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Boys State (2020)

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This doc played at Sundance and is coming up on Apple+ TV. It might be of interest to some around here because it was co-directed by Jesse Moss, who also did The Overnighters

I had a tough time with my review since I disliked some of the participants in it, but that made me think about some documentaries where I dislike the participants but still like the documentary. Normally a non-judgmental tone goes a long way, so I'm not sure why it bothered me here, especially since those who come off the worst are still young enough that they way still be in the process of becoming who they are. 

There's a chicken-egg question here with topics such as abortion and gun control -- how many people have those positions and choose to live in places like Texas and how many adopt such positions just because they live in Texas and it's easier to go along to get along? And if everyone is going along to get along, at what point do people realize and confront the fact that this is how the middle is driven to either extreme? 

Politics is about compromise, I suppose, but I miss the days (if they ever existed) when persuasion was possible -- where peope were expected as rational citizens to listen to and respond to reason rather than simply brainwash themselves with bromides to parrot (or bogeymen to invoke) when they other side gives their reasons. 



I suspect that Boys State, the story of a thousand teenage boys participating in a state-wide convention designed to help them see how political parties work, will be pushed as (and perhaps received as) a feel good documentary. Children are our future, and there are a handful of principled and articulate ones on display here that may well lead the way. The cynic in me, however, suggests that what they will really do is what principled and articulate people usually do in Texas (and in most American political landscapes): lose to sophomoric, entitled power brokers who are more interested in bettering themselves than in public service.


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It would really be interesting to see if a Girls State were as strongly pro-life, pro- gun as this group. Maybe in Texas, but in other places? I wander if the American Legion does anything to collate what happens every year.

It would also be interesting to have a more than 2 party system. May 3 teams of 40, 35, and 25%.


Edited by Darrel Manson
A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film

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  • 3 months later...

I found this movie very entertaining. The chicken-egg thing you mention, Ken, is definitely one of the interesting elements the film plays with. The whole tacit admission by Robert that he is pro-choice, but would never admit that politically, is fascinating.

I know the film is so nakedly trying to be a microcosm of politics in the states (even the fact that it's all boys reinforces this aspect, since America remains a hugely male political system), but I've got to give the filmmakers credit where credit is due: the experiment does work as a nice proxy for the real thing.

In general, this was more engaging and tense than most political theatres I've seen. And on a personal note, while I find myself to be a decent public speaker, I'm pretty impressed by how good these boys are at speaking. Their gift for wordplay is genuinely impressive and their speeches were far better than anything I saw during the 2020 Election, perhaps because boys like Steven seemed to be so genuine in what they said.

"Someone like Jean-Luc Godard is for me intellectual counterfeit money when compared to a good kung fu film." - Werner Herzog


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