Thursday, August 19, 2010

And Now, A Kind Word For PBS

I can remember watching Nova in the 1980s and being absolutely incensed at how blatantly it was often propaganda.  One show that I watched was nominally about autopsy--with a really gruesome, unwatchable segment where the M.E. was drilling into this guy's head to retrieve a .380 ACP bullet.  A good 15 minutes of a 60 minute show theoretically about the job of medical examiner was really an excuse to bang the drum for gun control.

Something certainly seemed to change by the late 1990s.  I just watched a Nova called "Mystery of the First Americans" (2000) about the problems of Kennewick Man, and the rapidly changing science of pre-Columbian anthropology.  There was a pretty clear implication that victimhood for American Indians because the Europeans arrived and took over their land was in grave danger of getting...complicated.  Are these ancient pre-Columbian skeletons with Caucasoid traits (in North America) and Australian aboriginal traits (in South America) indications that someone might have been first?

Anyway, getting the first class off to a discussion of the problems of conquest in the New World is one of the reasons that I am going to show this video.  It's important to get students to think in more subtle terms than, "Noble Savage/Evil White Men," which is the grossly oversimplified message that many lower grade teachers, as well as films such as Pocahontas and Avatar promote. 

As the Geico commercials remind us: Neanderthals are victims, too!


  1. I may have to give Nova another chance. It won't be easy, though.

    I pretty much haven't watched it in about 20 years, since the program on the "wild man" of Hunan Province, China. In the intro, they said it was based on the work of Ohio State physical anthropologist Gary Poirier (pronounced as French). I thought "What a coincidence, I took physical anthro at Ohio State from Frank Poirier (pronounced the way it's spelled, of Armenian decent). And he's interested in the same kind of stuff."

    Then they showed "Gary Pwa-ree-ay" and it was the guy I had at OSU, Frank Poirier. The whole show was based on his work, he was on-camera a lot, and they got his name completely wrong. Made it hard for me to take "Nova" seriously after that.

  2. That's sad. I can't imagine that Poirer didn't inform them after the first broadcast!