Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Losing What Remains of the Meaning of History

I am no fan of the History Channel.  My attitude towards it is, at best, suspect;  but, when we consider just how averse our culture has become to the very concept of history, I cannot say that I blame them for trying to reverse the course, even if their results tend to be on the slipshod side.  In this context when I first saw a Yahoo! News headline about the History Channel undertaking a Bible series, my initial reaction was to give the producers the benefit of the doubt.  (After all, Yahoo! News has pretty much knocked itself out of the running as a trusted source for what others would take to be news.)

Well, I guess the History Channel does not deserve that benefit.  According to Bill Carter’s story in this morning’s New York Times, the producer for this series will be Mark Burnett.  For those unfamiliar with the name, his previous production credits include the “reality television” series Survivor, The Apprentice, and The Voice.  In the annals of the deterioration brought on by loss of meaning, these programs will probably stand out for depriving the noun “reality” of just about all of its past semantic associations.  Now it is history’s turn to suffer similar loss of meaning.  While there may be no end of fascinating accounts of how different versions of that text document called “The Bible” came to be, the History Channel is not interested in such an explicitly historic take on that document.  According to Carter’s report, the project will be “a 10-hour series based on the stories of the Bible.”  In other words the series will present the Bible as history, rather than literature.  While this is definitely a controversial position, it is certainly consistent with those intent on maintaining a faith-based mentality.

From a literary point of view, however, the greatest shortcoming of faith may be that it does not allow for irony.  Thus, the History Channel will probably not realize that Carter’s report has them stepping on a big steaming pile of irony, perhaps even with both feet.  Having established that this series will be scripted drama, rather than a narrative based on documented historical record, Carter inserted the following sentence into his account:

History’s most recent experience with a scripted drama based on fact was “The Kennedys,” which it dropped in January, saying the mini-series did not live up to its standards of accuracy.

Is this supposed to imply that there will be “standards of accuracy” when it comes to dramatizing Bible stories?  More likely the History Channel will turn its attention from the loss of meaning of “history” to sucking the semantic life out of the phrase “standards of accuracy!”

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