I'm all for a bit of good cheer and seasonal entertainment. But call me out of tune with popular culture… and I’ll appreciate the compliment.
So when my ageing satellite box blew a fuse a year or two ago, I had to ask: What was actually worth watching?
Property shows celebrating another couple diving into massive debt…? Mainstream Media news…? Strife-torn soaps…? Sifting through a ton of stubble to find a needle in Hollywood’s haystack of sex/war/state worship…?
What we choose to think on over time, determines outlook, faith, mental and even physical wellbeing. Yet many people have a kind of funnel over their head, and without any kind of filter, they allow a stream of government approved thoughts to be poured in. Their parents start the flow by handing them over to a government school system and then as adults they allow a government regulated, insider owned, "mind-stream" media to carry on.
In the end, I never did get a new satellite box – and have never missed it.
At the same time, most of us still want to just sit back and enjoy some good entertainment once in a while – and especially with Christmas time coming up. So what's the answer?
A Wide World of Entertainment
Well, there is a world of good entertainment available on the internet – in fact some of the best and most worthwhile programmes I’ve seen.
Of course, most people are aware of and use YouTube. I'm just one of at least a million of them who have "lol'd" and "rofl'd" while watching the hilarious "Trolling Police" video from crazy young Frenchman, Remi Gaillard.
But more particularly, I am referring to file sharing, downloading and “torrents”.
The fact is, with the real risk being way lower than crossing a street, for millions of users there is little such concern. The latest shows are also available – once you have found the handful worth watching. If concerns do persist, you could always use one of the many torrent-friendly VPN services out there.
A downloading program like “utorrent.org” is the first requirement. Then, search engines like “torrentz (.eu)” or “btdigg dot org” at least claim to be 100% legal by linking only to other third party sites. Depending where you are and what you click on, downloading the results might not be. You will also need broadband with if not unlimited, at least a substantial download allowance – a show or movie can be anything from a couple of hundred megabytes to a few gigabytes in size. Note that some also throttle torrent traffic.
You will need to download the programmes as video files on to a computer. But rather than use its smaller screen, much better to copy the files onto a memory stick and then plug that into an inexpensive, tiny “Media Player” device. These devices connect to your high definition flat screen TV for quality far better than a standard DVD player. They are also great for playing home video and pictures from camera SD cards.
There's a wide selection of them on Amazon, I suggest looking here, here, here, or here. You might well need an extra HDMI cable too.
Another, maybe even easier, way to get some shows is via paid download from Amazon Video. Using the free Unbox player (Windows PCs only) the files can first be downloaded and saved, and then copied onto a memory stick for large screen playback on a Media Player device.
Of course, those who do have a TV subscription may be able to get some of the fine freedom friendly shows I have come across, in a more official manner. The History Channel and the Discovery Channel strike me as having improved lately and may be among those few worth subscribing to.
By using any of these methods, there are actually some wonderful shows available, and even a small handful of Hollywood films that are passable too. I’m going to focus on a few that have been both beneficial and fun for my family, with a few comments for lovers of liberty:
One of our favourites and last year, the highest rated show on Discovery Channel was Series 2 of the reality show, “Gold Rush Alaska”.
A group of out of work friends with more guts than knowledge leave Oregon to mine gold. They are led and funded by Todd Hoffman with his father Jack, a quintessential western style “old timer”. His catchphrase is a squeaky, "no guts, no glory!” while his son sums it all up with: “I don’t believe in our economy… I believe in gold" and "So what are we sitting here for? Let’s get some freakin’ gold!”
The show is edited for effect, but pretty much unscripted. It is a rip roaring roller coaster ride, the ups and downs of a bunch of fellows and their families who have many failings but do really care about each other. The moderate but down to earth language is edited for family viewing, with terms like “frickin” or “freakin” favoured over the uglier version.
Even their church pastor joins them in the first series, and they are stepping out in faith in a way that reminded me of the early American pioneers. They pray together, forgive and forget, persevere through adversity, etc. etc. and heaven knows, they need to. In fact, they make so many mistakes, they need all the help heaven can offer – but though flawed, they are an admirable bunch.
