Wednesday, January 11, 2006

'Country Boys' on PBS

Criticism of contemporary TV is really low-hanging fruit for a media blogger, but the vast wasteland of television programming today has a few oases. One is the remarkably evocative, alternately hopeful and heartbreaking documentary, "Country Boys," by David Sutherland, airing its final segment tonight on PBS.

A companion film of sorts to the 1998 PBS blockbuster "The Farmer's Wife," "Country Boys" turns the lens to Cody Perkins and Chris Johnson, two teenage boys from Appalachian Kentucky. Although wired to the world via the Internet and cable, they are deeply rooted in a region stigmatized as "other," where the lack of economic opportunity puts its youth under uncommon pressure. The film follows them over three years, from ages 15 to 18, examining what it means to come of age in Appalachia.

In fact, the documentary evokes far more than even filmmaker David Sutherland admits in that description. Cody's and Chris' circumstances -- if they could somehow translate -- would be just as withering for teenagers in the big-city. And although they are products of a chronically depressed region, their lives offer a window into a generation we might not fully understand. These aren't kids on the fringe. They are like many of the kids you know.


Thomas said...

TV programming is indeed mostly trash. But people are watching in droves and voting for a particular party more also. Looks like judgement in general is suffering.

On the kids Chris and Cody.
I believe these are indeed kids on the fringe. I don't see how more on the fringe a kid could be. The way I see fringe defined -among other things- is having the emotional burdon of your father blowing a hole in his torso after murdering somebody. Being on the fringe could also be having no family support (like Chris) and having no positive influences to depend on, while living in a mud puddle with your failure of a father and mother. Not on the fringe?

I hope this PBS program will help America see its two parts.

Ron Franscell said...

By "not on the fringe," I merely meant "more common than most Americans want to believe."

I'm equally convinced that if TV and a certain "other" political party actually offered something worth seeing/voting for, people would respond. Alas, neither seems interested.

Ranando said...

I agree Ron, TV is a waste of time.

Thomas said...

Oh, people are responding. People are watching (voting for) trash TV by the millions. Getting viewers/voters is therefore not tied necessarily to a quality message. You can get voters in this trash TV watching public by providing simplistic arguments that strike cleverly at the base of our fears and prejudices. Never mind what's actually good for us, just strike at our fears, and you'll get the votes because we're not paying close attention and we want a fast solution, not boring talk about ecology or consumer advocacy.

Anonymous said...

I watched the "Country Boys" documentary and was very moved each night the show aired.

I saw so much potential in both of those kids. Chris, perhaps was the more tragic case since (like Cody) he had such bright potential yet couldn't seem to find the ability to do what it took to get himself into college.

As an aside, I thought one of the more interesting aspects was the segment where the film showed the "science" teacher giving a feeble attempt towards a lecture on the concept of evolution. Her last statement captured the overall essence of the lecture: "It all depends on how you're raised."

Only in Kentucky... or Kansas.


Bookworm said...

Mr. Bookworm found the show too depressing to watch. I would have hung in there, but pretty happily agreed with him when he wanted to turn it off. I found it depressing too, so ended up watching only the first 45 minutes of the first episode. Those 45 minutes, though, did touch upon something, which is the implication that these poor boys, through horrible circumstances, were destined to be academic failures, and therefore failures. (I don't know where things went after the first 45, so this impression could be dead wrong.)

To the extent my impression is correct, though, it highlights a mistake I think the "Great Society" made and makes -- focusing solely on academics as a way of teaching and a way of measuring young people. It strikes me that we do these people a terrible disservice in forcing academics on them, and judging them failures when, whether because of inborn learning abilities or horrible external events, they don't perform well. It strikes me that these Apalachian communities are perfect places for trade schools to make these young people useful.