December 21, 2012

History Channel

Does no one else find it odd that we have a private entity that has labeled itself, “The History Channel?”  Really though, I take issue with any entity taking the name ‘History’ out of an academic sense.  It may be a sanguine perception and ultimately naïve hope that academic history is somehow less tarnished by the selfish motivations of individuals and larger institutions, yet the idea that a largely anonymous and profit driven entity can simply take the name history for itself and then report its version of historical events without any real fact monitoring agency or third party oversight seems a bit ridiculous. 

What made me think about this issue is the book “Bananas!” by Peter Chapman.  In it he describes the atrocities of the reviled United Fruit Company and almost as an afterthought points out effort by the new company, Chiquita Fruit Company, to address this sordid history of privatized colonialism and the brutality such endeavors usually entail.  His primary source of both praise for effort and criticism for not quite being enough is Chiquita’s website where he points to a timeline that obscures what he characterizes as inherently evil acts with euphemisms and sobriquets. 

While I will not take issue with the United Fruit Company because Chapman exhausted that argument with his overly personal recounting of how United Fruit Company personally affected him mixed in with historical record, I will take issue with the idea that a corporation with seemingly well-meaning intentions can simply rewrite history either directly or by omission to alter what societies and civilizations accept as truth.  So how does this relate to the History Channel?  What is to stop the History Channel from committing outright fraud and attempting to rewrite history?  In fact, I am sure that this has already been done. 

Private television programs are typically held accountable to how much revenue they can generate.  Whether this is measured purely via ratings or number of viewers, I do not know and thus cannot delve into.  Regardless, my focus here is that I am positive that in order to preserve ratings or to account for a lack in budget, corners get cut or in order to attract a certain type of audience, history is altered so that it appeals to audience’s particular sensibilities.  If it did not, then speaking purely in terms of profit margins, it damn well should so as to generate a stronger viewer base.  While I would like to believe that generally there is a profound interest in history and an accurate historical record, I believe more-so that people are naturally inclined to adapt historical record to fall in line with their perceptions and expectations. 

What I have yet to see on the History Channel is a program that harshly criticizes the United States for its past crimes and atrocities.  This is not an anti-American sentiment; I love my country and come from a family with a strong foundation in government service.  However, I believe that for the United States to progress it must be willing to clear the skeletons out of the closet in a non-apologist fashion, non-sensationalist, and truly fair way where the excuse that it was for a perceived national imperative is not given the post 9/11 mythical 24 world weight, but is a position that must be intellectually defended and substantiated with evidence. 

Really, what brought this to the forefront today is that upon return to the (glorious) land of the free I decided I would turn on the television and tune out for a bit.  The History Channel was playing a show on top secret missions or some equally enticing title.  In it, actions that are essentially illegal on an international level and erode the United States’ global reputation are lauded even though they appeared reckless and signs of an insane Cold War dogma – not anything I could consider America’s finest hour.   In short, where is the one hour program where it is pointed that there were no WMDs in Iraq and that intelligence did not indicate as such?  Where is the History Channel special investigating links between Halliburton and invasion planning?  Where is the History Channel that talks about the Clinton Administration’s blatant refusal to intervene in Rwanda – the fastest genocide committed in the history of mankind?   

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