So if you like gold, guns, guts, grizzled beards and grizzly bears, the third series of Gold Rush has started and airs on Friday evenings. It seems screen success has not changed the format too much. You might want to just buy Series 1 (Amazon video or HD Video) and/or Series 2 first, or download Episode 1 of the new series free from Amazon video (HD Video). The in between after-show specials are just as good, and the episode, "The Long Road" is a good series summary so far. There is also a recent special extended episode where Todd and the team go down to Guyana, South America looking for gold to mine – and find it.
Yet another gold mining adventure series has been running on Discovery called, “Jungle Gold“. You can watch the extended preview now for free. Two formerly successful Americans almost bankrupted by the property bust head off into Ghana, West Africa for gold.
A number of years ago I spent some time in Ghana and can confirm the incidents they face are typical and very familiar. Ghana is another country where government (funded mainly by international "aid") tries hard to interfere. Thankfully, it doesn’t work – if it did, everything would just grind to a halt. As it is, every step can be difficult and every official and unofficial obstructionist has to be paid off – I’m absolutely sure not even the half of it is shown on camera.
Ghana may be undeveloped, but once you know the score, have contacts and can find trustworthy local help, you can in many ways have more informal freedom than in the "first world" today. It is actually one of the better countries in which to live in Africa. Government has had its façade ripped off and few there have western style illusions about it. With some money from outside or a good business inside, life can be very good – especially on the more developed outskirts of the main cities, where land and property rights are better established.
Jungle Gold airs at weekends. The events in the show are definitely genuine, but apparently with partial or summarized re-enactment for the camera sometimes.
Living off the land
My household’s second favourite reality show this year and the First Lady's first choice was probably Series 3 of The History Channel's “Swamp People” (Amazon Video, HD Video – free preview). Set in Louisiana, it's about tough self reliant people with strong family and voluntary community ties, living off the swamps, and focusing around alligator season. A new series should be coming up next year for those who want more guts, guns and gators – or to be more precise, guns spilling gators’ guts. There are some great characters and having seen other lesser programs, it seems it is the producer’s choice of people that really makes a series.
Also up there with the very best of shows, are the Discovery reality series, “Yukon Men” (Amazon Video, HD Video) and similar, “Alaska – The Last Frontier” (Amazon Video, HD Video) – Season 2 is only available via torrent or on TV so far. Both are really excellent and you will soon settle on favourite characters. There’s probably not a bureaucrat within hundreds of miles of these hardy people. But still they manage to harass the Yukon Men from afar, with rules like an 18 hour window for fishing the salmon their very survival depends on. Another series along these lines is The History Channel's “Mountain Men“. All of these programs are sure to please "preppers" – and annoy bear huggers.
Minding their business
One of the hardest core shows ever on regular TV from a pro-liberty point of view is Series 1 of “Moonshiners“. You’ll have to exercise restraint not to throw something at the TV when useless bureaucrats with bullets constantly chase our heroes, who do nothing worse than make great liquor for those who want it. The legal defence for this show will be that there was no real alcohol and that it was merely a re-enactment – but it seemed mostly real to me. We really liked that show. A new series has recently started.
Moving over from adventure reality to just good business, there are quite a few great shows now. The name put me off initially, but actually “Pawn Stars” is terrific and the family run pawn business a good example of the (relatively) free market at work. The patriarchal Old Man could be kinder and more cheerful sometimes, but his quips, catchphrases, dressings down and digs are great entertainment too. There’s a copycat type show on the same History Channel called “Cajun Pawn Stars“. I actually liked that even more for the first two series.
One of the most fun type shows in this category is “American Digger” from Spike TV. The reality star is a former pro wrestler along with his artefact recovery crew, so there is a strong element of showmanship. But it's not totally faked… as far as I know. Don't miss the confrontation with Chicago police in episode 10. Some say yet another Spike TV show – “Auction Hunters” – is faked. They are actors as well as genuine dealers and the mine may well be salted for effect on occasion. But it is at least fun entertainment about deal making with the contents of abandoned storage units.
