The Hysterical Channel
by Bill Vallante
History in a Can or History for the Masses?
I’ve been watching the History Channel for a number of years now.
Lately, though, I’ve found it harder and harder to take it seriously.
Some of the twaddle peddled on that channel not only defies
historical authenticity, but common sense as well.
Soon after "Civil War Secrets" week, I began to reflect on whether
or not there is some point that the HC is trying to make in the tripe
that they broadcast. And, I began to reflect on things I've seen there
over the years as well.
Some folks call it the "Hitler Channel." Has anyone noticed how
many of their programs feature Hitler, the Third Reich or something
related to it? My golly! I’m learning "everything you ever wanted to
know about Adolph!" There’s Hitler's Bunker, Hitler's early years,
Hitler's secrets, Hitler's occult and Hitler's last days. The only thing
left undone is Hitler's last bowel movement! Enough already! It’s
getting to be overkill!!
Of course, there’s the strictly entertainment stuff like Modern
Marvels, Auto Maniac, Wild West Tech, Tales of the Gun and the
loveable Sergeant Ermey. But, throw in the obsession with Hitler,
concentration camps and WWII, along with features like the ones
I've detailed below, and I suspect that there's a subtle message
being propagated by the HC and the legions of academics that
are featured in some of its programs.
For example, a couple of years ago there was the program, the
name of which I can’t remember, which dealt with the Colonial
Period and the conflicts between the setters in New England and
the Native Americans. From my own readings I am aware that
such conflicts as King Phillip's War were as brutal as they come,
with each side trying to outdo the other in their brutality.
Funny thing though - while the HC was quick to mention that the
White folks flayed their prisoners alive, I don’t remember hearing
them say that the Pequod Indians roasted their prisoners over a
slow fire, or that some of the other tribes in the area actually urged
on the brutal Colonists because they themselves feared the
The highlight of the program was a frumpy-looking woman
historian, who related the following story – Indians would conduct a raid and carry off White women. The colonists would rescue the White women, but afterward, she asserted, the White women would run back to the Indians!
I don’t know many women who appreciate getting hit over the head and carried off by strangers. What can I say? About the only thing I can come up with is that she allowed her own sexual fantasies to get the better of her research!!
Last year there was the infamous "Remember the Alamo" program, which featured a female Mexican historian, who screeched, "THEEE TAAAXANS WERE ILLEEEEEGAL ALIENS!" If our own current immigration problem with Mexico wasn’t so bad I would have wet my pants laughing! The program also featured a scalawag historian who claimed that Mexican casualties were only about 250 out of about 4000 engaged. Then why did one Mexican general claim that "one more such victory and this army is finished"?
And then there was the historian who whined, "The men of the Aaaaaalllamo waaaaaaanted to live profitably." Hey, who doesn't? But when was the last time you saw someone willing to lay down their life for their portfolio? And finally, never forget, the TEXICANS OWNED SLAVES! Bad bad bad bad Texicans. Of course, none of these academics mentioned Santa Anna's tearing up of Mexico's constitution.
Cinco De Mayo! Anybody ever heard of this battle until a few years ago? Today it's almost a national holiday in America! What's all the fuss? Last month, in watching the HC presentation on the affair, I think I determined what the big deal is. It seems that on the way to the battle, the French commander made some disparaging remarks about Mexicans, their civilization, their culture, and their military. Oh horror... Oh horror! A flagrant example of insensitivity and racism at its worst! (And who in their right mind has taken the French military seriously since Napoleon's defeat?) Given America’s current obsession with racism I guess a French insult is as good a reason as any to make it a national holiday?! The moral is you can make war on and kick the crap out of your opponent, but don't dare say anything hurtful because you will lose the fight and someone will make a national holiday out of your defeat.
Hey, and what about those Crusades?! In a recent episode I learned that Richard the Lion Hearted was a mean spirited villain and that Saladin was a wonderfully sensitive human being. Wow! Imagine that? I also learned that the Crusaders practiced cannibalism by eating their prisoners in order to terrify the enemy!?!? It's funny – if I had been alive back then, and if I had done half the things in that time that I’ve done in my present life, I'd have been burned at the stake! But, according to the Hysterical Channel, I could get away with cannibalism – provided of course, that I was eating the infidel while on a mission from God, or the Pope! How implausible can you get? The worrisome thing here is that there are millions of viewers watching this "history in a can" and lapping it up - instead of saying, "whaaaaaaaattt?"
And then there’s the more recent "Civil War Secrets" week. Anyone catch the program about the Battle of the Crater? Here’s the story...
