Binge or Purge?: Crash Course
We take a trip to one of YouTube’s many educational channels to see if Crash Course is an actual information superhighway.
Often times, when winding down after a long day, the entertainment medium a lot of us at the site go to isn’t Amazon, or Hulu, or Netflix. It’s YouTube. YouTube has shorter content, on various themes: from entertainment to education to strategy guides. It’s also a rabbit-hole only rivaled by Wikipedia (or Reddit, if you are
a racist economically anxious). Often a 7 minute cool down can turn into a 7 hour marathon. Since YouTube is so binge-able, why not pick out some of what we are bingeing on?
Great suggestion, glad you brought it up.
Crash Course is the collective umbrella of many (currently 33) subcategories providing short, punchy, animated educational series. The series, created by brothers Hank and John Green, span all of time and space, covering such topics as World History, Physics, Mythology and Film Studies. The show was on the tip of YouTube’s early expansion spear, and has since partnered with PBS digital, allowing it to branch into children’s education, even shorter education bites called “Recess”, and a version of the show delivered in Arabic.
We’ll take a snapshot of a few of the series, giving a brief look at different topics as well as different hosting styles. Consider it a cliff-note on a Crash Course.
Host: Hank Green
This episode of Crash Course delves into the American societies of the Incas and Mayas, whose exploits in numerology and calendars was of particular note.
While I have enjoyed the chronological nature of most of the Hellenistic sciences, the looks at parallel cultures was more interesting to me. I’ve read enough western history to understand what Greece and company were up to, and I’ve even taken a Chinese history course; the Americas, India, and Arabian scientific history was definitely a selling point for me on this series.
This series most closely follows the “Crash Course” formula (as defined by the original entry): lightly witty banter, introductions to a few leading figures of the time, then a “Thought Bubble” animated short that does a deeper dive into a specific person, place, or event. Hank is informative and witty without making the lessons into a big production. While 12 minutes is a short time to cram so much knowledge in, hey, this is a Crash Course not a full lecture. I felt like I learned just enough to have things I could dive deeply into on my own should I want to.
Host: Mike Rugnetta
Taking a break from the well-known heroes of Greek, Norse, and Indian myth, Mike relays the family friendly version of Ma’ui, the Godling responsible for the islands, weather, and much more.
Ma’ui has gone from a hero only known to Pacific Islanders to worldwide recognition thanks to the hit Disney movie Moana. I had done a deep dive into the character myself in preparation for reviewing that movie, so I wanted to see how my Wikipedia-wandering stacked up. Quite frankly, I think Wikipedia wins. While the story is roughly the same, 12 minutes only allows for a basic interpretation, one that skips the regional flavors. Ma’ui is a part of several Pacific Island myths; he varies greatly from benevolent to helpfully mendacious. His stories can also range from PG to “Cover Your Eyes Children, here be Razor Vaginas”.
I like Mike Rugnetta as a host… when he’s not apologizing or bogging down in caveats. He’s very welcoming, a warm and friendly persona. He also tries to get in front of any controversy that accompanies myth; what some call fairy-tale many cultures still actively believe to be historical fact. Myths also tend to have tons of gore and sex, often incestuous or… well… rapey in nature. Sometimes making sure all the jimmies aren’t rustled ahead of time takes Mike out of his flow.
And while I thought his running gag/animated cohost Thoth (the Egyptian God of Knowledge/Science/Writing) was cute at first, it got old fast.
Host: Michael Aranda
If you’re going to dive into a show about something as subjective as Film Criticism, why not start with a movie apparently every critic has an opinion on: Citizen Kane. Spoiler: I don’t.
This introduction does a good job of using one film to point out what separates useful film criticism from just bitchin’ about movies. It lays out some helpful ground “rules”, uses quotes and scholarly definitions, and talks abut how one approaches pop-culture icons. It’s useful, just not super entertaining.
If Hank was the baseline and Mike Rugnetta was a little too focused on his audience then Mike Aranda seems a little too into his topic. He can get a little too talky, most noticeable by a fast cadence. You can feel that he’s a cinephile; while it is endearing, it can get a little tiring. I didn’t watch past this episode. Perhaps he finds his rhythm (I think this is his first Crash Course).
Binge or Purge?
Find the stuff you like, or would like to know about, and Binge! The format is snappy, often witty, and the animation style is cute. Crash Course has just enough broad brush strokes to clue you in, with just enough depth to hook you. The variety of hosts is mostly nice: I enjoy shaking up the format with a little personal style. I’ve watched episodes in five other topics, involving three other hosts (and finally one Hostess!); all were at least enjoyable as a nightly unwind. If you like trivia, history, and pop-culture, Crash Course has you covered.