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What's the Matter with Kansas?



Based on Thomas Frank's book of the same name, the film looks at how Kansas has transformed itself from a state of radicalism to extreme conservatism. It was one of the first states to legalize abortion, even before the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision made it so, yet now, it kills its abortion doctors in cold blood. In church, no less!

Frank appears in the film very briefly; director Joe Winston's camera focuses on select conservatives and liberals in the Sunflower State, without casting judgment on either. Both sides get to have their say, without commentary. "What's the Matter" isn't pro-Republican or pro-Democrat — it just is.

And frankly, that's the way it should be. As with the documentary "Hell House," the arm's-length approach lets viewers interpret the images. For example, a pro-life group sells teeny-tiny plastic fetuses for a quarter each at the state fair — are you sickened or counting your coins?

Seen at a book signing, Frank notes the irony of Kansas voting Republican based upon stated "moral values," when the GOP enacts no legislation related to such, nor of benefit to their working class. Those interviewed seem not to care; one conservative believes the "hatred" for President George W. Bush is "probably because he's a Christian"; another claims with absolute certainty that she's sending her daughter to an evangelical college because "secular professors" drive "80 percent of students" away from the Christian faith. Still another states as fact that the Columbine shootings were directly linked to the teaching of evolution.

No matter what ticket you vote, those kind of close-minded, ill-informed arguments can't do our country much good. It makes the doc’s Democrats look smart by comparison, even if their opinions aren't exactly erudite; witness "If I ever get breasts and a vagina, I can get in on that argument."

This is a fascinating and sometimes frustrating documentary. Take that as you will. —Rod Lott


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