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“Boys State”: An Australian Perspective

If you have an Apple TV as I do you will no doubt have watched this boisterous flamboyant documentary, Boys State about the youth of Texas and how they look at politics.

Being an advocate for more political education in Australian schools, I eagerly awaited the contents of this 2018 documentary.

Every year 1,100 boys in all states (there is also a Girls State) apply for entry into a one-week programme where the state legislator is simulated and the boys have to take sides and duplicate all aspects of its procedures.

It is full of over-the-top American brashness, full-on testosterone, high school bands, drums and cross-party aggression. The week is sponsored by the American Legion with oversight and guidance.

The boys are embedded into two sides: Federalist and Nationalists – which turn out to be left and right.

The doco focuses on those seeking nomination for important positions in both parties. The two groups are expected to come up with a platform and at the conclusion a vote is taken for governor and other positions.

The viewer is presented with only a bare minimum of the concept’s history. However, we do find out that Dick Cheney, Cory Booker, Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh and Bill Clinton attended.

The directors, Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine, don’t waste any time in introducing the main characters who are in their own way typical 17-year old’s full of their own innocence or self-righteousness and we are apt to adopt the ones we share our values with.

Ben Feinstein is a “politics junkie” and double amputee from San Antonio. He is a Ronald Reagan devotee and even has a doll in Reagan’s image. He announces his personal platform when he explains to his family that it’s bad for America to focus on “race or gender or disability” rather than “individual failings.”

Steven Garza, is Ben’s political opposite. A quiet lad of thoughtful disposition who enters soon after. Then we have Steven Striver an open admirer of Bernie Sanders and surprisingly Napoleon. He describes himself as a progressive and arrives at the conference in a Beto O’Rourke T-shirt.

At the beginning, both of the boys Ben and Steven don’t interact because they are in opposing parties. Ben with the federalists and Steven with the Nationalists. Ben attains the position of party chairman.

Steven finds himself with the two other main figures: Robert MacDougall, Austin Smiler and the sharp-witted, razor-tongued René Otero, a transplant recipient from Chicago.

The energy of the boys at times leaves one exhausted as they draw up their platforms, attend endless meetings and participate in various activities including a talent show.

With the aid of multiple cameras, the four major charismata’s journeys are tracked from beginning to end.

Despite all the emotional ups and downs of these, at times, less than mature young men the editor manages to keep the narrative tight and on point.

Each party selects its own representatives and spends time arguing its platform. Suggestions range from the ridiculous to the profound. “They won’t take our manhood away.”

Both parties adopt the right to carry arms. The right because it is indelibly etched into their foreheads, and the left do so in the knowledge that they cannot win without doing so.

The right is opposed to abortion and the left are pro-abortion.

Throughout the movie I couldn’t help but think that these boys (mainly on the right) hadn’t caught up with the fact that there are those in their country who are still striving for equality.

Indeed, some of the lads seemed like they had swallowed a narcissism pill every morning.

I wondered what the Texas Bluebonnet Girls State might think of these guys and some of their views.

More information about the movie tells us that the Legion has:

“… sponsored a program for teenagers” since 1935 and that there “are separate programs for boys and girls.” The history is complicated, and instructive. The Legion sponsors Boys State, which the organization created “to counter the socialism-inspired Young Pioneer Camps,” as its website puts it. Girls State was first presented in 1937 and is run by the formerly all-female American Legion Auxiliary, a support organization. The girls’ program isn’t as prominent as the boys’, as the filmmakers’ indifference to it suggests.”

As enjoyable as the movie is, and I plan to watch it again, I was left with the thought that without the participation of both sexes it is incomplete.

The boys themselves range from the smart-arsed American to the charming, from the gifted to the Trump-like junior buffoons but mostly they’re kids seeking political maturity.

The latter part of the movie centres on the boys seeking election as governor or the important role of Party Chairman. Robert MacDougal is a candidate who stands against the Mexican lad, Garza. He is so impressed with his opponent’s ability to convey his message that he considers standing aside for him but his campaign is already under way.

