Monday, March 1, 2021

Boys State

Boys State offers a glimpse into the annual tradition the American Legion has held in since 1935 where high school juniors are brought in to learn about government and politics firsthand. The documentary focuses on the Texas Boys State working in two separate political parties to build a representative government, create a political agenda, and run for various offices including Governor.

Allowing us to look at the next generation of potential political operatives, Boys State shows us teenagers have already learned the some of the worst lessons of politics from those they have watched govern them. While several of the students don't take the opportunity seriously, offering bills for change the pronunciation of "W" or trying to impeach an elected official they dislike personally, the film turns on the introduction of Steven Garza who plants his flag on the idea of cooperation, combined self-government, and honestly helping others which offers a nice change of pace from the pro-gun and anti-abortion message that otherwise permeates the debates. Although we don't have to wait long before personal attacks begin to change the narrative.

In a fictionalized version of events, Garzia could easily be played by Jimmy Stewart as his version of governance over politics rocks the assembled group to its core. A Bernie Bro who campaigned against gun violence, and is the son of an immigrant, Garzia stands out from the mostly white conservative masses. At it's most hopeful, the rise of Gazria within his party with the help of René Otero (who a small part of his party is trying to impeach for attempting to reign them in) offers a promise of what politics can be by appealing to our better angels and what unites rather than divides. However, as we watch Mr. Garzia go to Washington (or in this case Austin), that's far from the only story on display.

In the end, I'm not sure if the film is hopeful for offering a look at Garzia, and his closest supporters, and the potential of the next generation or tragic as we witness the other student attacks and remorseless political maneuverings to find a way to steal the top prize for their candidate. Political parties are made up of individuals, and Boys State shows how individuals, even those 17 years of age, bring both the good and bad of humanity with them into the politic process as the camp doesn't instruct them on how to govern responsibly, but only give them the opportunity to govern themselves with some troubling results.

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