I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

James Burke: Connections

by Johnathon Davis
Jan. 18, 2012
In the modern world, we are constantly bombarded with technology everywhere we go. Many of us never really stop to think about it either. Let’s face it- how many of you have really stopped to wonder about the sequence of events throughout history that lead up to such humdrum and commonplace items as a thermos? Believe it or not thermoses weren’t simply plucked off of trees, nor did they just simply appear out of thin air. The inventions we are surrounded with today have a long and complicated story of creation which often begins with something seemingly unrelated being discovered first.

The first thing we hear from Burke in the opening minute of episode 1 sets the tone for the entire series:

“Would you do me a favor? I’d like to stop talking for a minute, and when I do, take a look at the room you’re in, and above all the man-made objects in that room that surround you. The television set, the lights, the phone, and so on. And ask yourself: what do those objects do to your life just because they’re there?”

With that statement alone (which, by the way, is delivered in a tone that makes it sound like it’s mid-conversation) James Burke set his program apart from all others. He addresses the viewer quite casually, almost as if he’s conversing with you personally about things while seated in your own living room. Everything is put forth in layman’s terms, with no collegiate mumbo jumbo getting in the way. He also displays a very dry, almost dark, sense of humor about things at the most unexpected of moments. For instance, how many science/technology/anthropology programs do you know of that freeze frames the proceedings to proclaim that frilly knickers are the next instrument of change?

All kidding about aside, this is a really terrific series. I first found out about it at the tender age of 11. It still has a lasting effect on me to this day. Burke uses an interdisciplinary approach to the subjects at hand, so how anybody could possibly be bored by this or come away from it uninformed is one hundred percent beyond my comprehension. Show it to your kids, show it to your friends, and don’t forget to show it to yourself!

What’s really unfortunate is how relatively unknown Connections is to American audiences. It was shown on PBS in the early 80’s and is readily available on DVD here, but I haven’t met a soul who has seen it- not even in its sporadic reruns. Lucky for you Network Awesome did the righteous thing (as usual) and stepped up to the plate so we can all enjoy the series whenever and wherever we want to as much as we so desire. Do yourself a favor and give it a watch; you might be surprised at just how interconnected with gadgets modern society really is once you stop to think about it- especially when you realize just how simple the beginnings of your alarm clock were.
Johnathon lives in Portland, Oregon. He makes collages. He also writes things for Network Awesome, as well as his weekly movie review blog which can be found at http://fshomevideo.blogspot.com. You should read it, it's really terrific.