with the results of unchecked greed."Several people say, 'What did we do to deserve this?' August 25, 2005, is the horrific natural and man-made disaster, and now April 20 is the biggest man-made disaster."
Mitch Landrieu, mayor of New Orleans, wonders if the oil disaster had happened in Cape Cod or the Hamptons how different the reaction would have been. It's impossible to not wonder, as it is to not be enraged.
A montage of underground shots from various days shows the oil spewing forth. It looks like sci-fi special effects, except it's quite real and no one knows the lasting effects.
"The people of that region -- New Orleans, Louisiana, and other Gulf states -- are very resilient," Lee says, "and they are going to keep plugging away. But they are also human beings. I don't know how much more they can take -- resilient or not, the fighting spirit or not. And right now we are in the midst of hurricane season. It has been forecast as being as much or more active than in 2005."