During his tenure as chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting from 2003 to 2005, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson caused much controversy by investigating the “liberal bias” of PBS programming and making no bones about his desire to “balance” public TV by tilting it to the right. Carrier—a massive documentary about everyday life on the USS Nimitz—definitely feels like a relic of the Tomlinson era, but it’s revealing and absorbing enough to make its political intent a nonissue.
With a crew of around 5,000, the Nimitz is often described as a mobile town, but the youthfulness of the crew brings another metaphor to mind. “Basically, [it’s] a big-ass floating high school,” says one sailor. Men outnumber women by about 4:1; ethnically, the crew’s as diverse as they come. Beyond gender and race, it soon becomes clear that the Navy attracts a certain personality type—smart and soft-spoken—and has a lot more tolerance for individuality than other branches of the military (we also meet a large number of sailors who were abused as kids and enlisted in pursuit of the structure and discipline they never received at home).
Several sailors bluntly denounce the present war, and gay relationships are apparently accepted with a nod and a wink. Even so, rhetoric about terrorism is hard to avoid (all of it comes from white sailors). Once the preliminaries are over, Carrier dwells on how little Americans know about each other (one sailor talks about how “average” 19-year-olds all work at McDonald’s, when in fact 63 percent go to college). Like many themes here, it’s one that director Maro Chermayeff lets viewers detect for themselves. Still, when she falls back on montages set to power ballads with on-the-nose lyrics—it happens about twice an hour—viewers are advised to hit the decks.