History: More than bloodlust and villainy

Ben Godar

The other day I was flipping through my digital cable stations when I stopped on The History Channel.

I’ll admit, The History Channel is not one of my usual stops. In fact, as anyone who subscribes to AT&T Cablevision’s Digital Cable can attest, 90 percent of the channels are a barren wasteland.

Between The Golf Channel, Outdoor Life, Discovery Kids, The People Channel, BBC America, Home & Garden Television, ESPN Classic and all of the DMX stations, there’s a lot of programming but not a whole lot worth watching.

But one afternoon, as I was flipping channels, burning up the precious, fleeting moments of my life, I came on The History Channel. I thought to myself, “Hey, History’s educational. Perhaps I’ll watch this.”

The program I caught was primarily about the Manson Family cult, although they did throw in a little bit about John Wayne Gasey at the end. You know, for good measure.

Then they broke to commercial to tell us what was coming up next.

“Stay tuned to The History Channel. At 8:00, go inside the mind of Adolf Hitler. Then at 9:30, take a trip back in time to witness the most heinous murders of Ghengis Kahn.”

What I found horribly ironic was what came next.

“The History Channel, where history comes alive.”

Where history comes alive? Judging by their programming schedule, a more appropriate slogan would have been: “Where history becomes a celebration of bloodlust and villainy.”

I don’t want to single out The History Channel for presenting a biased view of the past, because everyone does it.

A&E, The Discovery Channel and even PBS are all guilty of favoring history of the more exciting (and violent) variety. Our history, like our news, is becoming more geared to entertaining us than educating us.

On the one hand, who can blame ’em? It’s always more exciting to watch a program about Hitler’s experiments into the occult than, say, the Tea Pot Dome Scandal.

But it does seem to set a dangerous precedent when all that we see of our “history” are wars, mass killings and the like.

How much does the average person really know about the civil rights movement beyond “I have a dream” and “We Shall Overcome?” Probably not a whole lot.

How much does the average person know about the ongoing persecution of Native Americans in this country? Beyond an occasional Rage Against The Machine lyric, the issue receives little public attention.

Obviously these types of issues don’t play nearly as well as murder and mayhem, but they are a vital part of our history. And they’re just the tip of the iceberg.

How many people don’t know about the economic struggles of migrant farm workers all across America? How many are aware that to this day, sub-standard health conditions and below minimum wage work are the only option for a large part of rural America?

Yet most of us know every event of World War II like it happened yesterday. You can’t spit at cable television without hitting a program about The Battle of the Bulge, D-Day, Truman’s decision to use the bomb, fighter planes, tanks, bombers, navy vessels or anything else having to do with that damn war.

W.W. II is a great war for television, because, more so than any other way, it played out like a good Hollywood movie.

You got the good guys – us – versus the bad guys – Hitler and Mussolini. And things looked bleak for a while, but then we overcame adversity and bombed the hell out of Dresden and Hiroshima. Roll credits.

Everyone’s heard the saying “Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.” I think it’s safe to say that a large part of American history is being ignored, and the consequences are obvious.

Dilemmas facing the American worker today are the same ones that have been facing the American worker since the beginning of the century.

These issues have been consistently ignored by news agencies, and now they’re not being considered as part of our history either.

Even more scary is that what is being considered our history are the darkest, most twisted moments of civilization.

I don’t think The History Channel is capable of going more than twelve hours without showing a picture of Hitler. It’s all cleverly veiled as war documentary, but it’s still a pretty sick fascination.

It’s great that a few cable stations are at least doing a little bit to educate people. I’ll take The History Channel over The Golf Channel any day. (In fact, I’d take a good flogging over The Golf Channel, but that’s another story.)

Still, it’s important that we keep in mind that what we are commonly shown to be our “history” may not be the full story. If Hitler and Charles Manson are really the best we have to offer, God help us all.

Ben Godar is a senior in sociology from Ames.