Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Documentaries II

So many documentaries that stand out I couldn't contain them in one entry. I just wanna spread the word about them! Here are a few more that stand out.




LIFE AFTER PEOPLE

What happens to the world when humans are gone? Exactly what you'd expect. Talk about a predictable formula: things decay, nature takes over, all trace of humanity erased! Something about this is fascinating to watch and think about. Especially interesting is when the crew visits places that have been abandoned for 50, 70, 100 years, and is able to observe what a world after humanity is gone will actually look like.

Yeah! Decay! Passive destruction of Humanity! ...I think I just came!




CLASH OF THE GODS

I was never exposed to mythology properly. I never actually heard the original myths of the Greeks and the Norse, so all of this was new information for me. It was wonderful to find out what the original stories are, and what has made them so enduring. Plus, why the people told these stories in the first place, what characters like Hercules, Zeus and Thor meant to the people of the time. It's one thing to just know the stories. Another thing entirely to understand why the people needed to believe in them.



Telling myths was their way of making sense of the world. They didn't have science to explain why volcanoes erupted, so they made up stories of angry gods. They prayed to their gods to try to appease these forces. They couldn't control them, but they created a way to believe they could.




AMERICA: THE STORY OF US (History Channel)

This series may as well be retitled America: Why We're the Superpower and You're Not.

In spite of that, it does what no other history class has ever done: place American history in context with itself. Show how one event leads to the other. Show that our involvement in WWII leads to the boom times. Show how technology influences the changing landscape. Show where historical events fit into the timeline of American history as a whole. It's a wonderful way to tell the story. Too bad it was funded by Bank of America, who was one of the entities responsible for killing the economy. Hopefully in 50 years someone will make a followup series and make sure to note that.




BLACK BLIZZARD (History Channel)

I learned about the dust bowl in 8th grade Social Studies. In my school, there was a trial program for block scheduling, so English and Social Studies were merged into one, giant double-period class. Some days we'd learn history. Some days we'd learn English. Either way, we learned nothing. I can't remember anything we learned in those classes because the teachers were so desperate to fill the time they had us doing pointless projects instead. Writing a radio play, or making advertising posters for the railroad.

Black Blizzard finally tells the story of the dust bowl in the 1930's. It brings the events into context and shows what happened, why it happened, and who it happened to. It succeeds in showing what a living hell it must have been for those people back then.




SUPERSIZE ME (2004)

We all know fast food is unhealthy, but we don't really "know" it. That is to say, we choose to ignore what we know and keep eating it anyway because it's cheap, easy and tastes good. Supersize Me is an in-depth look at what fast food is, where it comes from, how it's made, and what eating a lot of it will do to you.






THIRD REICH: RISE AND FALL

Presenting the rise and fall of Nazi Germany from the point of view of the average German people. This is what history class should be: presenting history from as many points of view as possible. Never before had I been exposed to what the typical German thought of the Nazis at the time. Not everyone hated the Jews. Not everyone voted for Hitler. Not every German was evil. This is a must-see.






SECRETS OF THE KORAN (Decoding the Past)

It's amazing how much about other cultures we in America don't know. Being where we are in the world, we're kinda isolated. We don't share borders with multiple nations, languages and cultures, so we're not forced to know anything about the rest of the world. We're free to exist in our own little world, convinced we're #1! I didn't know anything about Islam until I saw this program.

Who in America actually knows what Islam is? Who in America actually knows what the Muslims believe, or what the history of their faith is? Hell, most of America doesn't even know the history of their own faith, let alone what they believe! I thoroughly enjoyed this presentation of the history of Islam. It puts a lot of things into perspective.




DOZENS OF FREEMASONS AND KNIGHTS TEMPLAR SHOWS

Documentaries about the freemasons or the Knights Templar are instant channel-change for me. Why? Because it's all conjecture and speculation. No facts. No evidence.

That's the problem with things like other faiths and politics and economics and secret societies and such. There are too many people who are not part of it telling others what it's about. The only information they have is whatever they can see from the outside, so it's always going to be incomplete and distorted. We never have all the facts. One reason I stay out of political debate as often as I can. Nobody knows what's going on, but we all think we do, so it just degenerates into pointless argument.

Conspiracy theory documentaries (such as Brad Meltzer's Decoded, Ancient Aliens, UFO Hunters, and anything to do with secret societies) make me laugh. Nobody knows anything, but people who are on the outside sure think they know everything. It's like trying to judge the contents of a house by studying the external walls. Just doesn't work. I think the Simpsons parody of the Masons is probably closer to the truth than anything these experts have come up with.




