Category Archives: history

>Making History

>When I was in high school, I remember my sister referring to what was then called The History Channel (now re-branded simply as “History”) as “The War Channel”. It seemed that the vast majority of the programming had to do with Twentieth Century wars in which the United States had taken part, such as World War II and Vietnam. Over time, the channel moved away from its primarily bellicose focus to include a wider variety of shows. The more apt re-branding would have been to call it “The Crackpot Channel”, based on the type of programming it now largely features.

Last evening for example, as part of its ongoing fascination with all things Dan Brown and his woeful fictionalization of history and theology, History presented a “documentary” about the masons who built the Medieval cathedrals. One particularly laughable section featured an “expert” who revealed that the figures of the Four Winged Creatures in the tympanum of Notre Dame de Paris are actually references to the Maya prediction of the world ending in 2012. No mention of course, of their actual origin in the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel.

And this is not the end of the nonsense. Even the New York Times has questioned the History Channel’s pop-event planned with respect to the discovery of a fossilized lemur which may or may not be an ancestor of modern primates (calling it “the missing link” is typical sensationalism engaged in primarily by MSNBC.) The Times reports:

On Tuesday morning, researchers will unveil a 47-million-year-old fossil they say could revolutionize the understanding of human evolution at a ceremony at the American Museum of Natural History.

But the event, which will coincide with the publishing of a peer-reviewed article about the find, is the first stop in a coordinated, branded media event, orchestrated by the scientists and the History Channel, including a film detailing the secretive two-year study of the fossil, a book release, an exclusive arrangement with ABC News and an elaborate Web site.

“Any pop band is doing the same thing,” said Jorn H. Hurum, a scientist at the University of Oslo who acquired the fossil and assembled the team of scientists that studied it. “Any athlete is doing the same thing. We have to start thinking the same way in science.”

If these were isolated examples, one could at least give them a pass. Unfortunately, they are part of a slew of shows that trot out all sorts of nonsense which seems to have, at its core, to cheapen history and science, to undermine the Catholic Church, or simply to present myth and urban legend as fact. The supposed experts which it trots out to speak about the Church, for example, are usually not Catholic theologians or historians, but individuals whose biographies usually reveal that they have sociological axes to grind. The few Catholics that do appear in their “documentaries” on Church subjects are individuals such as John Dominic Crossan or Father Richard McBrien, who are not exactly trustworthy.

When we add this to programming about suburban monster cats, ghosts and apparition, and blatant movie tie-ins, the end picture is one of a channel based largely on the presentation of nonsense. For every interesting show like “Modern Marvels” or documentary engaging in at least a semi-serious analysis of the historical record, there are three more that are, at best, a type of light popular history that could just as easily be found in the pages of the National Enquirer. Anyone seriously interested in historical subjects would be better served by spending the weekend watching C-Span’s Book TV which, while admittedly somewhat dull, actually brings to the camera historians writing on areas of interesting, legitimate historical inquiry.

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