I love history, so much such I decided to study it as a college major. There is so much to know about the past and understand ourselves like it was one big never ending story of mankind with all the intrigue included. I know that there’s a lot of violence, death, sex, and other unpleasant things (history isn’t a G-rated subject, you know) but I don’t mind reading about it or watching history documentaries. Actually, that’s how I find out most of history anyways apart from watching PBS, or studying it in college. However, I’m not a big fan of the History Channel and don’t like the content shown on there. In fact, I think it’s utter sensationalistic garbage in which the content has nothing to do with history, or is in any has any educational or cultural value whatsoever. Of course, I didn’t have cable as a kid, so I missed out on how the History Channel used to be back in the day when they showed actual historical documentaries with relevant information but at least there was PBS which still stays true to its original purpose. The History Channel, not so much since it has now become a network devoted to reality shows, pseudoscience, conspiracy theories, doomsday scenarios, and other things that have absolutely nothing to do with history. Of course, they went into a phase when that channel mostly showed stuff pertaining to WWII and Nazis but at least that was real history. Yet, whatever integrity this network used to have at an earlier time has now disintegrated into programming meant to appeal to the lowest common denominator and commercialism.
At an earlier time many would say that educational networks like the History Channel would replace PBS, a premise which has now become completely untrue. In fact, the decline of commercial educational television is all the more reason why PBS should continue receiving more government funding. Most of PBS’s content has remained unchanged since the 1970s and managed to retain it’s respected reputation as an outlet of quality programming regardless of their ratings. Sure it may air their crap during month long pledge breaks (at least my local affiliate does), but it’s not the end of the world. By contrast, the History Channel’s programming has changed drastically since its 1995 founding, from a network featuring documentaries to one producing almost anything to get ratings. Of course, straying from their formula has gotten big ratings (making me wonder what’s going on with America), but has lost it’s original soul and rarely airs something pertaining to history. And being a commercial for-profit network may be one of its reasons. Seeing how other commercial educational networks have declined considerably it’s no mystery why since media execs will likely sacrifice their content and identity for big ratings and big profits. Apparently educational programming doesn’t seem to attract big ratings so the commercial educational networks turn to reality shows and speculative stuff. Also, they’re cheaper to produce and don’t take much research. But just because the History Channel may get better ratings doesn’t mean the quality is good since they’ve already sacrificed that.
Then there’s the notion on that The History Channel has changed it’s name to History even though it seems to be really stretching the definition. Back in the day, history used to mean the study of human events in the past since the invention of writing. Now thanks to The History Channel, it can have as mean almost anything you want it to be. Yeah, right. Still, here is a rough outline what content consists of history and which doesn’t:
History: wars, battles, ancient and medieval civilizations, documentary testimony and evidence, genuine artifacts and excavations, interpretations and analysis based on fact, and anything pertaining to the study of the past.
Not History: conspiracy theories, aliens, ghosts, anything set in the present, antiques selling, apocalyptic scenarios, doomsday prophecies, mythology, monsters, speculation on religion, pseudoscience, pseudohistory, and reality shows.
Guess which is on The History Channel? Whatever is on the “Not History” group.
Look, when it comes to ancient ruins, I’m sure even the best archaeologists have their own theories on their construction but saying that they were built by aliens goes beyond ridiculous. Not to mention, it’s kind of insulting to the indigenous cultures of Africa, Asia, and the Americas who actually built such artifacts as if they weren’t intelligent or sophisticated enough to do so which we can’t fully understand in the all-knowing Western world. Well, maybe those cultures weren’t as uncivilized as people here make them out to be or that we don’t understand everything. Not to mention, we know most of the indigenous people built many of those structures themselves. And seriously, all the stuff about prophecies and apocalyptic scenarios may be appropriate on the Syfy Channel or The Twilight Zone but not on something with a name like History. Then you have stuff about conspiracy theories, which is all seen as speculative and subjective as well as probably not true. Besides, a lot of history’s mysteries don’t usually involve an elaborate conspiracy theory. As for reality shows, well, just don’t get me started. Sure you may have had ice truckers, pawn stores, and ax men in the past, but their shows examine their lives in the present yet unfortunately probably consists of the closest thing to educational programming on there besides Modern Marvels. At least The History Channel doesn’t have to make some stuff up from those shows but I’d usually refer reality shows as the bottom of the barrel in quality programming.
Yet, as with stuff they do show in the documentary style, much of it is filled with outright bullshit presented in an educational format. Look, I don’t mind the network talking about ancient religion or mythology since a significant portion of it can have some basis in fact and has cultural relevance. But saying something along the lines that “The Mayans were right,” is just beyond ludicrous. All the rest of the pseudoscience and pseudohistorical documentaries may be appropriate if we lived in the Dan Brown or L. Ron Hubbard universe but we don’t. But no matter how hair-brained the claim is, it’s still presented as historic truth while established fact is treated as up for speculation. It’s no wonder why people in history professions absolutely hate this channel. Apparently, when it comes to documentaries, The History Channel doesn’t seem to have people to check for facts or inaccuracies. Oh, wait, they already fired them years ago since they kept challenging “their version” of history which “if you don’t know, say it was aliens or some large conspiracy, they won’t know the difference.” As someone who has studied and read quite a bit about history, I do know the difference between accepted evidence and bullshit but there are plenty who don’t. And if people start associating history with conspiracy theories and pseudohistory, then we have a problem, big time. Yet, if The History Channel wants to call itself an “educational” network, then they should stop showing programs that either mislead or have dubious educational value. But of course, they won’t since many consider actual history “boring” and their shows get big ratings.
For now, a more appropriate name for The History Channel would be “The Bullshit Channel” or “The Hysterical Channel” because over there, the truth is history.
And if I want to see actual history documentaries, I’ll watch PBS.