History in the Making

Have you noticed how many people get their history from the History Channel?  Isn’t that a bit like getting sex from the Playboy Channel?

Now (January 2015) the History Channel which purports to give you all history all the time is advertising on radio “a scripted reality show.” Since it’s on their channel I assume they mean a “scripted history show.” It’s about John Adams and John Hancock.  What really tips you off that they are dropping the veneer of reality/history and laying bare that they are entertainment is that the theme song for the ad is the Stones “Faded into Black.”  Since that’s a song of the Boomers, perhaps we are the generation most likely to eat entertainment and think we’re digesting history.

I think I’ve said in another post that to be fair USA Today should have on its masthead what horoscopes have at the bottom. “This is intended for entertainment purposes only.”  So too the History Channel. They have done to history what USA Today did to newspapers. When it was launched in 1982 it exploded into the newspaper world not with more words, more information, more news but more pictures, more color, and more factoids which may equip you to play Trivial Pursuit but that’s about it.  The History Channel has done the same for history. You’re not getting more history, more facts, or more information. You’re getting a TV camera’s view of history, a production team’s interruption of the facts, and decidedly less information than a history text.

But you don’t feel that way, do you? No, you feel more and better informed just as a whole generation of parents thought that because their kid could recite Sesame Street rhymes or Barney ditties they were better educated. They were educated alright but in something other than the facts.  They were taught that learning must be fun, interesting, and rhythmic. They were taught that rote memorization because it was not fun, uninteresting, and well rote and not rhythmic, was not useful.

TV, be it the History Chanel, network news, “news” magazines, Sponge Bob Square Pants, or ESPN is always teaching. It’s the closest thing we have yet to a direct interface with the brain. It penetrates with sight and sound and with the advent of 3D TV and wrap-around screens, smell-a-vision can’t be far behind. TV teaches entertainingly, powerfully, and certainly, not usually rightly but always opinionatedly.

Take the once popular TV show ER. A teaching hospital noticed that a large percentage of the interns were not intubating patients correctly. When asked where they had learned to do the procedure 94% said, “From watching ER.”  If we don’t want our doctors, lawyers, or pastors for that matter, learning their professions from TV, why should we want people learning their history from it?  In my view they aren’t learning history at all, but they’re watching history in the making…by those making the show.


About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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