SEX, DRUGS & BICYCLES: Seeing America through the Netherlands

Children in the U.S. are taught from a very early age that they live in the greatest country in the world. Things may be difficult at times, but at least they have vague nouns that we have yet to clearly define, like “freedom.” One would imagine from the way that some Americans talk that we are the only country that has individual liberties. This near-sighted view of the United States’ place in the world is harmful not only because it creates a baseless type of national egotism but also because it prevents us from knowing whether the American way is actually the best way. 

Exposure to other countries, cultures, and governments serves as a cure for our national myopia. But, of course, many of our citizens lack the resources to travel abroad. With the restrictions on travel from COVID-19, we risk becoming even further isolated, and that is where cinema and TV can step in and serve the public good by taking Americans from their couches to beyond our national borders. Jonathan Blank’s new documentary Sex, Drugs & Bicycles, accomplishes this medicinal feat by helping its audience to re-examine American norms by comparing them to the sixth happiest country in the world: the Netherlands (America is ranked eighteenth, according to The World Happiness Report). 

SEX, DRUGS & BICYCLES: Seeing America through the Netherlands
source: Wildform Media

Windmills, Bicycles, and Healthcare

Other documentaries have attempted to illuminate the faults and inequalities of the U.S. system by comparing it to other countries. Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next comes quickly to mind, where Moore examines progressive social policies in various countries to demonstrate the inefficiencies and cruelties within aspects of the U.S. system. Sex, Drugs & Bicycles advances beyond Moore’s film because it maintains a wit and charm that is common in Moore’s documentaries, but, by focusing on a single country, it provides a more in-depth and thoughtful view of the Netherland’s social policies and how we could benefit from finding an American way of adopting and adapting the same social policies for our benefit. 

SEX, DRUGS & BICYCLES: Seeing America through the Netherlands
source: Wildform Media

The appeal of Sex, Drugs & Bicycles is not only the fact that it focuses on one country but also that it is attempting to answer a single question: are social democracies the hellscapes that U.S. conservatives have painted them to be? When America’s healthcare system and labor laws and practices are compared to the Netherlands, it becomes obvious that social democracies are not hellscapes. In fact, adopting some of these policies may help Americans live healthier and happier lives. 

Who Is the Audience?

Though the film makes a compelling argument for social reforms while acknowledging some of the Netherlands’ shortcomings, I’m not sure who the film is attempting to persuade. If the essential question about social democracies and hellscapes at the outset of the film is to be considered, it would appear that the film is intending to target conservatives who are confused about the actual benefits of certain progressive reforms. But the title is a distraction from what the film actually is. For instance, I would find it difficult to convince my conservative family to watch a film entitled Sex, Drugs & Bicycles because of the title alone. The documentary is actually thoughtful, critical, and not as edgy as the punk rock-sounding title would imply. 


Sex, Drugs & Bicycles is an important documentary for the moment because during this time of crisis, we, as Americans, need to consider how our system is failing and how we can make it better for everyone. The film allows us to consider cruelties within our system that we have come to accept as the status quo, but these cruelties are choices that we have made and they only continue because we choose not to change them.

This documentary is one that I believe, in certain respects, could reach across the aisle and possibly persuade those who are hesitant to vote for change out of fear of losing their own position in our society. Unfortunately, this film appears to only be marketed to people who already agree with its critiques of our current system.

Have you had a chance to see Sex, Drugs & Bicycles? What effect, if any, do you think it would have on conservative audiences? Let us know in the comment section below!

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