Sunday, June 22, 2008

Don't Know Nothin' 'Bout History

I tend to leave one of the tuners on the basement TV set to the History Channel, which means that I tend to watch segments of a lot of History Channel programming while I'm exercising. If it looks good, I'll tell the DVR to record the whole show--if not, then at least I've gotten a few little nuggets of info on one subject or another.

This means that I've watched a couple of hundred hours of History Channel programming in the past six or eight months (since I had both tuners on the DirecTV unit activated), and I've gradually determined what's wrong with the History Channel.

These guys have absolutely no sense of validity. They present every fad topic, from UFOs to Mayan Doomsday Predictions to Nostradamus to global warming, as if it's absolute wholly verified truth with no possibility of an alternative viewpoint. This isn't history, it's programming wikipedia style, with noone challenging unproven "facts" or offering valid alternative points of view.

This morning, for example, I caught the last 20 minutes or so of a program on the Mayan prophecy that the world will end on December 21, 2012. The slant of the whole program was that the Mayans were brilliant astronomers and scientists whose prophecies quite frequently turned out to be accurate. (Of course, this was supported by statements along the lines of "the 9/11 attacks were obviously forecast in the lines "And then bad things will occur, and people will be startled." You know--the sort of vague "prophecy" that people love to point to when they're trying to prove Nostradamus' prophetic skills.) At no point during this program did anyone point out that this sophisticated culture routinely practiced human sacrifice, that their medical knowledge was crude, resulting in disfigurement and early death, or that they failed to correctly predict the future in any way that could save their own culture. No, we're supposed to believe that because "the sun will align with the center of the Milky Way in 2012," the world is doomed just like the Mayans forecast.

(Doesn't the sun always align with the center of the Milky Way, by the way? I mean, you can draw a straight line between any two points, right? I presume they were trying to say that the Earth, the sun, and the center of the Milky Way would be in alignment... but this is the sort of pseudo-knowledge that the History Channel pumps out regularly.)

Why does this matter? Because the Mayans said that their primal god, the First Father, was beheaded in a bit of ball-game trickery when he was invited into the center of the galaxy a long time ago. Now how's that for hard science?...

I have more respect for the Smithsonian Channel, which tends to be more accurate; the Science Channel is modestly better, although it has some boneheaded programming, too. But the History Channel is about as fair a representation of historic information and its validity as Jerry Springer is a valid form of interpersonal counseling.

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