Having read the room to be conservative on “pro choice abortion” he lies about his own ideology having drawn the conclusion that:

“Sometimes you can’t win on what you believe in your heart,” he looks into the camera. “It’s a morally questionable thing to lie in politics.” He then imparts the lesson he’s learned. “It gave me a new appreciation for why politicians lie to get in office.”

For those on the left watching this political melodrama play out, it is Garza, the son of Mexican immigrants and the sharp witted and very knowledgeable African-American Otero who steal the show.

It comes as no surprise when racist propaganda is used against both boys and it also comes as no surprise that neither boy takes the bite. Otero really does have an extraordinary grasp of the machinations of state politics and uses it with great effect.

Garza has a unique willingness to listen to those who disagree with him. Together with strong personal morals (other than gun control) of all the boys he is the one that leaves you with a very lasting impression.

Of course, in politics there is always a winner and a loser. I cannot disclose who becomes the junior state governor because it would spoil the movie for you.

Something similar to Boys State is desperately needed in Australia.

My test for any movie is the length of time it stays with you and this one is yet to exit my head: 4/5

Image from YouTube

My thought for the day

Character is a combination of traits that etch the outlines of a life, governing moral choices and infusing personal and professional conduct. It’s an elusive thing, easily cloaked or submerged by the theatrics of politics. But unexpected moments can sometimes reveal the fibres from which it is woven.

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  1. New England Cocky

    Hmmm ….. I wonder what would happen in Australia if the Aboriginal communities decided to implement such a training programme. Or have we already seen it with the Message from the Heart that the COALition rejected?

  2. Patricia

    Sorry John, I disagree with you on this one. We do not need any more testosterone fuelled political training for young men. This division of male and female in something that effects both genders and usually females disproportionately in the negative is not something that we need to introduce into young boys lives at a time when they are being moulded into adults.

    The facts that the boys are competing against only other boys is not representative of what happens in the real world, it might have been in 1935 but it certainly does not in 2020.

    What is needed is proper and factual information about the political process and if we are going to pit youngsters against each other in political debate then it should be on the basis that both boys and girls together have the same platform and the same opportunity to air their views.

    We certainly don’t need any more American macho crap being fed to our young men and the issue that has been highlighted recently at Shaw Grammar should tell us that single sex schools, for boys especially, does not make for equitable citizens or young men who understand their role in society.

  3. wam

    1000 boys in texas??? It is a documentary to send me back to the pool to warm my frozen blood.’
    1000 boys interviewed and chosen by the american legion:
    “It is the nation’s largest wartime veterans service organization, committed to mentoring youth and sponsorship of wholesome programs in our communities, advocating patriotism and honor, promoting strong national security, and continued devotion to our fellow service ..”members and veterans…”
    then selected scenes made into a documentary.

    The closeness of the church to the legion suggests some/all of the the topics not being women friendly.
    The rotten tomatoes give it 90% approval (RGB got 70%)
    don’t have a choctop or lunch before seeing it or take a sick bag.

    Patricia funny but the church still doesn’t have women competing???

  4. wam

    my rabbottians are sharing ACA
    wgere the are lying their arse off bu getting a septic to tell his truth with the comclusion
    libs gooood labor baaad

  5. New England Cocky

    Uhm ….. @Patricia … Why should the grils get any mpore advantages form our education system? Surely our young men need some guidance form experienced older men. The reasoning is simpple; generally in open competition the girls outstrip the boys! Several theories have been proposed for this phenomenon, including the social emphasis on sport as the mark of a man and the mollycoddling of girls with specialist school teachers ”to balance the gender inequities”, a facility denied to boys who usually have the same range of identity problems.

    As for the Shaw (sic) Shore hoodlums; this is a perfect example of why government funsding should be stopped to all church institutions where paedohile activity has been exposed and covered up by the institution. The funding of an exclusive elite detemrined to exploiit every financial opportunity offered by a talentless government is a travesty of democractic principles.

    @wam: If it is OK for the Roman Church and the Sydney Dioese of the Anglican Church to exclude women for the ranks of priests then it demonstrates that both churches should immediately have all government funding stopped permanently.

