Hot Docs 2014 Review: Mad As Hell
Political commentator Cenk Uygur (pronounced Jank You-ger) has delusions of grandeur. Not my words. His words. And those words of his are the first you hear in director Andrew Napier’s documentary Mad As Hell, a jaunty yet informative look at the talk show host’s rise to prominence in America’s political landscape. Those delusions of grandeur, as well as his borderline-bellicose “keeping it real” ethos, took him from the trenches of cable access and local television to creating and hosting the most viewed (over 1 billion) news-oriented Youtube channel, The Young Turks.
Mad As Hell wisely avoids the didactic route (that’s the The Young Turks’ function), and decides to focus on Cenk’s climb to the top, where he has cemented his importance in modern political discourse. In the 1990s, he turned his back on a promising career in law to toss his hat in the political commentary ring, with brief stints hosting segments on local Virginia and Florida stations. His controversial anti-establishment approach always made for entertaining television, but the image-conscious news industry could never fully embrace him. His brutal honesty made him a pariah.
It wasn’t until his distrust in the Fourth Estate collided with the American people’s disillusionment with the corporate media apparatus that Cenk found himself at a fortuitous intersection: a fundamental shift in the cultural zeitgeist coupled with the emergence of online video platforms. And thus was the genesis of The Young Turks channel; it became the voice of truth and credibility online while attracting the attention of millions of people fed up with their cable news channels towing the line for the establishment. Think of him as the (even more radical) Jon Stewart of the digital space.
Mad As Hell is an entertaining and often funny watch. Documenting Cenk’s evolution from staunch Conservative to the beacon of progressivism is worth viewing in itself. I don’t agree with everything Cenk Uygur says, and you don’t have to either to respect his commitment to telling the truth, pushing New Media forward, and making the corporate news overlords sweat a little bit.