The latest Netflix documentary garnering lots of attention is a macabre story of a young woman’s tragic death in a seedy hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
Like the hotel in Stephen King’s “The Shining,” the Cecil Hotel in the documentary “Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel,” feels like another character in the story that unfolds, and it’s a character with dark and schizophrenic overtones.
The Cecil was a flophouse for people living on the edge of society — and of Skid Row, one of the most dangerous and tragic examples of the homelessness crisis found anywhere in the United States. For young, usually foreign tourists, it was a hostel-like economy hotel.
And it was the sometime residence of notorious serial killers.
The young college student from Canada — the “vanishing” subject of the documentary — was certainly looking for an “LA experience.” Sadly, she got one.
At the outset, the series looked like it was living up to the first part of its title. The strange and inexplicable disappearance of this young college student on her own in LA certainly looked like a crime had taken place. But by the end of the four-part series something entirely different takes shape. It is just about as tragic, but sometimes things are not what they first appear to be.
As compelling and sad as the story of this poor young person is, the subtext of the documentary and what it says about our culture is almost as troubling — namely our propensity for living in silos.
When an office setting becomes dysfunctional, it is usually attributed to something people who make a living telling businesses how to be more successful call “silos.” An office where individual members are siloed away in their own offices with their own agendas is not conducive to that “team” mentality advocated in modern works settings.
What became very evident from this Netflix documentary is how siloed we as a culture have become. Everyone interviewed in the series, from cops to hotel workers to the many self-appointed social media investigators, all seemed to be in silos of their own making, not to mention the co-star of the series — a 600-room hotel filled with people living in dingy hotel room silos of their own.
In particular, it was the social media “experts” in the film who really gave off this feeling of disconnection. They were private citizens who, for one reason or another, became obsessed with the case. They used the means at their disposal, primarily the internet, to foster a subculture of “experts” who formulated all manner of conspiracy theories and evidence analysis to reach conclusions that all proved, in the end, to be wrong.
One person was identified by the series as a “web sleuth.” I didn’t know that was an occupation. What was most unsettling about this person was how emotionally connected he believed he was with the victim — whom he had never met — as he sat alone in his siloed domicile.
I hope I’m not so callous that I can watch a series about a young woman who meets a terribly tragic end and not feel some empathy. But to watch the “web sleuth” — who had dedicated years on this “case” even though no one asked him to — break down on camera when he speaks of the victim, was unsettling.
There were other “experts” who had taken it upon themselves to review every shred of public evidence and make bold claims as to what happened to the victim. Like so much of what we see in news media and on social networks these days, people just don’t know what they don’t know, but that doesn’t stop them from standing by all manner of wild claims.
Throw in a worldwide pandemic and it seems everyone, no matter where they go, is in silos now. In the age of social distancing, we even find silos in church, with pews sectioned off and the rules of engagement (or lack thereof) strictly enforced. Finding that sense of the sacred while praying as a community in such circumstances is no small challenge.
We’re becoming so acclimated to this kind of insulation we should take this Netflix documentary as a cautionary tale. As it turns out, those office experts may be onto something about the importance of breaking out of our silos.