In its early years, the History Channel was full of historical programming. Most of it was about World War II, so damn near everyone called it the Hitler Channel, but it was actually history.
Today, not only do I not watch the History Channel, I actively warn people away from it. Cracked.com, which requires quite a bit of Internet sourcing for articles, does not accept History.com as a valid source.
Why? Because history is hard. It requires research and fact-checking and stuff, and at the end of the day, it doesn’t make much money. So the commercial enterprise that is the History Channel figured out how to generate more money with less effort.
The result was less of a history channel and more of a “history” channel.
Taking the History Out of the History Channel
Today, much of its programming doesn’t even pretend to be about history, such as:
- Swamp People
- Ax Men
- Appalachian Outlaws
- Counting Cars
- Ice Road Truckers
- We’re the Fugawis
In addition, it offers up things like Cryptid the Swamp Beast, which:
mixes legends with eyewitness accounts and crafts them into an entertaining and scary fictional story that speaks to America’s macabre history of folklore. It features startling real interviews with those who believe the legends, and have seen strange things with their own eyes. Folklore experts, biologists and original news clips play throughout each episode as well to add further real-world context. (source)
So…using real interviews, real news clips, and real info from “experts,” but transforming it into fiction? That’s docufiction, which never fails to confuse people. (See, for example, Mermaids: The Body Found and Mermaids: The New Evidence.)
Docufiction is not history. Docufiction is fiction. That’s why the word “fiction” is in there.
History for the Lowest Common Denominators
When the “History” Channel considers covering actual history, it goes for the most sensational spins on the topic. It picks and chooses evidence, often removing it from its historical context. It takes the vaguest of similarities and presents them as solid evidence of association or causality.
That’s not responsible academia. That’s the technique of Creation scientists, conspiracy theorists, and Internet trolls.
Thus, we get winners like Ancient Aliens, which discusses potential evidence of otherworldly visitors and refuses to even mention more mundane explanations. It also feeds off the premise that if we cannot explain the creations of our less advanced ancestors, then those ancestors cannot possibly have accomplished it on their own.
The Example of Exodus Decoded
The “History” Channel has one-offs like Exodus Decoded, which puts forth theoretical scientific explanations for the ten plagues of Egypt. In and of itself, that’s not a problem. Certain bacteria and algae can turn water blood red, and a volcano can cause the sky to rain fire.
But then it starts presenting a whole lot of presumptions:
- Based on a single hieroglyphic text referencing a major storm, the Exodus must have happened around 1500 BCE. Lucky for them that nothing in the Bible dates the Exodus. (Popular culture often associates it with the reign of Ramesses II, who ruled 200 years later, but there’s nothing historical that supports that.)
- The volcano eruption at Thera, one of the largest eruptions known, occurred at about the same time as the storm. And by “about the same time,” I mean plus or minus a century, which is not really “about the same time” when you’re trying to match two events within a handful of days.
It goes on to explain how all ten plagues are not only scientifically possible but could be caused by a volcanic eruption. They throw in the parting of the Red Sea for good measure.
A ha! All these events could be caused by a volcano and there was a volcanic eruption and it could have happened at same time we’re claiming the plagues happened!
Of course, there’s zero evidence of this actually happening, but the show’s language and presentation leaves viewers with the idea that this is a serious theory about the plagues of Egypt.
Which it totally isn’t.
I had a student mention this show proved that the Exodus event happened. It didn’t prove anything. It’s a collection of extremely speculative theories.
Incidentally, if the Exodus events really did happen, it wouldn’t have a scientific explanation, because, according to the Book of Exodus, God did it. Proving it was caused by the Thera eruption is the opposite of proving Exodus.
You can read more about Why I Hate the History Channel.