Friday, July 6, 2012

"In Search of America" (2002)

The opening quote of my last post came from an interview that Peter Jennings did to promote his project "In Search of America": "a journey through the United States, and into the great themes of American identity." This work produced both a book and a six-part TV series for ABC News. This post will focus on the latter.

The series introduces us to a fascinating group of individuals representing the variety of American life. Each episode explores a different aspect of our society, through the experience of a particular community or institution. What I love most are the unspoken questions we are left to struggle with at the end of each story.

"Call of the Wild" focuses on the re-introduction of wolves to the Idaho wilderness, and asks: How do we balance local and national needs, desires, and perspectives? When conflicts arise between national and local values, which should take precedence?

"The Stage" focuses on a high school play in Boulder, Colorado, and asks: What does freedom of expression mean to you? What is your voice? Do you use it?

"Homeland" focuses on illegal immigrants in Salt Lake City, Utah, and asks: Who is an American? Is the American Dream for all human beings or just U.S. citizens?

"God's Country" focuses on the faith and values of Aiken, South Carolina, and asks: What role should religion play in American civic life, especially in communities where there is vast consensus for a specific belief or idea? Given our spiritual diversity, how should we determine our common moral standards?

"Headquarters" focuses on the snack food company Frito-Lay, and asks: Is American business a righteous activity? What limits should there be on the pursuit of profit? How should we relate to foreign cultures? What is our place within the global community?

"The Great Divide" focuses on the issue of race in Gary, Indiana, and asks: What is the legacy of slavery and what does it say about the American experience? Is there still a racial divide in America? If so, can we ever remove it?

As a whole, the series both celebrates the American experiment and challenges us to explore a central question: "What does it mean to be an American today?"

Learn more about the overall project at C-SPAN or the Charlie Rose Show. Check out the TV series on IMDb or Amazon.