AMERICA'S BOOK OF SECRETS (2012)

This is still in production, and I don't know what I was expecting. The show is mostly conspiracy theory and very light on the "secret" aspect. So the Gateway Arch is controlling the weather, Fort Knox may be empty, and the White House is a cage and the Washington Monument was funded and built by the freemasons? The first two ideas are stupid, and the other two aren't exactly secrets. That's the problem with this series. It builds up a lot of hype to reveal secrets that aren't secret at all. Again, more speculation and conspiracy.




The Captains (2011)



Ok, one for the Trek fans. An interesting idea to do a portrait of all the Star Trek captains, see what kind of person it took to be a captain and what toll it took on their personal lives. I had no idea the schedule was so hellish. 12-16 hours a day for an entire year?! No wonder Hollywood is so full of divorce. The schedule Hollywood keeps their actors on makes it impossible for any of them to have a life outside the studio!

It's not always interesting, but the stuff that is interesting is very entertaining. Although... Did Avery Brooks drop acid before his interview? Holy shit, he sounds absolutely stoned, and I was hoping to hear more about him, as the captain of DS9 was the one I knew the least about.

Scott Bakula's interview turns out to be the most interesting. It makes me lament. I wish more of Scott Bakula had made it into the character of Jonathan Archer. Archer was supposed to be this loose, easygoing guy. Scott Bakula was just that in his interview, but on screen as captain of the NX-01 he was rigid, stiff, emotionless, trying too hard to be commanding. Oh how I wish Bakula had commanded that ship instead of Archer. We might've had a better show.




DIVE! (2010)

All about food waste in the United States. Working in retail, I see the waste. I know much of it doesn't need to be wasted, but the truth is that it is cheaper and easier to waste food (hell, anything!) than to repackage or salvage it in some way. Plus, there is no way to sell some things partially. It's either the entire package of strawberries or nothing. If one strawberry is bad, we have the throw the whole package away. We can't just pick the bad stuff out and sell the rest for a reduced price. That takes too much time.



America produces so much food it has become cheap and disposable, so we can afford to waste it. I've pulled things from the trash (before they made it into the trash) because I hated seeing the waste. Sealed boxes of chocolates defected out automatically because someone returned them. A dozen boxes of chocolates wasted just because the company wants to eliminate all chance of liability.

There's no financial loss on food waste because the way our country is set up, you can lose a dozen cases of something due to spoilage, but that's ok because there's a hundred more cases available to replace them! We can afford to throw perfectly good food away because it's cheap, plentiful and disposable. Everything is expendable. Waste is cheaper than conservation, and there's no financial benefit to reducing waste. It's a very sad fact.

The movie presents this in a very surprising way: dumpster diving. These people are eating like kings pulling food out of dumpsters, and it's not bad food! All of it is perfectly good, edible produce, meat and bread thrown away just minutes or hours before. I know it is. I've seen it firsthand myself, and it's shameful.




ZEITGEIST (2007) + ADDENDUM (2008)

Hoo boy, I wish I could forget I watched these movies. They are so convincing. They look so professional and amazing and they blow you away with information that seems to explain everything about why the world works. Of course! Religion is a grand conspiracy to control the masses! Corporations are forming a government of their own and they're enslaving the people by establishing a system to keep people perpetually in debt so they have to keep earning more and more money to make ends meet and guess who benefits? It ain't us!

I actually believed it. I fell for it. But it wasn't until I checked the sources that I realized it's just an elaborate conspiracy theory. Most of it is based on a dubious new age book called The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold. The rest merely restates other baseless conspiracy movies like Loose Change, a documentary I couldn't even watch because it's so amateurish and ridiculous.

The ideas in the Zeitgeist movies are engaging because they seem to make perfect sense. They seem to explain exactly why the world works. But when you check the sources, you won't find any evidence to back this up. Only conspiracy and paranoia. More studying the external walls but never venturing inside to look firsthand. So I admit I bought into this at first, but I'm better now. Really, I am.




RUSSIA: LAND OF THE TZARS (2003)

In World History during my 9th and 10th grade years in high school, we learned about every major country on Earth. China, Britain, India, Japan, Greece, France, Spain. All except one: Russia. For some reason, Russia tends to get skipped over in history class. This pair of features takes us from the earliest years of Russia's history to the revolution, and it's quite a journey. Makes me glad I didn't learn it in school, because it means so much more now that I'm older.




There are many more I'm sure I forgot, but for now that's what stands out! This is what I watch on TV. This is what I take in on a regular basis. Maybe it will explain a few things about my writing, and about me as a person.

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!