Why are documentaries about millionaires’ trips to space pure propaganda?

    Jeff Bezos would like you to know that he has dreamed of going to space since he was a child. That’s the first point that the new Amazon Prime documentary, Shatner in Space, which can already be seen in streaming, strives to do. The next two are: Jeff Bezos loves it Star Trek, and Jeff Bezos’s goal of putting Earth’s trash into orbit is noble and worthwhile, respectively. Also, there is a minor additional point, which is that Jeff Bezos has been working out, but that’s neither here nor there. After all, this is a documentary about William Shatner, right?

    At least, that’s how it’s advertised. A press release promoting its premiere features the documentary as a “one-hour special documenting William Shatner’s life-changing flight into space.” Unfortunately, Shatner in Space it is more of a blow to Jeff Bezos’s ego than a unique character study of the captain, who has lived long and prospered.

    The documentary begins innocently enough, with a poignant series of scenes in which the actor dwells on the present day about outer space, along with snippets of him as a young Captain Kirk in old episodes of Star Trek. But within three minutes, Bezos makes his first of many appearances to take Shatner, and by extension the public, on a visit to the Blue Origin offices.

    Jeff Bezos would like you to know that he has dreamed of going to space since he was a child, that is the first point that the new Amazon Prime documentary Shatner in Space strives to do.

    Amazon prime

    Before a chance meeting brought them together (we are not told where or why that meeting occurred), Shatner says that he had only read about Jeff Bezos in the press and that he had the same impression of him that many other people have: a Rich guy who founded Amazon and looking for a new way to spend his money. “But I didn’t know,” says Shatner during an on-camera interview, “that he’s had this dream all along.” Do you all see? Bezos’s rocket-penis is no strange midlife intergalactic crisis. It’s a childhood dream come true!

    Things get worse. Bezos proceeds to explain to Shatner why he thinks it’s important for humans to be able to get to space safely and cheaply (the documentary doesn’t exactly define what “cheap” might mean to Jeff Bezos, but the seats on board the flight with Blue Origins crew in July cost $ 28 million). The camera stays to capture Shatner reciting Jeff Bezos’s vision of Blue Origin to the CEO at face value. “What lofty ambitions,” says Shatner after nailing the commission. “I can support it!”

    Some of Bezos’ jokes in Shatner in Space are so defensive, and the scenes so inauthentic, that cynics might wonder if Amazon used the ever-affable Shatner as a way to pass off this special as a legitimate form of non-fiction entertainment rather than what it actually is: a long and nauseating attempt to improve the image of Bezos and Blue Origin.

    blue origin space doc

    Some of Bezos’ jokes in Shatner in Space They’re so defensive, and the scenes so inauthentic, that cynics might wonder if Amazon used the ever-affable Shatner as a way to pass off this special as a legitimate form of non-fiction entertainment.

    Amazon prime

    Coincidentally, Shatner in Space It’s not the only documentary about the corporate space race to have recently been released on a streaming giant. Countdown: Inspiration4 Space Mission, which premiered on Netflix in September, detailed preparations for SpaceX’s launch of the first fully civilian mission in orbit.

    Like Shatner in Space, Countdown it looks more like an expanded version of a Superbowl commercial than a critical docuseries. This is even more frustrating when you consider the historical event that filmmaker Jason Hehir was invited to film. Four civilians embarking on a three-day journey beyond the International Space Station should have made for a great movie. Instead, thanks to an egregious amount of aggrandizement about SpaceX and the takeover of the space exploration tech industry, Countdown failed to deliver on the promise of its source material, much less present an authentic picture of the ongoing debate on the merits, The the lack of them, of private space tourism.

    Both works are advertised by their respective streaming platforms as non-fiction works, but, importantly, neither of them fits what the typical viewer might expect from a documentary, even when that term is applied to an increasingly diverse number of works. In the nonfiction film industry, some critics are beginning to question the growing distance between what documentaries claim to be and what they really are.

    countdown inspiration4 mission to space l to r hayley arceneaux and jared isaacman in countdown inspiration4 mission to space cr netflix © 2021

    Does it matter if these documentaries are actually just infomercials sheltered under the oversized term ‘documentary’? ”


    “What looks like a documentary can mean a lot of different things,” Rob Swartz, senior vice president of cable network Reelz, told reporter Danny Funt. Funt interviewed Swartz for an article in the Columbia Journalism Review on the decline of journalistic rigor in the making of documentaries. In his article, Funt argues that as demand for documentaries by streaming services skyrockets, traditional journalistic constraints are being abandoned and replaced by more lax and pro-public relations principles.

    Seeing Shatner in Space Y Countdown: Inspiration4 Space MissionIt’s easy to see the evidence for Funt’s argument, but not everyone agrees to what extent the strict and time-honored practices of documentaries (such as the separation between producer and subject) remain important, especially in the era current content on demand. Summarizing the views of several producers he spoke to, Funt writes that “editorial guidelines only make sense for documentaries on serious political issues.”

    Does it matter then that Shatner in Space Y Countdown: Inspiration4 Space Mission
    are actually infomercials sheltered under the oversized term “documentary”? The answer to this question will largely depend on your policy.

    The mission of each piece is obvious: to win the favor of its subject and to make the general public take charge of their respective plans. Musk wants to force us all to live on Mars. Bezos wants to pollute the Milky Way. They are scandalous endeavors of dubious worth, but we, the people, can only give our rose – or, in this case of extreme capitalist competition, our consumer preference – to a suitor. So the CEO who makes the most compelling arguments, in real life and on screen, will win the people’s vote and, in turn, the influential government contracts needed to build their corporate space colony.

    If you agree with this situation, you probably Shatner in Space Y Countdown they will not offend you. But if you are skeptical of the privatization of critical government functions – and historical events like the Great Recession of 2008 suggest that a little concern might be justified – there is a good chance that you will find the incomplete and oversimplified narratives featured in these documentaries. of propaganda a bit disturbing. At the very least, they indicate the imprecise limits that the tech titans can go to in accumulating power on our new cosmic frontier.

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Why are documentaries about millionaires’ trips to space pure propaganda?