Day 17: Watch a Documentary

A boy and his gun. One of my favorite pics from my trip to Cambodia in August 2010.

How do you react to the word, “documentary”? With a yawn? With an eyebrow raised in intrigue? With a list of recommendations from your extensive personal collection?

Me, I’m the intrigued eyebrow-raiser. Maybe because I’ve seen a few great documentaries — and a few not-so-great ones as well. In my opinion, the best docs (as the folks in the film industry call them), are the ones that go beyond entertaining, informing, or just plain depressing us, and inspire change.

That’s exactly what my movie pick did for me.

Honestly, though, that’s not what I expected when I chose it. I was just looking for something that seemed somewhat interesting and not overly depressing. I stumbled upon Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media.

Noam Chomsky

The IMDB description of the film included two things that interested me: Noam Chomsky and Cambodia. So I found it on iTunes and rented it. Turns out, it was an excellent choice because it was in sync with a lot of beliefs I already hold, but it was still extremely thought-provoking.

For instance, I had this thought: What if we removed just one team from the NFL and took its entire budget, especially the players’ salaries, and gave it to public schools instead? Great idea, right?

Now, before I continue, let me explain something. I’m not a political person. In fact, I’d call myself apolitical. I have general opinions about many issues but not a lot of information to back them up. Why? Because the effort it would take to truly understand just one issue seems far too daunting.

As I mentioned in the “No News” challenge, I don’t trust or respect today’s media, so I choose to avoid it and live my life outside its influence as much as possible. Ignorance is bliss, right? But this film made me rethink this approach. It made me want to DO something, to get involved, to stop being one of the marginalized masses.

This doesn’t mean I plan to become some extreme activist who protests and gets arrested. It does mean I will take the time to become more informed and use that information to create positive change. Who knows? Maybe I’ll go to East Timor and try to help them heal. I’ve already taken my first baby step and found an interesting organization called Do Something, which definitely seems worth looking into.

If you don’t know about East Timor or you want to get inspired to make some change, watch this movie! Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media.

What documentary did you watch and what effect did it have on you?

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12 thoughts on “Day 17: Watch a Documentary

  1. Just like the news media and its bias, I find many documentaries are driven by an agenda and have a bias of their own. Rarely do they present both sides of the story fairly, even if they have both sides. Clever editing can turn an intelligent answer into a a sound bite that makes a person look stupid.

    As for giving the money from an NFL team to the public schools, my reaction would be that we’ve been throwing money at public schools for decades and have seen a decline in performance. Some private schools with razor thin budgets do far better. So, I do not think that money is the problem, nor will it solve it.

    I chose to watch a documentary on Harry Truman. I looked at some more modern themes, like The Third Jihad, but steered away from them because I knew I would encounter the bias thing. It was enlightening to once again be reminded how a common man with a high school education and an abysmal record as a business man was thrust into the presidency in the middle of a world war and managed the task well enough to be remembered as one of our better presidents. He did it through strength of character, not an ivy league education nor Hollywood style leadership traits. It truly is an amazing story, and one that makes you wonder about the traits that we look for in our modern day candidates.

    I’ll admit that I wasn’t excited to try this challenge, but did find it worthwhile.

    • If not public schools, then someplace the money could make a difference. The point is, with so many people and companies going bankrupt, isn’t it interesting that there’s still enough money to pay athletes and movie stars millions of dollars … and for what? Entertainment? What if we redirected that money elsewhere? What a difference could we make?

      • I think what you suggest requires a complete change in our American value system. I don’t dispute nor disagree with your concerns. I’ve often felt that some areas are way over compensated and others way underpaid. We seem to value entertainment much more than education. The problem is, who is going to make the decision as to which profession deserves what? Do we let the free market make that determination? If not, do we let the government do it? History would indicate that a centrally controlled economy does not do a very good job of it. Those nations with more central control are moving toward the free market (China for example). Meanwhile, we seem to be moving towards more government intervention. Is there a perfect balance? Maybe, but it always seems to be in a state of flux. To date, the wealthiest nations seem to have been the ones with the freest markets. Too much government seems to stifle innovation and motivation. This is a long answer, but you pose a difficult question. Who should decided what something is worth?

    • Also, I don’t know enough about the public school budgetary situation to intelligently refute your comment, but I always seem to hear talks about huge budget cuts, so I’m not sure how accurate your “throwing money” statement is. At least, not in California.

      • It seems like money rarely goes to the classroom. It goes to administration. When cuts are made, they are often made in the classroom, not the administration. At least I think that is what Susie saw in California. Money grew the bureaucracy and once it was in place it stayed in place. Too much is being spent on overhead.

  2. First, I picked Camp Leatherneck by National Geographic for the documentary of the day. Much media coverage is about the politics and scandal surrounding foreign policy. But relatively little attention is given to the living conditions and experiences of our service members on the ground. How do they live, work and fight so far from home? How do they gain the support of those in the country in which they are stationed? That aspect had more meaning than the usual media snippets at our armed forces.

    As for the comments on schools: we have some knowledge of the workings of school districts in California. Three In our immediate area have become insolvent and were taken over by State regulators. One in particular where my wife worked, and the city in which it was located, even made national news and discussion on financial media for their financial failures. How is it that State appointed regulators were able to bring these districts back from insolvency when the local administrations were unable to prevent it? There was no additional money for that. Why does every ballot have a proposition asking for more school money? We can go on with examples where money management and good financial practices are not strong points in managing public schools. In the local districts, some issues revolved around not knowing where the money was spent. Much can be done before asking the tax payees for more money.

    The concept of moving NFL money or such to a school is heart felt and interesting except for a significant point. Such businesses provide many jobs and produce a lot of revenue that in turn provides taxes for schools and community services. It is not possible to just take business money and move it to a social service as was suggested. The business must create the money that can be taxed. Without that base, there is no money for the desired social service.
    Finally, where are the parents? CA has a huge high school drop out rate. Might one see significant parental involvement in successful school districts? Why is the US so far behind other countries in education when we spend so much more? Throwing money (away) is not the solution. It is likely to lie in personal and family responsibility for education, in conjunction with a school structure of some sort.

  3. According to the U.S. Dept. of Ed. based on a 2004 study, the U.S. per student spending was 3rd highest in a study of 18 countries (behind Switz. and Norway (just barely)). Korea was 16th. Clearly spending is not a good indicator of success.

    And I find the NFL spending to school spending type of comparisons a little soundbite-ish. I remember reading several years ago that the number of homeless in the U.S. was almost identical to the number of churches. The implication was we could eliminate homelessness if only every church in America would shelter and feed one homeless person. I suspect that’s a vast oversimplification.

    But more to the point, I whole heartedly agree with paying attention – to documentaries, well researched news stories, your more interesting friend’s blogs, etc. And participating in good discussions.

    • OK. So maybe my school idea wasn’t as great as I thought, but let’s take a look at this whole discussion. Intelligent, informed people are raising valid points, but all we’re saying is that it’s too complicated or that it’s someone else’s fault or that it’s outside our value system to change. So we just keep chasing our own tails and going nowhere.

      • Could it be that the very government we elect to lead us out of this problem is, in fact, the root of the problem? That is certainly worthy of consideration. By the way, Ronald Regan said something very similar to what I just postulated.

        • And one more thing. Have you considered the possibility that some questions have no answers? I know it seems like a cop out. However, my life experience and knowledge of history indicates that some problems will always be with us, no matter how hard we try.

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