Wednesday, January 12, 2011

History Channel...accurate? Or, simply entertainment?

I have a friend who has a friend who used to work at the History Channel. I have always loved that channel, I really like accurate, actual information shows, as opposed to "reality" (not actuality) shows and channels. Yes, they can be entertaining, but I prefer non-fiction for my history and science.

But I heard some disconcerting things about the History Channel. That they forgo fact for impact and sometimes, for no apparent reason at all, change things from what the designated historical script should be.

What?! Seriously? I said. Oh my God! That's not good. How much of my mind, has been diluted, infected, degenerated, by the History Channel. And if the History Channel does it, what about other such "factual" and accurate channels?

So, I started looking around on line.

From Huffington Post on a Kennedy family series:

Oh, great.

Someone on a site somewhere said they don't think the producers ever intend to be inaccurate. But that isn't what I was hearing from an ex employee of the channel, someone, who should know from the inside. And what I was told, was horrifying. To a historian anyway.

Here are a few of the postings I've found around the internet complaining about the History Channels misinformation programs:

1) From Answerbag July 6th, 2008

"...I believe that those who produce the various documentaries strive for as much accuracy as possible given the sources they have available, and I don't believe that any bias is ever intended. In some cases, such as re-enactments, or new archaeological findings, conjecture is involved and the reasoning is explained. It may not necessarily be accurate, but it is the latest theory and best explanation available to us at the time."

[I wish this were the case, but that is not what I have been told was the case in many cases.]

2) From John Major Jenkins. July 28, 2006:

The press release write-up on the History Channel’s website reads as follows:

"The world is coming to an end on December 21, 2012! The ancient Maya made this stunning prediction more than 2,000 years ago. We'll peel back the layers of mystery and examine in detail how the Maya calculated the exact date of doomsday. Journey back to the ancient city of Chichen Itza, the hub of Maya civilization deep in the heart of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, to uncover the truth about this prophecy. The Maya were legendary astronomers and timekeepers--their calendar is more accurate than our own. By tracking the stars and planets they assigned great meaning to astronomical phenomena and made extraordinary predictions based on them--many of which have come true. Could their doomsday prophecy be one of them? In insightful interviews archaeologists, astrologers, and historians speculate on the meaning of the 2012 prophecy. Their answers are as intriguing as the questions.

"Sounds like a fairly non-biased survey of ideas, theories, and scholarship. Well, it’s not. It’s 45 minutes of unabashed doomsday hype and the worst kind of inane sensationalism. The History Channel educates us only in how NOT to make a documentary about 2012

"Last summer, I was contacted by the segment producer and asked if I wanted to be interviewed for the program. I discussed with him what they wanted to do. He said that their initial contact, who contributed formative ideas for the script, was a novelist named Steve Alten. He was the author of a book called Domain. This book liberally drew ideas and original research from my 1998 book Maya Cosmogenesis 2012, and combined it with science fiction and the space alien thesis of VonDaniken to offer a heady stew of fast-paced sci-fi adventure.

"For an example of a forthcoming documentary on 2012 that DOES raise the bar, produced independently without the benefit of $350,000 worth of wasted corporate funding, see"

[This is the kind of thing that concerns me, but worse, was the person who worked for the History Channel and said they were told specifically, that they were to put in detail that was incorrect, not to even make it a better show entertainment-wise, but just because the producer liked it better as it played incorrectly. What in the Hell?]

3) Posting on TruWest

"On the evening of Nov. 22, History channel ran a piece about the settling of Abilene, Kansas. Early in the show there was some discussion of the buffalo runners & a purported photo of buffalo runners standing over a buffalo carcass. The rifle one of the men was packing was highlighted in red. There's a minor problem with it. The rifle so carefully highlighted was a Winchester Model 1895 with a box magazine. That rifle was capable, in the .405 Winchester chambering, of taking American bison--but it came along about 15 years after the great buffalo slaughter was over."

[This is not the type of thing I'm concerned with on the History Channel. However, it would be nice if they would be correct down to this kind of detail.]

4) From AllEmpires Posted: 24-Oct-2005 at 22:46>>

"What is this madness!? The ironclad known as the Turtle Ship was made by the Koreans under the leadership of Admiral Lee Soon Shin... Someone should go and point this thing out to the History Channel... They've really got this all screwed up!"

From another:

"Yes Yi Soon Shin used the turtle ships during his first campaigns (interestingly, he did not use it in his very first naval battle), but after the Korean navy lost all but 13 of its ships, the turtleship was never rebuilt (at least not during the war)."

From another:

"The History channel is after all a commercial channel, so its prone to sensationalism, and often the producers themselves don't know much about the subject (they got the job because they can make programs, not because they know history)."

So, some of these are older posts, but it shows an ongoing process of a lack of perfection. That is understandable for most channels and most entertainment channels, but by calling itself the "History Channel" it puts itself up to scrutiny and a need for accuracy above and beyond the norm.

What this all does point out, is television, is still just television.

1 comment:

  1. I love the history channel from the time I was young, but in college I realized the same thing...however, I still watch, better than the Jersey Shore I guess. I was watching the last two days about the end of the world 2012 shit, and I actually learned something on FB..F my life and my history degree. The history channel has been running all of these end of the world shows and not accounting for the fact that Mayans didnt have a leap year and simply doing the math on Julius Caesar's time when he created the leap year in 45 BC ish or something (45+2012)/4=514 so we have 514 extra days to enjoy life...