  6. B Sullivan

    These constant references to left and right demonstrate not just how meaningless but also how misleading the jargon of politics is. Countries like North Korea and China are denigrated for being one party states. The US is a two party state. It doesn’t make it any better. If anything it makes it twice as bad. It doesn’t mean that one party represents the “left” of politics and the other represents the “right”. Both US parties are staunch supporters of privilege for some to the detriment of fair rule of law for all. The parties may oppose each other on details but they are both of the same political flavour. The notion that the US offers an alternative to privileged control of government is an illusion. The obviously “right wing” Republican Party didn’t have to do anything to oppose the popular alternative policies of “socialist” (ie “evil”) Bernie Sanders. The slightly less obvious “right wing” Democrat Party did the job for them.

  7. wam

    Sorry, NEC, the constitution makes it legal for men to think for women except when women are menstruating at such a time even god has declared that, 25% of the month they and anything they touch are unclean and god fearing women believe it because god made them out of adam’s rib. I cannot fathom why he put a foreskin and a clitoris???
    I was being hurried by my darling and what errors???
    ACA has made an error and if only my rabbottians would consider the fake episode they may realise ch9 is not a reliable station and be less gullible??? I know I am dreaming but ????

  8. leefe

    You know why girls generally do better in school? Because they’re taught from the beginning to sit down, shut up and listen. To be compliant and attentive. While boys are allowed, indeed encouraged, to be loud and messy and active; to get away with misbehaviour. Of course girls will perform better in a system where you’re supposed to be quiet and attentive. Socialise boys, from birth, exactly the same way we do girls, and the differences in school performance will be minimal.

  9. Mark Shields

    Don’t use Apple! I believe they are commercially corrupt and refuse to pay tax in Australia! Stop being an “IT Trendy” and start buying Low-Town IT products, like the rest of us! At least small companies end up paying their fair share of Tax! APPLE are one of the worst Tax Avoiders on the planet!!

  10. Anne Byam


    ” Being an advocate for more political education in Australian schools, I eagerly awaited the contents of this 2018 documentary. ”

    I have to disagree with your advocacy here, although we all have the right to advocate for anything we like. The main reason for my concern is however, when one looks at the current state of the U.S., it’s the emphasis on politics from a very early age, that produces much of the arrogance, aggression, win-at-any-cost, reading of their own history to the exclusion of other countries, not to mention the racism there, that produces the rather awful attitudes a large % of Americans have, and they now have a leader who exemplifies that to the enth degree. He is a product of the system that is ‘America’. But then they are all the product of the system that is America. Some brave souls have been and are, able to move beyond it.

    So, I would hate to see any greater emphasis on political education than there already is here in Australian schools, especially when it might begin in a very young persons’ school life. I have absolutely no doubt that whoever did the teaching, would also have a bias – and most likely would impart that bias to the young in their care, whether with intention or not. I have often thought ( and indeed have seen, albeit briefly – but it was enough !! ) … that a child ( about 6 yrs I think ) was given the U.S. flag along with oft repeated phrases about how very very important a treasure it is for them. I rather think that would be the norm in most families. !!

    You can’t move 30 yards ( or even less ) without seeing another flag, or many. Almost every home has one strung outside from the porch – and the kids have this drummed into them from day 1. The flag – the basis of Americas political ‘teachings’. The flag – an ever present reminder to Americans of their continual priority duties to country and constitution. For over 80 years, it has been the practice of Americans at the Olympics, to not dip their flag in recognition of leaders, VIPs of the host country. Such is their arrogance.

    The never-ending story of America, its’ politics, its’ history, its rituals, its flag where everything that is good, worthwhile and patriotic is painted in stars and stripes. Would not like to see that kind of thing here.

    Would like to continue seeing what we now have in the way of political education for older kids, a deep respect for our country, and pride in our flag without having to have it flown in our faces constantly.

  11. Josephus

    patriotism the last refuge of scoundrels- Johnson

  12. leefe

    “With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer, I beg to submit that it is the first.” (Ambrose Bierce)

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