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Boys State Review

In only the first few minutes, Boys State sets itself out as covering a prestigious event that churned out the likes of Dick Cheney, Bill Clinton and prides itself on being a torchbearer for the modern politics of America. It presents such an ideal as a positive reinforcement of the history of this organisation, and one that is doing a little bit of good for the world. Regardless of where you fall in the debate, Boys State certainly has interest lingering at its core. Following the lives of a select few members of the Boys State Class of 2018, a large group of traditionalist Republicans vying for the top spot against a quietly progressive Democrat.

Breeding patriotism, militaristic values and a pledge of allegiance to Christ’s red, white and blue, Boys State details a certain level of brainwashed individual, those who fight one another, debate the arguments presented by opposing men their age, as they try and prove themselves the best candidate for politics. Whilst I personally have never understood patriotism or respect for a country’s flag, I appreciate the drive they have. Boys State does a good job of amassing that feeling from its subjects, underlying stereotypes that I had held about budding young right-wingers weren’t exactly proven true, but it’s not as if they were discredited either. It does amaze me that people can get so passionate about these subjects, but this documentary does a great job of trying to show why, without convincing their audience if that’s the right or wrong stance to take.

As an event, Boys State merely mocks up the government procedures that many would argue need shaking up from the inside. A microcosm of modern politics, a biodome that recreates, as best it can, the current political system. The documentary is filled with interesting, poignant moments, the adapt or die mentality of so many of the candidates here is rather worrying. Their dedication to joining in with the practice of the system and the pride they have for it is wholly interesting the whole way through. A great deal of those there are clearly there just for fun, but it’s those that pull their weight and throw their initiative into this system that prove themselves as both the most concerning, but also the most likely for leadership.

“My stance on abortion would not line up well with the guys out there, at all, so I chose to pick a new stance. That’s politics, I think. That’s politics.” No line of any interview struck me more than this, and it’s incredible how well this one snippet summarises what many see to be wrong with the system. It injects a few moments that feel too good to be true, but that may come down to editing and the style in which this documentary goes for. Boys State never brings itself close to a pay-off, often shying away from fascinating avenues to keep focused on the prime story, gambling on whether or not that general election is going to be as incredible as we’d expected it to be.

If the objective of Boys State was to confuse, discredit and mock this organisation, then they do so without really trying. A rare example of a director merely their camera at a subject, and letting the interviewees words themselves drag them through the mud or bolster their ideas, shining a light on what little good can come from these competitive kids. The best thing I can say about Boys State is that it’s a rare spark of debate, a water cooler film that will inevitably create discussion. It’s amazing as a documentary, a ghoulish, fascinating piece that details an event many of us in the U.K. hadn’t even considered realistic, let alone known of.

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Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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