Thrills and spills
I came across the fiction series “Leverage” a couple of years ago, long after it had begun. It started out as a twisty well plotted con show, halfway between the A-Team and Mission Impossible, and way above typical prime time trash. The first two series and even the third had perhaps a 75% episode hit rate for us. The stories usually reflected disdain for following petty rules and laws in the interest of seeing justice done.
Unfortunately, the network bosses were obviously visited by the liaison officers of various government bureaucracies, concerned that the audience might start getting ideas. So the other 25% are either just badly directed or contain left leaning statist drivel with a bit of right leaning military statist drivel to "balance" it out. So far, the latest Series 4 has gone down this path further and we’ve now stopped watching.
But the early series are unusually enjoyable entertainment, produced almost to movie standards. There is some respect for God and church, but remember to discount the overall left bias with little concept of family and, no matter how great the dangers, an absurd gun control theme at times.
The only other reasonable fiction show we have found is the Canadian, "Murdoch Mysteries". It is intelligent non-Hollywood entertainment set in the 1890's – a time when police had only just been invented and at least activity was more focused on actual crimes. There was still a high episode skip rate for us in the first series, which seems to have improved in the second half of the second series with some excellent mystery stories that continued into the third. Halfway through the fourth series and so far there are some real ripping yarns – don't miss the pro-confederate Episode 7, with talk of splitting the US into provinces and a plot worthy of a movie.
It's not much, but these are the only fiction programs I can suggest.
Needles in the haystack
Decent movies have been rather thin on the ground lately, and I would never have come across most of these but for the internet (mostly via “yify-torrents”). Here are some that at least on balance might be palatable to family-friendly freedom lovers:
- "Man on a Ledge" (2012) – Pretty interesting thriller, with a theme of exposing police corruption.
- "The Double" (2011) – A pretty good spy/mystery/conspiracy thriller with Richard Gere.
- "The Adventures of Tintin" (2011) – Really great family entertainment set in the days when reporters actually rooted out corruption.
- "Treasure Island" (2012) – The old story again, but with new twists and very well done.
- "Fracture" (2007) – Older, but new to us – Anthony Hopkins in a first class mystery thriller.
- "Safe House" (2012) – Denzel Washington in a Bourne style conspiracy with old western style shootouts, except more blood.
- "Seeking Justice" (2011) Nicholas Cage is in New Orleans. Thriller about alternative systems of justice – benefits and pitfalls…
- "I Am Legend – Alternate Ending" (2007) An older, "preppers" delight, but revitalized with a much happier ending.
- "The Book of Eli" (2010) – Denzel Washington stars in a biblical flavoured apocalyptic action film.
- "For Greater Glory…" (2012) – Catholic Christians in Mexico fought to overthrow a Marxist regime in the early 20th century: Inspiring, entertaining, and a true story.
- "Alias Nick Beal" (194*) – Ray Milland is old Nick in this excellent analysis of political corruption.
- "The Black Book" (a.k.a. Reign of Terror) (1949) – Battling tyranny during the French revolution.
- "The Verdict" (1946) – Top notch Greenstreet/Lorre locked room mystery about an overzealous prosecution, later rectified…
- "The Hour of 13" – A great old British mystery film, with Peter Lawford.
Just for fun and laughs:
- "The Three Stooges" (2012) – The first half hour had me in stitches, the rest is so-so and too suggestive, especially for children.
- "Yogi Bear" (2010) – More laughs, some at the expense of politicians.
- "Three Little Words" (1950) – Fred Astaire/Red Skelton in Fred’s favorite film.
- "The Band Wagon" (1953) – Fred kicks again, and in glorious Technicolor.
Grand Final Thoughts
Are you kidding? …No final thoughts here, it is just the end of the list.
However, to conclude in a style in keeping with "Gold Rush Alaska":
“What are we sitting here for? Let’s get off our backsides" …and find that remote control.
PS: As a seasonal extra, I leave those with any latent or overt jazzy inclinations with the fabulous fiddlesticks of homeschooled family, the "Annie Moses Band" – "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" (older version).