Apocalyptic Fun With the OR COULD THEY? Channel


 I used to be a huge fan of The History Channel. I watched it religiously, practically every night and sometimes in the morning before going to work. I would rush home from work to catch programs whose titles alone would induce sudden somnolence in any normal person — “Modern Marvels: Paint,” just to pick one particularly dull example (and yes, they actually had a whole section on paint drying). The most oft-stated criticism of The Hitler Channel — well, I just stated it. I’m completely obsessed with World War II so it wasn’t much of a problem for me.

In addition to their fascinating programming on the history of the self-loading firearm and Hitler’s left nut, THC pretty frequently showed documentaries in what I fondly call the OhGodOhGodWe’reAllGonnaDie genre: docs on meteor strikes (particularly THC’s roughly eighteen-month Imminent Meteor Strike Orgy), supervolcanos, tidal waves (“Wrath of God,” anyone?), and other calamities, and lots of “alternative” history programs that were the direct descendents of Leonard Nimoy’s “In Search Of” (I get goosebumps just saying the title). I recall more than a few documentaries on alien abductions, a Bigfoot sighting or two, and a bizarrely straightfaced Amityville: The Haunting.

 impact event

Impact event artist’s conception courtesy of Wikipedia.

Depending on the dryness of the topic, the experts interviewed on THC used to range from mainstream scholars at the top of their fields to Squadron Commanders in the Space Patrol who just dropped in from Omicron VI to enlighten us before metamorphing into the next uvular dimension, BLOOP!!!! Hey, nobody loves pseudoscience more than me, and I’m happy to let Bigfoot hop on the tailgate and pop him open a Pabst.

Despite their nutty conflation of scholarship and delirium I found The History Channel’s programming an antidote to the rampant and growing anti-intellectualism I found in the rest of American culture. I’m not a big enough putz to think I was actually educating myself by watching it, but I did find intellectual stimulation in The History Channel’s programming.

Then it all went to shit.

In the last few years — and despite my spotty recent history of having cable, I’m going to estimate that it started in late ’01 — the History Channel’s programming went downhill and picked up speed. The channel now seems split more or less equally between shows of the Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! genre (“Hear from Bob Chandler, the ‘father’ of this crowd-pleasing motorsport!”) and religious and pseudoreligious fanaticism presented as “maybe” science.

Dore Satan

Satan by Dore, from Milton’s Paradise Lost (extract).

Tonight’s stumbleupon happens to be the perfect example: Doomsday 2012: The End of Days. It introduces itself with video images of mounting worldwide catastrophies — storm, tidal wave, pestilence, with the following voice-over:

It is a doomsday that is foretold in the Mayan calendar, the Chinese oracle of the I Ching, even an Internet based prophetic software program: 2012. A date that is prophesied as theend of the world. But is there any truth behind this dire prophecy? Could ancient oracles really predict the future?

Could they, History, could they indeed?

Things only go downhill from there, which seems to be a History Channel meta-theme these days.

The one-hour documentary offers a sordid collection of lunatics and pseudolunatics who suggest that the Mayan calendar ending in 2012 might indicate — along with prophecies from the I Ching, the Web Bot Project, and the prophecies of the “historical” Arthurian Merlin (???) — might offer proof that My God My God We’re all Gonna Die.

Merlin, from a French 13th Century source, via Wikipedia.

Merlin, from a 13th Century French book, via Wikipedia.

Between giving these wacky hucksters ample room to say things like “There’s no proof that the world’s gonna end in 2012… or is there!?!?” with images of wading Katrina victims in the background, the “documentary” trots out überskeptic Michael Shermer to mildly say “Uh, this is bullshit.” It’s not an entirely balanced perspective, and giving them any points for Shermer would be kind of like applauding the guy who’s screwing your wife because at least he’s wearing clean socks.

Hey, like I said — I love pseudoscience, and I trust consensus reality and the wisdom of crowds about as much as I trust the guy down on Broadway who every third day tells me his car broke down and he needs gas money to get his sister/wife/rottweiller to the doctor. Bigfoot, grab yourself a cold one; in the kitchen there’s a fresh pot of faintly phosphorescent goo for the Greys and salmon mousse for the Fiji mermaid. Nessie, the Chupacabra, the Jersey Devil — I love these guys: They keep it real. I cut my teeth on In Search Of, and it taught me both to think weird thoughts and be skeptical about them. There’s little I love more than a good cryptozoology documentary or a psychic wankfest about how the color of your aura determines whether you’ll survive the coming deluge.

But what the fuck is this crap doing on the History Channel? Isn’t The History Channel supposed to be about history… you know, the academic discipline, and more generally, the series of events — not things that never happened and never will happen… or will they!?!?

Durer woodcut The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Durer woodcut The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, from Wikipedia.

I don’t have an answer for you, for me, or for the spectral beings who keep trying to filter their way through my tinfoil hat. I write about this particular experience because, while it’s far from the first consumer humiliation I’ve suffered at the hands of the History Channel, it may well be the last, at least for a while. Sick and fucking tired of paying good cash Americanski to be led around by the dick, brutalized by mounting misogyny, and being fucked in the ass while two-thirds of the world tells me I’m being kissed, I and my girlfriend decided to flip Comcast a quartet of bitchy little birds. We cancelled. Tonight is the last night we’ll have cable television, and I say good riddance and good luck to the rest of you sorry sons of bitches.

I’ll be watching Jericho on Realplayer — which may not do much for my indignant sense of superiority, but at least it won’t add insult to bankruptcy.


My boy Nessiteras rhombopteryx, photo by Robert Kenneth Wilson, via Wikipedia. Through a medium who only charges $35 an hour, Dr. Wilson’s ghost informs me that he likes Jericho and hates the History Channel.


3 Responses to “Apocalyptic Fun With the OR COULD THEY? Channel”

  1. Ruth Says:

    I have always appreciated the History Channel’s Egyptian programming, although it looks like most of the serious programs recently on the subject have been on the Discovery Channel (who appears to have some sort of in with Zahi Hawass – likely something to do with the mummy DNA lab they bought the Egyptian Museum in Cairo).

    After the last Egyptian program they featured, consisting of an amateur’s theory that the three best-known pyramids were lined up with the stars in Orion’s belt (?!), I find myself sadly agreeing with your analysis of THC’s decline.

  2. Sharon Says:

    Welcome to the crowd. I ditched Comcast 6 years ago and am none the worse for it. If anything, I am better informed now than I was then.

  3. links for 2007-07-07 « Newsbong: Because News Matters, Kinda Says:

    […] Apocalyptic Fun With the OR COULD THEY? Channel « Skid Roche (tags: science) […]

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