Documentaries Are Media, Too

Something a little unexpected happened during the pandemic.  I discovered that I like historical and nature documentaries!  

I wonder if I’m alone in this reawakening.

I joked recently that I finally got to the end of Netflix and Amazon Prime.  This is, of course, impossible -- but I did reach the end of my level of interest for most of the shows that were featured.  I found myself scrolling endlessly with nothing to show for it.  I was bored.  

Then along came Disney+ with its inclusion of National Geographic channel, which has opened doors to all sorts of educational programming that I find myself enjoying alongside my two boys.  We sit down and watch history shows featuring Vikings, and ancient Egypt and Mayan civilizations.  We marvel at the ruins of ancient cultures and the impact they left on the world.  I feel like I’ve rediscovered a piece of my youth that had been bottled up and shoved in a drawer, like a time capsule of knowledge for a later date.  



It helps that my kids are stuck learning at home during the pandemic.  I have one son in  sixth grade and one in third. They are both missing out on the traditional school experience because of COVID, but they may be getting a better education as a result.  

My wife is homeschooling them, and the curriculum is solid — far more solid than what they were getting in public school.  When we supplement with these shows from National Geographic, PBS and other documentary sources, thinly veiling schoolwork in the guise of entertainment, they become exposed to a much richer view of the world than they would have in their traditional classroom experiences.  Plus, they love it!  

My third grader wants nothing more than to snuggle up and watch National Georgraphic explorer Albert Lin use his high-tech tools to uncover previously unknown secrets of the Incas from atop a narrow mountainside. It’s invigorating to see a kid so interested in history!

Looking back on history allows us to learn from our past mistakes and forge a more-informed future.  It can be as simple as understanding the architecture of a long-passed civilization to memorizing the entirety of "Hamilton" and diving into what was historically accurate versus what was artistic license. 

I’m not saying all kids need to sit and watch documentaries.   I’m actually saying all adults should join them. It’s a great time together and it supplements any learning kids may be getting from these strange days of distance schooling.

Documentaries are an overlooked source of entertainment -- entertaining as well as educational.  Every streaming service has a healthy library to choose from.  Amazon Prime and Netflix have many to view.  Disney+ has the National Geographic shows.  My wife discovered something called Curiosity Stream, which focuses on documentaries of all kinds.  Topics range from deep space and science to early civilizations and even ’60s civil rights.  Some of these later shows are important for kids to watch, especially in times like these.  

So, this next weekend when you are sitting down to watch something, maybe you can spend a little time perusing the documentary channels.  I think you might find it oddly fascinating and thoroughly fulfilling.  Enjoy!

2 comments about "Documentaries Are Media, Too".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 10, 2020 at 8 a.m.

    I agree, Cory, which is why cable channels such as The History Channel attract sizeable cummulative audiences. The same applies to YouTube, which offers a host of documentaries in many lengths. Interestingly, in the early 1960s, when TV was under fire for presenting too many "violent" shows----""The Untouchables", "Gunsmoke", etc.----the broadcast TV networks turned heavily towards sponsored single episode documentaries as well as non-violent series fare such as "Mr Novak", "East Side, West Side","The Breaking Point", etc.---only to find that, except for a few shows---"BenCasey" and "Dr Kildare" and "The Defenders" such content could not compete with action dramas or sitcoms in the average minute rating wars. I suspect that this is true today. Over time, people will watch documentaries---and learn from them---but at any given point in time, given an choice to make, most viewers will opt for an "edgy drama or a sitcom, instead. Maybe not you---or I---but many simply need to be entertained more than educated.

  2. Anne Zeiser from Azure Media, September 11, 2020 at 1:28 p.m.

    I agree, but I am biased as I've worked on documentaries for PBS for 30 years. For onging weekly documentary series, on PBS there's nothing like NOVA for science, Frontline for political affairs, American Experience for US history, Nature for the natural world (kid friendly), POV and Independent Lens on public affairs and cultural persepctives. Watching these regularly is tantamount to getting a PhD on the world. Additionally, there are fantastic documentary limited documentary series on a variety of subjects, most noteworthy those american icons by Ken Burns.

    If you want more digestible bites (shorter content) check out pBS Digital Studios with short documentary films on a variety of subjects, many quite funny.

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