Anthony Bourdain ‘Roadrunner’ controversy raises a question: Is the term ‘documentary’ obsolete?

Anthony Bourdain ‘Roadrunner’ controversy raises a question: Is the term ‘documentary’ obsolete?

Documentaries are in the midst of a new Golden Age, as streaming services scoop up compulsively watchable feature films and series that satiate the audience’s voracious appetite for true stories — especially those involving lurid crime, quirky human nature and wild animals. But the deluge of nonfiction filmmaking and its seemingly endless permutations — from the cosmeticized pseudo-verite of “reality TV” to the increasing use of fictional techniques such as special effects, animation, lush musical scores and even actors — has rendered the term almost meaningless. Technically, a documentary is so called because it documents events as they unfold. But, contrary to conventional wisdom, documentaries are never mere recordings of reality. On some level, they always lie, or at least bend the truth — which doesn’t always mean they’re dishonest.

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