What in the world does Big Rig Bounty Hunters have to do with history?
The History Channel thinks it has a lot to do with it. It also thinks that the tenuous connection between Pawn Stars is good enough to merit numerous marathons of that show. Never mind a historical exploration of the origin of the word “marathon,” we can watch the manufactured drama of Ice Road Truckers and ignore history completely.
Sadly, the only thing of historical value that History Channel really offers anymore is a cultural record of how vapid the general public is when it comes to anything educational, and that won’t even be valuable until historians look back on this time period and analyze our popular culture. The sad truth is they’ll probably find a society dedicated to mindless entertainment for the sake of profit at the expense of education.
The worst thing is, history is not boring by any means. So why does the History Channel strive so hard to do away with it?
Even the recent turn of the History Channel back to things that are arguably historical is not really a return to the original goal of educating the population about history. Its widely-touted new historical drama Vikings still entertainment first and education a distant second, with several historical inaccuracies that can potentially misinform the casual viewer as to what is historical and what is purely imagined by the writers of the show.
This is obviously not limited to the History Channel, as Discovery, National Geographic, and the very inappropriately-named Learning Channel broadcast things that are anything but educational. The one time I watched Honey Boo Boo I could feel my IQ dropping.
National Geographic’s biggest hit currently is Doomsday Preppers in which crazy people are featured planning for the supposedly imminent apocalypse. This sort of television adds nothing to education, simply looking to play off humanity’s basest existential fears. It also encourages people to fear the world rather than embrace it with curiosity.
It is obvious that History Channel and the other formerly-educational channels value ratings and thus advertisement profits over legitimate education. But this sort of decline of education television channels is not simply a unique problem of television, but a sad result of determining that profits are more important than education in general. History, Discovery, National Geographic, and TLC have all abandoned their position to teach first and profit second and the result has been a slew of mindless entertainment at the cost of creating things of education value.
How is this different than the government capitulating on its responsibility to fund universities properly and forcing them to go begging to private industries for funding? The educational mission of the university will necessarily be subverted to the pursuit of profit which is only attainable by operating not for the best interests of students and society, but for the best interests of industry.
If we decide that the university must operate like a corporation – funding itself on exorbitant tuition fees and catering to every whim of industry in the hopes that they will provide additional funding – then we are on the dark path to a shared future with the History Channel. We’ll have to continue to draw funds that used to go to academic work to market our university to draw people in. We’ll have to create larger and larger class sizes to maximize the tuition we bring in while placing profit ahead of education. Eventually, the original goal of educating students will fall to the wayside (if it hasn’t already).
We must not be willing to simply manage the decline of our university as it goes from Turning Points of History to Pawn Stars. We have to clearly articulate an alternative vision of university where education comes first, and profits are not a consideration. That means we need stable funding from the government – the only place that can guarantee such funding.
If we don’t restore proper funding to this institution, and if we don’t break out of the idea that the university is simply a place to get a piece of paper to get a job, then get ready for a required fourth-year course on advanced resume padding. Maybe we’ll be able to film each class and create a new show for History Channel.
Photo illustration by Edward Dodd