Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Apparently, The History Channel Don't Know Much About History

I was recently re-watching episodes of How the Earth Was Made, a 25-episode History Channel series that premiered in 2009. I had some gripes about it during the original run but never put them to keyboard. So it’s high time I vented about the series—particularly Episode 9 of Season 2: “Mount St. Helen’s.” Clearly, the writers and producers of the show were starting to scrape the barrel for topics in Season 2, but this episode’s premise is especially ridiculous.

As you no doubt surmised, this episode centers on the eruption of Mount St. Helen’s in Washington State—the only major volcanic eruption in the continental United States in modern times. Twelve years old when the volcano blew itself apart, I know full well the significance of the event and remember well the havoc it wrought.

But that was 1980—and this is a series about how the Earth was made. By all scientific consensus, the Earth is 4.6 billion years old. I hardly need to do the math for you, but to illustrate my point…

Earth’s 4.6-billion-year age had long been established by the episode’s debut

This episode first aired in February 2010—30 years after the eruption

So, 4.6 × 109 – 30 = 4,599,999,970 years.

Therefore, 4,599,999,970 years—or 99.99999934782609% of Earth’s existence by this episode’s original airing—had already elapsed by the time Mount St. Helen’s erupted in 1980.* In other words, Earth had long been made when the Washington volcano went kablooey. To purport that the Mount St. Helen’s eruption had anything to do with the making of the Earth would be like a centenarian trying to pass off his latest birthday cake as his birth certificate.

* Even in Christian fundamentalist Ken Ham’s creationist world of nonsense, a volcanic eruption so recent would mean that 99.5% of the 6,000-year-old Earth’s history had already elapsed—making Mount St. Helen’s just as irrelevant in the context of this series.

But the Mount St. Helen’s episode wasn’t the only relatively recent event that made for highly questionable television. How the Earth Was Made also featured episodes about the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883; the Vesuvius catastrophe of ad 79; the formation of the Sahara, which occurred a mere few thousand years before that; and a general overview of tsunamiswhich have absolutely nothing to do with the formation of the waterless Earth and have less to do with ongoing processes that currently affect it than any other phenomenon spotlighted in the series. 

Don’t misinterpret my harsh criticism as utter disapproval—I enjoy the series and find it highly informative. I just think that the series’ title is deceptive and ill-conceived. Considering the immense timeline of topics covered, it would have done much better with a less-specific title…perhaps something along the lines of How the Earth Did Stuff or When Bad Things Happen to Good Planets.

After all, it’s not as if History Channel doesn’t have a…um…history of broadcasting programs and series that utterly contradict its mission statement, viz., Life After People. (It similarly ran the future-based The Road Warrior several times about a decade ago.) Hardly the stuff of history

I don’t demand much from History Channel…but I do demand thematic fidelity!

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