Nursery University, or WTF is wrong with New Yorkers

Well, I say “New Yorkers” like they were all the same, but that’s my prerogative as a guy from L.A. Really, of course, I’m referring to Manhattanites, who are like our West Siders: Wealthy, mostly white, socially conscious, status seeking, etc.

Not sure they’re competing for spots in nursery school for their kids, though, which is what Nursery University is about. This documentary follows around some of these people as they navigate the overcrowded pre-school system in the hopes of pawning their spawn off on somebody.

Sorry. That was needlessly snarky. But I couldn’t help but feel that some of these kids would be better off at home. Mostly, though, I found myself marveling at how old everyone was. This is not just prejudice, although I’d be surprised if any of the white folk were under 40. And one woman had twins at 57!

Isn’t that nice? She’s single, 57 and has twins, one of whom (the boy) pretty clearly has a brain injury. That’s gonna be fun when she’s 70 and he starts going through puberty.

The big question I had was whether these particular schools actually offer, you know, better education, or if it was just a matter of prestige in getting in and paying for them? It’s not addressed clearly in the documentary but it’s hard to believe that there aren’t some reasonably good $15,000/semester schools that might be nearly as good. Or even $12,000. Laws of supply and demand being what they are, I couldn’t figure out what the supply was so small given the degree of the demand. (According to one admittance person, the demand has been going on for five years. Certainly enough time for more schools to open up.)

The pre-school people themselves are quick to point out that the value of the nursery school education, while not insignificant (in some impossible to quantify way) is certainly exaggerated. This doesn’t seem to encourage them to expand, but curiously, it also doesn’t seem to encourage them to raise prices.

I suppose this is very indicative of my mindset. Normal economics just didn’t seem to be in play. Making things more confusing was the fact that most schools used a lottery for admission! So, how prestigious could it be to get into a place that selects (at least in part) through sheer randomity?

And then I had a stylistic question, documentary-wise. When the kids that get into their schools do get in, was triumphant music really in order? I mean, what is it we’ve witnessed here, exactly? People who have chosen to live in this strange place, by these strange rules, have achieved some sort of victory.

So. Yay for them.

The minority couple from Harlem got into a school, too, along with some financial aid. But I just wasn’t clear on what this was buying them.

This is probably because I’m not from Manhattan. And don’t think much of status-based education. But I know this can end up being big money and opportunities, so I really had a hard time loathing the parents. Even the guy who seemed really gay and his South American wife were ultimately endearing. Though one can’t help but hope that they wouldn’t end up warping their poor children–particularly the family that relocated because their child wasn’t accepted into nursery school.

It’s a strange, distorted world. But, hey, it supplies “Law & Order” with plenty of plots.

Nice documentary. Not great. Left a lot of unanswered questions. But an interesting peek into that particular, peculiar world.

My G-G-G-G-eneration

The Kids Are Alright is on TCM now.

I love The Who.

But I don’t really relate to them. There’s never been much about pop music that I actually relate to, though I enjoy a lot of it. (Theo Boehm made a good comment on the tiredness of politicians “relating” to music and why can’t just one talk about Bach and The Art of Fugue?)

Every time I see Keith Moon, I think of Spinal Tap.

I also think of Bill Maher’s dumb-ass assertion that his music collection wasn’t hurt by drugs. (Even if it’s not entirely appropriate in Keith Moon’s case.)

Anyway, good show.


Documentaries are sort of treacherous things. Even the most honest intentions can create a false image simply due to what materials are accessible to the filmmaker. As a result, I tend to favor documentaries that don’t try to make some overarching point but rather honestly tell you a particular part of a particular story from a clearly stated point of view.

For example, I enjoyed Supersize Me not because it was a startling exposé on the dangers of fast food but because Spurlock set the–clearly biased–ground rules in advance. He told you up front he was going to overeat, under-exercise, and otherwise skew things toward their gruesome conclusion. (He dropped that honest in his “30 days” series, unfortunately, making it unwatchable to me.)

I used to be a big fan of Michael Moore, watching “TV Nation” and “The Awful Truth” quite dedicatedly, up until the point I realized that, in his world, nothing is more important than the point he’s making. He treated people quite badly on his show–people who did nothing other than allow him access to their world and dare to differ in their opinions. Later I found out how terribly he had slanted his seminal Roger and Me.

Sicko is sort of fascinating, I admit. It’s apparently technically accurate while at the same time, such a blatant insult to the intelligence, one wonders why anyone would bother. When he cites a survey stating that the USA is 36th in world health care, just slightly ahead of Slovenia, one wonders why Americans aren’t flocking to the slightly higher ranked Costa Rica. Or why Canadians, at #30, would so much as dream of coming to the USA for medical treatment. (A touching fictional characterization of this is shown in The Barbarian Invasions.)

He even extols the virtues of Cuba. Cuba! Castro sets up a glossy free health care clinic and a bunch of “useful idiots” flock down and say how wonderful it is, without ever bothering to notice how few Cubans actually get to use it and are relegated to dumps. Cubans come to American on freakin’ doors! And even with the sham front, Cuba still manages to get a lower rating on that survey Moore tries to shame America with.

Besides which, Farenheit 9/11 (the title a stupid and horrible rip-off) stayed in theaters so long a bunch of good indie films and docs never had a shot locally. It’s up there with What the #$*! Do We (K)now!? among films that annoyed me just by being successful enough to take up valuable cinema space. (And you just know they hung on because true believers were dragging their poor friends to see these “life-changing movies”.)

Anyway, the great documentaries aren’t political. Or rather, the great documentaries that ARE political tend to be viewed through a different lens over time. I go to the movies for a lot of reasons, including escaping politics. I’ll take a little movie like Paper Clips or Murderball to show me places and lives I’ve never known, or a Bukowski or Divan to show me people from different walks of life.

This all brings me to the latest documentaries I’ve seen, both wonderful, and both very different: The King of Kong and In The Shadow of the Moon. Reviews coming.