I'm a fan of the Apple+ series For All Mankind, which imagines an alternative reality in which the Soviet Union reaches the moon first, gaining enough prestige to avoid disintegration, the U.S. sets up a rival moon base and everyone ends working together on Mars.
For all the "tragedy, selfishness, cheap politics and bigotry," writes Rick Hess, the series is "interwoven with flashes of heroism, honor, aspiration and sheer awe."
At the start of Season 3, two years ago, Vanity Fair reviewer call For All Mankind "competence porn," Hess recalls. The series imagines the U.S. government as a force for good, and rejects "fashionable catastrophism."
For All Mankind "celebrates resilience rather than trauma," he writes. "I’ve always found that teens fare better when they see their world as much more than a hopeless hellscape."
The series deals with gender and race: Women, including a black woman and a gay woman, join the astronaut corps much earlier than in our reality. A female Mexican immigrant becomes a star engineer. (An engineer as a hero! No wonder my husband likes the show.)
It's not just virtue signaling, writes Hess. It's inspiring.
He cites Robert Pondiscio's lament in The Unbearable Bleakness of American Schooling:
[Today] curricula and school culture seem nearly to revel in the bad and the broken, suggesting to children that they have suffered the great misfortune to have been born into a country that is racist to its core, whose founding documents were lies when written, and where democracy is hanging by a thread. Not that it matters, since we are just a few short years away from irreversible climate catastrophe . . .
Teachers assign young-adult books that focus on suicide, drug and sexual abuse, racism, police violence and rape, Pondiscio writes. It's depressing.
"It can feel like self-loathing and tales of oppression are the hallmark of sophistication and authenticity," writes Hess. "I regularly hear from college students and K–12 parents that voicing optimistic or patriotic sentiments in class can spark ridicule or derision — even from teachers. "
Those who want to change history and civics instruction claim it's "little more than a triumphal recitation of presidents of generals," Hess writes. Forty years ago, perhaps, teachers may have paid plenty of attention to "Valley Forge and the Federalist Papers and Gettysburg and the passage of the 13th Amendment and Pearl Harbor and the Berlin Airlift." But not in 2024.
In For All Mankind, some individual Russians and North Koreans are good guys, but Communist officials are not. (U.S. officials and Musk-ish CEOs may be self-serving, but not evil.)
I wish there was more attention to economics: If a meteor containing $20 trillion in iridium can be mined, wouldn't the price of iridium go down as supply increased? Just asking for a friend.
Hess thinks social-studies teachers should watch the show to explore all the "what ifs" with their students. But, also, the kids could use some techno-optimism. Or just optimism. Remember when "hope and change" were good things?