Harvard professor and “Bowling Alone” author Robert Putnam has spent decades studying the origins of our country’s civic unraveling, and co-directors Pete and Rebecca Davis explore his trailblazing social science research in her film “Join or Die,” a documentary that makes the most compelling case for joining a club that I’ve ever seen. Through interviews with Putnam and major political figures like Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, and Hillary Clinton, which are combined with a clear analysis of data, the film explores the importance of community and explains why we should seek out (or start our own) clubs and groups in order to save democracy.
Putnam found that civic organizations are an important foundation to building a healthy democracy. Connections with other people have always been a crucial part of society, but disturbing trends have shown that many of us are choosing to do things alone. Exacerbated by the COVID-19 lockdowns, loneliness began to rise in this country.
Putnam explains that isolation is at odds with the very human sense of belonging, and this choice of solitude decreases our trust in one another, causing society to become divided and lonely. This in turn leads to discord, conflict, and even civil unrest, which are serious problems facing our country today. His research has found that finding a sense of belonging by joining a club may be exactly what we need to unify, and he has the data to back it up.
The storytelling becomes repetitive as the same points are hit again and again, but this isn’t a full-blown puff piece because the directors also challenge (and even criticize) a few of Putnam’s theories, but not too harshly. It’s an interesting study in social science, and the film is so convincing that you’ll likely be signing up for your local bowling league soon after the credits roll.
By: Louisa Moore