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The Dust Bowl

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Ken Burns can document the shit out of some Americana.  The Dust Bowl is one of the strongest Ken Burns documentaries, up there with The Civil War and Unforgiveable Blackness.  In at least my school history, the Dust Bowl was really deemphasized.  It was one minor part of the Great Depression, but it tends to get shunted off to the side in favor of the urban hallmarks of the period, such as the failure of markets, the establishment of the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the breadlines.  Sure, I knew what most people know: it was really dusty in Oklahoma for a while there, and they all moved to California.

Or, well, that's the basic idea.  But it turns out that the causes and solution to the Dust Bowl are fascinating, and not nearly as one-dimensional as we're led to believe.  Burns establishes a thoroughly convincing case that this was yet another version of free market capitalism overstressing an area, followed by predictable environmental backlash as the resources weren't stewarded, followed by the abandonment of the free marketers as the investments weren't profitable, and the ultimate salvation coming from classic New Deal big government of the Roosevelt era.  It may not sound nuanced, but it's pretty coherent, and Burns makes it pretty tough to argue otherwise.  There isn't much "Yeah, but..." that came to mind when I was watching this one.

The parallels to our current day aren't hard to find, and Burns thankfully doesn't insult our intelligence by pointing them all out.  He spends only a small amount of time hand-wringing about our admittedly irresponsible use of underground aquifers to make this region farmable once more.

Overall, the film is Ken Burns doing a lot of what he does best.  

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