Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Last & Greatest of Human Dreams

I really like Ken Burns. A lot of the criticism of his work is pretty valid, I guess...but really, I don't much care. The stuff he gets right is great, and the stuff he gets wrong he doesn't get so wrong that I'm too put off (although I thought The War wasn't much good).

He's got another long-ass documentary on PBS, this one about America's national parks. I've only half-heartedly watched a bit of it—honestly, I'm not that interested in the parks' history—but it's pretty good. At what, twelve hours? it's probably too long, and more than a little repetitive (take a drink every time you hear someone say some variation of “the national parks are about democracy”), but again, so what.

The thing is, the other night when I was watching, I was...overcome? I guess, as I sometimes am, by how incredibly huge this country really is, both in its literal physical scope and, more importantly, its vast symbolic power, its ability to be what Hunter Thompson called “a fantastic monument to the better instincts of the human race.” America is an absolutely limitless place, which of course means it is also a nation that can never live up to the promises it makes—America will always break your heart, because you know that no matter how good it is, it will never be as good as it can be. Which means that there will always be men and women working to improve things, and to make the country live up to its potential.

They'll fail, of course. But they're trying.

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