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DVD Review: The States – A History Channel Documentary Series

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I've been boning up on a History Channel three-DVD set on The States originally broadcast as ten 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 young 'uns, this series leaves a lot to be desired. Among things left to be merely desired would be organization or a 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 ten 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 ten 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.

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  • http://magnoliasouth.storytlr.com/ magnoliasouth

    “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.”

    VERY well said! If there is one thing that turns me off more than anything, it is political commentary in a series (or documentary) that’s NOT about politics. Your review sealed it for me. I’ll not buy it now.

    Besides, New Orleans didn’t even have the most damage from Katrina. Biloxi was hit much worse but do you ever hear about it? Nope. Only rarely, if ever. You’d think that New Orleans was the ONLY city/town in the US affected by Katrina. Even my house here in Mobile, AL was damaged. Our roof was gone.

    Interestingly enough, The History Channel has the DVD set on sale for $19.99 and lists it as a “bestseller.” It’s such a “bestseller” that I can’t even find it at Amazon.

  • John

    I’m out on this DVD set if they choose to pollute their documentary with politics. Thank you for the heads up.

  • bishbish

    I agree with the previous two people about this dvd being ruined by the inclusion of political ideology. I also find it offensive when complicated political topics are interpreted in a shallow manner and without authentic debate or consideration. I don’t buy products that try to shove down my throat the false but politically expedient idea of the black person as perpetual victim. I won’t buy this dvd either. I was going to buy this until I saw that with only 10 minutes per state, they would use their time in such wasteful ways.