With the specter of “back-to-school” season approaching, the dog days of August are the perfect time to kick back and stream some documentaries of limited educational value. Let’s call the genre doxexploitation. For example, Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons It was terrifying, in terms of revealing the brand’s extensive ties to Jeffrey Epstein, not to mention a narrative of redemption that concludes with a corporate decision to empower women by selling them well-fitting underwear.
Nevertheless, Train Wreck: Woodstock ’99 is probably the biggest doxploitation title this summer. If you have already seen it, I would like you to see it HillsboroughESPN 30 for 30 doc about the 1989 English soccer disaster where 97 Liverpool fans were crushed to death before a game against Nottingham Forest.
You could reasonably ask, “if I want to see thousands of Limp Bizkit fans set things on fire, why would I watch a documentary about a football tragedy?” In a nutshell, what Hillsborough does well will give you a good BS detector for all things derailed train you are wrong
Whenever things go wrong at a big public event, we tend to look at what teams or gangs are involved. If it’s not our team or our band, it’s very easy for compassion to evaporate. For example, the “jokes” after eleven fans of The Who were crushed to death in Cincinnati back in 1979, or the 100 Great White fans who died in 2003 in the Station nightclub fire. More generally, when bad things happen in the crowd at a sporting event, many fans will say “my team would do it.” never.” In reality, what matters is not which bands or which teams, but the infrastructure and the greed. This dynamic unfolds at the festival and on the soccer field.
Hillsborough hard to watch Chronicles the events leading up to that fateful day on 15th April 1989 and gives a detailed account of how an English FA Cup semi-final turned into a disaster that claimed almost a hundred lives. However, most of the documentary focuses on the aftermath. On the day of the tragedy, a narrative emerged blaming the behavior of drunken, ticketless Livepool fans attempting to force their way onto the grounds for the deaths that occurred. In reality, the disaster was the result of gross police incompetence and their inability to anticipate crowds or manage them safely. This is a massive simplification of a complex event, but the police tried to cover their asses by blaming the victims, and it took more than two decades for the truth to come out.
Woodstock ’99 and an English FA Cup semi-final a decade earlier are two very different events. One person died as a direct result of attending Woodstock ’99. As the documentary makes clear, there were at least four rapes, and probably more. What people remember from Woodstock ’99 was the massive property damage and number of fires set by attendees on the last night they had had enough. Woodstock ’99 booked loud and angry bands (Korn, Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock) with loud and angry fans. There’s a lot of brother energy on display in the documentary on and off stage, and it’s easy to find people suggesting fans of those bands set the place on fire isn’t a surprise. At the same time, if you take 250,000 fans of Hall & Oates, Steely Dan, and Mazzy Star, make them live in other people’s poop and pay $12 for a bottle of water, they might as well act bad. The important thing about both events is not which bands or which team, but the complete failure of the people who organize the event to have the proper infrastructure for the crowds they sold tickets to.
The biggest differences between the Netflix documentary Woodstock ’99 and the ESPN documentary Hillsborough revolve around questions of responsibility and accountability. Netflix Frees Woodstock Organizers; ESPN follows the survivors’ families’ long quest for justice. Both offer a traditional documentary mix of talking heads and archival footage, but for Woodstock, most of those talking heads were people involved in the staging of Woodstock ’99, while for Hillsborough we heard primarily from the survivors and families of the victims.
The timescale of these disasters also varies. In Hillsboroughwe see that poor planning and poor decisions cause 96 deaths in a matter of minutes. derailed train trace a situation that unfolded over the course of a weekend. If the arc of the football documentary goes from institutional incompetence to institutional mendacity as a cover-up, what animates the Woodstock ’99 disaster is greed. The festival organizers didn’t allow outside food or water, which is reasonable for a 2-hour movie, but not for a long weekend. As supplies dwindled, vendors with the remaining water abused their already high-priced water. Bottled water was the only safe option, as public water supplies were contaminated with feces from overflowing portable urinals. We heard from some festival goers, including a woman who got a trench mouth for drinking the water, but we heard a lot more than we should from organizers making excuses and invoking “kids who had too much fun.”
For Gen Xers, the Boomers’ commentary involved in the original 1969 Woodstock adds insult to injury. They lament that the 1999 event did not have the same “spirit” as the original. One imagines that allowing people to bring food to share might have helped keep that spirit alive. Ironically, if you want to find a festival with the “Spirit of Woodstock” in 2022, your best bet is the Gathering of the Juggalos.
Jonathan Beecher Field was born in New England, raised in the Midwest, and teaches in the South. He tweets professionally like @QueJBFand unprofessional as @ElGurglingCod. He also sometimes writes for Avidly and Common-Place.