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And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats - Matthew 25:32

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January 16, 2008


DVD Review: The States - a History Channel documentary series
I've been boning up on a History Channel three DVD set on The States originally broadcast as 10 hour long programs. This is not the History Channel's best product. It has a lot of interesting little facts. Most interesting little thing I learned is that San Francisco became a gay place because the WWII era US military had a processing center there where they dumped out soldiers being thrown out of the military for being gay. It'd be kinda neat to run into this series randomly for a few minutes here and there while channel surfing, and pick up a few interesting tidbits to chew on.

But as DVD programming that you'd go out of your way to seriously watch, or count on as educational material for the younguns this series leaves a lot to be desired. Among things left to be merely desired would be organization or helpfully consistent structure. Maybe you'd start each state with the history of early settlers leading up to admission to the union. Then you go to major industries, ethnic makeup, then cultural contributions in food or music, maybe. Something organized and prioritized.

Instead, this series starts in different places, rambles back and forth in no particular order. It also spends a lot of time on trivialities. If you've got less than 10 minutes to spend on the history of an entire state, do we really serve a purpose devoting two of those minutes to the one surviving horse from Custer's Last Stand and how it was eventually stuffed for a museum?

For an example of the organizational jumble and random nature of this series, consider the entry for Pennsylvania. They start with a minute about the American Revolution and Independence Hall. Then they take a minute to talk about Heinz ketchup, then about Hershey chocolate. Then they go back to the Pennsylvania Dutch and the Mennonites who founded Pennsylvania. Then they go to Punxsutawney Phil, then the coal industry and the Centralia mine fires. Only somewhere after that do they get around to them having a steel industry, and they finish up with mushroom farms.

What the hell's with this mess? It's not historically chronological. Half the stuff is random or trivial. With maybe less than 10 minutes for the state of Pennsylvania, do we really need to spend one on ketchup - much less two on Punxsutawney Phil? Couldn't they have used a minute for some illustrious citizen like Bill Cosby, or a couple of minutes about Philly soul music - Gamble and Huff, O'Jays and Spinners and such, rather than the Groundhog Day shtick?

I must also stop to blow them a little raspberry for their Louisiana entry. I'm all in favor of Louisiana, but these guys just couldn't help themselves to refrain from some cheesy editorializing about how the mean old federal government just has hardly lifted a finger to help poor NOLA after Katrina. Shut up already, damn.

If you run into this series on the History Channel, or find it conveniently at the local library, this is kinda halfway palatable entertainment. It's certainly more educational, spiritually uplifting and interesting than watching Dr Phil, Cops or some damned game show. I just don't know that I'd recommend that you spend 30 bucks on buying it to keep.
History Channel/A&E documentaries The Presidents

posted by Al at 1/16/2008 11:42:00 PM

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