Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Documentaries

I generally don't watch network television. I'd rather fill my time with something informative rather than merely entertaining. For that reason I watch a lot of documentaries. Here are a few of the most memorable I've watched.




WAITING FOR 'SUPERMAN' (2010)

The much-hyped documentary about the public school system in the US. It received a lot of press when it was released, but I wasn't impressed.

The movie seems to imply the blame for America's failing schools lies entirely on the teacher's union. I think it's too simple to blame the bad school system on bad teachers we can't get rid of. What about the states cutting school budgets and pouring more money into improving prisons? What about the federal government bailing out companies but cutting education budgets? What about those damn tests? What about tying school funding to these test results? How can anyone expect those test scores to go up and ailing schools to receive the help they need when the budget is constantly being slashed?! When other schools are being closed down, forcing more kids into already overcrowded and underfunded districts? Why are we surprised when schools resort to cheating and lowering standards to get their scores up? They don’t have the resources to improve the education, so they have to approach it the other way. The movie doesn't address any of that.

I agree the teacher's union resisting change and forcing schools to retain deadbeat teachers is a problem, but I think there's just so much more to it than that. The movie wastes a lot of time profiling kids in bad schools and doesn't delve far enough into the cause of the problem. How long did it draw out the lottery scenes? Ten minutes? Tragic as it was for those families, I wanted to learn more about what the problem is and what all the possible causes may be.




The Corporation (2003) / Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)

I'm lumping these two documentaries together because I get the feeling they're both trying to say the same thing, but one does it better than the other.

The Corporation dives pretty far into what a corporation is, what it does, why it exists and it is, medically speaking, a psychopath.



It goes into the history of corporate America, shows us that corporations exist for the sole purpose of making money. They will make it by whatever means necessary, such as expending and exploiting human lives, decimating valuable resources, and skirting the legal system. Anything to make a profit.

Isn't it strange how I phrased that? I'm writing about companies as though they were people acting on their own behalf, but they're not. People act on the company's behalf, doing what they believe is best for the company. It's because of the soulless acts of people looking out for what's best for corporations that we're in the mess we're in now. When money is your only objective, you don't care about what effect your actions have on human beings or the planet.

Now Capitalism: A Love Story, by Michael Moore, tries to present the same facts, but it kinda fails to make its point. It doesn't really go into any details about what corporate America has done to the world. Not a lot of focus on what it's supposed to prove. It does address what happened in 2008 when the economy collapsed, and what the banks tried to do when the bottom fell out of their mortgage scheme. They actually proposed the federal government give them access to the treasury with no power to investigate later how they spent the money they took. Wow.




A CRUDE AWAKENING (2006)

Look around you. The computer you're using needed oil to produce it. The chair you're sitting on needed oil to make it and transport it to you. Everything needs oil. Everything is made of oil. The world runs on oil. Oil is involved in making what we like and it's required to transport it from factories to our homes. Oil is everything. It's foolish to think the supply will last forever.



The images of the Baku oil fields are striking. Seeing all those oil towers in a state of decay is almost... beautiful. That's what all oil fields are going to look like someday. Empty. It's hard to imagine because we've lived for over a century with cheap, plentiful oil and can't imagine it would ever run out. But it could happen in our lifetimes. Scary to think about it.




WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR (2006)

I was so pissed off after watching this movie. The future could have been NOW! The first cars were electric, but because gas and oil were cheaper and more powerful, we were diverted down a path of inefficiency and dependence on fossil fuels instead. Had we stuck with electric car technology for the last hundred years, innovated and developed upon that instead of the gas engine, think where we'd be right now. Ironically, electric cars are making a comeback, but they still have a long way to go before they can meet current demand. We are a hundred years behind our potential to get off our dependance on oil, all because a few big corporations were looking out for what was best for themselves.




THE UNIVERSE (History Channel - 2007)

This has been a fascinating series. A look into the unique wonders of our universe. Now granted if you've watched previous documentaries, this more or less covers the same material but with new graphics and cooler animations! That's the problem with science documentaries. You can only take so many topics down to the layman's level before you start to repeat topics.

Black holes, neutron stars, supernovae, dark matter, dark energy, where elements come from, how gravity affects time, how the solar system formed, what the asteroid belt really looks like, how the moon formed... Now this is real learning!




