DVD pursues the elusive perfect economic formula



Masters of Money -- As I write these words, I am now in the eighth day of our government’s shutdown. And watching the new Athena Learning DVD release of "Masters of Money" shortly before explained to me a lot of the background of how money is used to manipulate nations.

Narrated by the BBC economics editor Stephanie Flanders, the three 60-minute episodes deal with the economic theories of three men and the result of governments acting upon those theories.

The first is John Maynard Keynes, who strongly advocated government intervention when the economy is floundering. The second is Austrian-born Friedrich A. Hayek, who insisted that a free market would level itself out. Then there is Karl Marx, who saw a deal of good in capitalism but was sure it would never last because of the economic disparity between the workers and their paymasters.

After discussing the theories, Flanders explains why none of them worked out when put to the test. I kept waiting for a certain cause of why governments keep making the same mistakes, and it finally came in the last episode in which one of the speakers said that too many career politicians think only of being re-elected and are fearful of doing anything different.

To which I might add some words of W.S. Gilbert: "They’ve got to leave their brains outside and vote just as their leaders tell them to."

Usually economics leaves me ho-hum; but this DVD set gave me the facts in a clear and impressive way, although the sequence of lines of thought now and then could be rearranged somewhat for the sake of logic. And showing speeded-up traffic is a cliché that should be dropped by documentary makers.

The usually helpful Athena booklet is most useful in explaining some of the technical details mentioned in the presentation.

Mama’s Family -- When I have for review a DVD set that I simply don’t like, I usually ignore it. If I am moderately cool about it, I give a short report. But when it is a series that ran for six seasons, racking up 130 episodes along the way, my readers are at least entitled to know that it is now available. And so I must report that "Mama’s Family" has come out in a large boxed set on the Star Vista label. (Actually, the box and discs read "Star Vista, Time-Life, WB," but that’s the way things go today.)

I quote from the press release: "Set in the fictional city of Raytown, "Mama’s Family" revolves around the eye-opening escapades of the Harper clan, headed by formidable matriarch, Mama Harper, a fiery-tempered no-nonsense woman who does not suffer fools gladly." The attractive Vicki Lawrence makes herself plain-looking enough to play the role (but she is still very attractive) and is surrounded by a familiar cast that includes Rue McClanahan, Betty White, Ken Berry, Harvey Korman and Carol Burnett. And those are just the major actors in this saga.

There are 10 hours of bonus material, much of which is found on a seventh DVD, which will greatly delight avid fans. Any potential purchasers of this fairly expensive set have certainly seen enough of the show, so I will avoid synopses of any of the episodes. What I have seen on several occasions strikes me as being not particularly funny for the most part, because I find the humor generally forced and delivered in a hectic manner. I also find the high-pitched voices of the females grating and generally unpleasant. (I do, however, find Korman funny even when he just looks into the camera.)

On the other hand, there are no smarmy sexual innuendoes or "adult" (= moronic preadolescent) vulgar words and terms; and one can accept it as pure entertainment with not much mind-challenging content, if any at all. Also, a lot of the humor stems from (to quote the program notes), "the hilarious Southern idioms and the brilliant word play." There are also times when surface humor switches to "dynamic character conflict."

So there are many reasons why millions find "Mama’s Family" top notch entertainment -- and to them I dedicate this report.

Frank Behrens reports on classical and Broadway music as well as recordings of books and plays.


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