Apparently cable TV needs some basic ethics rules, particularly focusing on integrity. SyFy, the science fiction channel, includes professional wrestling prominently in its programming, as well as movies that qualify as horror or fantasy but have no science, fictional or otherwise, in evidence. Chiller, the horror channel, includes movies that are pure suspense or science fiction, as well as re-runs of the reality show “Fear Factor,” which would belong on the Stupid Channel if there was one (other than E!, of course.) This week, a religious program was on Chiller; I have no idea what that was about. Meanwhile, The Learning Channel has become the Child Exploitation Channel, led by the “Jon & Kate plus 8” franchise, spin-offs and imitators. What are we learning? Not much, except that the names of cable channels mean little or nothing.
Nevertheless, while it is sloppy and false branding to show “Apollo 13” on the SyFy channel, it is considerably worse to show fiction and fantasy on The History Channel, which is what The History Channel has been featuring recently with “Ancient Aliens,” a series that presents the wacko theory that aliens visited Earth centuries ago as fact. Indeed, anything a channel called The History Channel shows should be at least arguably fact, especially when the same channel is often assigned for homework assignments. If “The World at War” is reliable history, and it is, and History Channel series on the U.S. Presidents and the Revolutionary War are fairly accurate, and they are, gullible or ill-informed viewers can be expected to regard other presentations as equally reliable…and they aren’t.
Especially “Ancient Aliens.” The website Bad Archeology (now added to the Ethics Alarms list of useful sites) includes a terrific takedown of both “Ancient Aliens” and The History Channel for running it. The offended archeologist writes:
“Given that many people in the modern world use the television as their principal window on the world and source of information about that world, for a significant number of them, it has an authority that probably no other institution (even school) does. If it’s been on a television documentary, so popular wisdom has it, then it must be true: a twenty-first century equivalent of “I read it in the paper, so it must be true…”. A quote from an online forum should suffice to illustrate the point: “I don’t think you will be able to easily ‘debunk’ anything you see on the history channel. Everything that you see on their shows comes from legit scientific sources and is supported by many word class researches and experts”. There are times when I despair for the future of our civilisation.”
The post goes on to carefully and deliciously deconstruct the assertions made in the series, most of which will be familiar to anyone who read “Chariots of the Gods” by Erich von Däniken. Read it for knowledge and pleasure.
The History Channel including science fiction is worse than just a breach of integrity; it’s a breach of responsibility, respect and honesty. The word “history” has meaning, and it means events that happened. Exploring conspiracies theories about Kennedy’s assassination, another History Channel favorite, is at least within the field, if on the shadowy side of it (or the grassy knoll). “Ancient Aliens,” however is calculated to make people dumber than they already are.
The ethics problem can be solved by merging two of the integrity challenged cable channels into “SyFy History,” or perhaps “History Horror” …or, better yet, by The History Channel showing some respect for its viewers and the vital discipline of history by not presenting titillating nonsense as fact.