SICKO (2007)

I actually like this Michael Moore film. It presents the shortcomings of America's "every man for himself" style of healthcare, showing the primary reason the healthcare system is like this: greed. Again, a small group of corporations is looking out for their benefit, not ours, and we suffer while they prosper. It is sick to realize that there are people who are benefiting from the healthcare system the way it is. Of course people are benefiting. If nobody were sitting pretty with the way things are, they would change quick. The fact that it hasn't changed, and people are resisting change, implies that someone up at the top is getting very rich because of America's healthcare system.

Although it does paint a suspiciously rosy portrait of England's universal healthcare system, as well as Canada's, France's and even Cuba's. From what I hear, the UK's system is in big trouble, and even Cuba has put a stop to free healthcare for everybody simply because it's too expensive.

But those of us in America agree that anything is better than what we have, which is nothing. We are at the mercy of insurance companies who offer plans that cost hundreds of dollars a month for only 80% coverage, if that. Those 20% fees stack up quick, which means we're still broke by the time doctors are done with us. Why is the system like this? The insurance companies and prescription drug industry benefit from it, and they are paying politicians to keep it that way. It makes me angry, and Michael Moore is very good at that. (Just ask anybody who's tried to interview him.)




WHAT THE BLEEP DO WE KNOW? (2004)

The purpose of some documentaries is to introduce new ways of thinking about things. Mixing science and spirituality is no easy task and usually always results in phychobabble and nuage doublespeak. But sometimes... It yields an interesting exploration into what reality is.

What I took home from this movie was that reality exists in our minds. Our entire knowledge of the world around us is filtered through our five senses, but what if there is more to the world than that? Something we can't sense, something we can't even measure? Science acknowledges this possibility, and even has a branch of science that addresses some of it: quantum physics.

It brings this down to a very practical level: happiness begins in the mind. If we're miserable and if nothing ever seems to go right for us, we may be causing it, not external circumstances. It's a very intriguing thought. Success and happiness begin in our minds, our attitudes. Our thoughts determine how far we go. It's exactly what the Bible has been telling us for thousands of years (see Proverbs 23:7). What if religion was the ancient's way of explaining these things? What if, through science, we are on the way to reaching those same conclusions? That would be ironic wouldn't it?

Call this documentary new age nonsense if you want, but I think it's fascinating to look at reality this way.




10 DAYS THAT UNEXPECTEDLY CHANGED AMERICA (2006)

It's amazing how one event can change the course of history. This series examines 10 less-than-famous days in history and presents why they are 10 of the most important days in American history.

The Scopes trial, for example. The first time a debate between creationism and evolution happened in public. I had no idea it even happened!

The Homestead Strike of 1892 is another eye-opener. It was the day when the world learned that the corporations and managers call the shots. Not the workers.

Another is the Mystic Massacre of 1637, the first European/Native American conflict that would set the standard for relations for hundreds of years. This episode, more clearly than any teacher or other program, puts into perspective the reason there was conflict between the settlers and the natives in the first place. It wasn't that either side was evil. It was a difference in culture, and each side was unable to understand the other. War became the only common ground between the two. Amazing to see where it started and why. It's a thoroughly interesting series.




BANNED FROM THE BIBLE (I + II) (History Channel)

I think it was this pair of features that convinced me it was time to reexamine what I believe. What is the Bible? A collection of stories handed down from generation to generation. But most people don't know there were a lot more of these stories, and there really was a committee formed to decide what should be in the official Bible, and what should be left out. It forces us to see where the books of the Bible came from, and why they were chosen over the other stories. It also shows us that some canon stories had portions of these "banned" tales incorporated into them.

The entire New Testament is an editor's choice edition of ancient stories. Many of the books banned from the New Testament are referenced in official New Testament books as well. This leads us to the question: is the Bible divine, or is it merely a compilation of local folktales?

When you are forced to look at your faith in terms of history and cultural cross-pollination over thousands of years, it seems a lot less infallible. The Bible as Christianity knows it evolved. Yes, that's the right word. It evolved. For example, there are two stories of creation in Genesis, and they contradict each other. The story as we know it was merged with pagan beliefs and symbolism in order to make it more approachable to new converts. We're not getting the whole story because Christianity changed and evolved overtime to win over followers.

There's no conspiracy here, al la The Da Vinci Code. This is history. As a kid I was always taught the Bible was divinely inspired by God, but the history tells a different story. The Christian Bible is not divine. It evolved. A work of many, many different people over thousands of years. When you look at it this way, it seems so foolish to look for meaning in it.






Part II is coming up next!

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