Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Review of Faces Of America - Episode 4

Last night, the final episode of Faces of America entitled Know Thyself appeared on the PBS network.  The series by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. traces the family history of 12 renowned Americans and attempts to answer the questions What made America? What makes us?

After viewing the episode here are my thoughts on the specific episode:
  • While this was not my favorite episode out of the series (it was actually the second episode that moved me), it was important in showing what DNA testing can and cannot do in terms of genealogical research.
  • We had another great online chat at GeneaBloggers after the show with lots of great information exchanged.
  • Many people on the chat wanted to know the specific prices for each of the DNA tests (the complete genome test, the racial percentage test and the common ancestor test).  Let's just say the range is up to $68,000 for the complete genome test by Knome.
  • I had much respect for Louise Erdrich's decision not to have her DNA tested.  Being of Native American ancestry, she made it a point to go back to her family members especially her elders and ask their permission.  They said that "it wasn't hers to give."
And here are my thoughts on the series overall:
  • I don't feel that Faces of America has had the impact that African American Lives or African American Lives 2 has had.  Unless there were some compelling special features, I'm not certain folks will purchase the DVD set of Faces of America.
  • Unfortunately Faces of America had to compete against the Winter Olympics broadcast on NBC.  This meant that the first episode - which aired before the Winter Olympics - tried to profile all 12 subjects and the result was a very scattered and confusing episode.  Episodes 2 and 3 aired during the Winter Games and were actually the best out of the four.
© 2010, copyright Thomas MacEntee


theKiwi said...

So far I've only see the first episode and agree with your sentiment about it - seemed to lack focus.

Episdoes 2 and 3 are on the DVR and Episode 4 will be put there this weekend so we'll have the rest to watch.

Martin said...

I thought Louise Erdich's decision was interesting and I respect her decision. That said, I don't understand it. A person's DNA is unique unto that person. So unless you have an identical twin, why isn't yours to give? How does your family or community hold that over you? Do they say, Louise you are a great writer, but you can only write for us. You can only publish things that we will read? No. So when we share ourselves, souls, intellect, personality, why not our DNA? It's a strange line in the sand.

Joan Miller (Luxegen) said...

I agree with the feeling of fragmentation of the series. At times I wanted them to concentrate on one person and tell their story, completely to the end, instead of jumping around.... A better model would be the biography channel approach of one person/topic per show.

Re Louise Erdich's decision - I believe I understand it. Her whole identity is in who she is and her writings about her people. Her DNA is a sum of all the DNA of her ancestors and she showed respect by asking her family their opionion. She is comfortable in herself and her culture and identity. DNA results could reveal a finding that could rock the foundation of her beliefs, culture and identity although I don't think her decision to not be tested was because of that. She was showing respect for her elders and ancestors. I admire her for her decision.

Good summary, Thomas.