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Are documentaries becoming clickbait machines? | Picture This

I’ve always loved documentaries. From “Icarus” to “Don’t F**k With Cats,” I’m obsessed with the in-depth analysis of controversial topics that journalists venture into. Recently, however, I started watching “MH 370: The Plane That Disappeared,” a docuseries focused on the long-debated story of a plane that disappeared in Malaysia. 

To say I was disappointed is an understatement. The show failed to show any real development in the case and rather just explored conspiracy theories and assumptions.

Chloe Patel | Senior Graphic Artist

This has become a trend in recent years — with an ever-increasing number of streaming services, Netflix is battling to sustain a fizzling audience. With a deeper insight into the audience’s likes and views, streaming services now know what sells, which, according to data from Parrot Analytics, is true crime. 

Consequently, we now see streaming services releasing multiple documentaries exploring the same crime — Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy, for instance, have two docuseries each on Netflix. Documentaries now appear less interested in shaping groundbreaking work and more focused on selling the next big hits. 

With this oversaturation, documentaries are now dull, barely scratching the surface on topics that are honestly not that interesting. 

“Icarus,” for example, was a well-made and thrilling docuseries about a sports doping scandal that still rises every now and again in conversation. But I can’t say the same for “MH 370,” whose impact lasted approximately a day and mostly involved one question: “Did they ever find out what happened?” 

Instead of coming up with informative stories, streaming services are developing commercial products. With shorter deadlines and a bigger emphasis on appeasing a mainstream audience, it’s no surprise that documentaries are greatly lacking. 

“MH 370” delves into the mystery surrounding the 2014 disappearance of a plane carrying 239 passengers from Malaysia to Beijing. The docuseries had the potential to unravel a mystery that shocked the world and finally provide some solace to grieving families desperate for answers. But the docuseries had no evidence to fully provide a corroborated answer, instead deep diving into the different — and increasingly more ridiculous — theories surrounding the incident. 

For 90 minutes, we are given these theories, ranging from a mass murder-suicide plotted by the pilot to a hijacking orchestrated by Russia — neither having hard facts nor evidence to back them up. The series heavily relies on speculation and never fully shapes a definite answer as to what happened.  

Documentaries are also too dramatic now. The preview of “MH 370” plays an opening sequence brimming with tension and creates a backdrop resembling a spy thriller. But the story, although a terrible and true tragedy, doesn’t have any shocking discoveries.

While “Icarus” carried exhilarating tension throughout as we peeled back the layers covering a doping scandal, “MH 370” stays in the past, aimlessly underscoring the same old stories.

It’s also important to note that the victims were real people with families and individual lives. Bringing back the mystery and the theories is not only traumatic for grieving families but also cruel. 

“MH 370” highlights the downfall of the documentary industry. Long gone are the days of enlightening and informative documentaries that kept us glued to that blue screen, eager to reach the grand finale. Now documentaries resemble clickbait machines, where streaming numbers are more important than the actual content and story.

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