General Meade, (the only guy to tangle with Robert E Lee and not get his head handed to him), overruled General Burnside, (the best General the Confederacy ever had), when Burnside chose the untried USCT division over his two White divisions to lead the attack on the Crater (a type of attack that had never been attempted by anyone before). Burnside had gone so far as to start training the USCT troops to spearhead this assault. However, when Meade found out, he overruled Burnside. Meade felt the Black troops were too inexperienced and Grant agreed, voicing a fear that their inexperience against veteran troops might result in excessive casualties. Burnside, however, felt they would be "fresh" and since they were inexperienced, they would not be shy about attacking earthworks?! (Try to figure out the rationale for that one?!)
The common sense question would be: Whose rationale sounds more plausible, Meade's or Burnside's? Moreover, based on their past performance records, whose opinion is more likely to be correct? Apparently the Hysterical Channel has some doubts. You see, the Black guys got replaced by White guys and that's all that
seems to matter!? Somebody call the NAACP, Jesse Jackson
and Al Sharpton! I smell a civil rights lawsuit 141 years after the
Then there was the part about the Confederates counterattacking
and shooting down the poor USCT soldiers who tried to surrender
At one point the narrator stated that a brigade of 800 rebs
counterattacked General Ferrero's division (the USCT division)
and proceeded to shoot them down without taking prisoners.
Anyone with any knowledge of the time knows that a union
division at full strength like Ferrero’s numbers about 4000
men. So, 800 rebs counterattacked and butchered 4000
yanks? I wonder if the Hysterical Channel producer read
the script before he gave the go-ahead?
Then of course there was the little matter of the "Confederate government policy of taking no Black prisoners," an example of stretching the truth at best or, an outright lie at worst. While instances of White Confederates giving no quarter to Black prisoners are a documented fact, (as is, by the way, the reverse scenario), the official policy of the Confederate government regarding USCT prisoners was that if it was determined that a prisoner had been a slave, and if his owner could be located, that he was returned to his owner. If the owner could not be located, or if the prisoner had not been a slave, he went to a prison camp with everyone else. To state, as the Hysterical Channel did, that the government's policy was to take no black prisoners, thereby leaving the viewer with the impression that all Black prisoners were shot, raises some serious questions about what the HC is trying to do.
Insofar as fairness (or equal time) was concerned, I didn’t see any of it. No mention of White Union soldiers using their Black comrades as human shields or worse, bayoneting them when they attempted to jump into the same trench with them. No mention of at least two Confederate accounts of Union Troops yelling or giving "no quarter." No mention of USCT officers running away and ripping off the USCT patches from their jackets. And while the HC maintains that it was such a shame that the USCT troops were pulled from their assignment because they were so marvelously trained, there was no mention of White Union accounts which said that when the USCT did go forward, they did so in a disorganized manner, simply piling into the already crowded Crater. So what happened to all that wonderful Burnside-sponsored training?
But the Hysterical Channel wasn’t through yet! There was still the “Slave Catchers and Slave Resisters” episode! The feature historian here was Black George Washington University professor and noted victimologist, Dr. James Oliver Horton. Horton first came to my attention several years ago for his analogy comparing the Confederacy to a house full of drug dealers! Yes, you read it right! The analogy was in an answer to a question which followed his speech in 2000, at a National Park Service symposium called "Rally on the High Ground". To print the entire quote in the context in which it took place, would use up too much space here. You can read the quote for yourself at this URL:
It's in the question and answer section in the bottom third of the page. Or you can email me and I’ll copy and paste it for you.
To listen to Horton, the entire "Black community" was up in arms and ready to fight for their freedom against the hated White Southrons. Thousands ran away on the glorious Underground Railroad, many others sabotaged the Southern war effort and tens of thousands of others gladly flocked to the USCT banner. No mention at all about those who wanted simply to get through the war in one piece, or those who were conscripted into the Union army against their will, or the many who supported the South.
[*] To listen to Horton, it sounds like [ 5 ] five and one half million White Southern farmers took on 22 million industrialized Northerners with one hand, while simultaneously holding off [ 4 ] four million Blacks who were trying their best to commit sabotage on a grand scale, with the other hand. With odds like that, the war should have been over in a week! How the hell could the South have held out for four years if that was the case? Who knows, maybe the HC will explain it in a program entitled, "HISTORY’S MYSTERIES - REBS ON PERFORMANCE ENHANCING DRUGS!"
It seems pretty obvious that if the subject involves something Christian, something Southern, or something White, then it’s going to receive a thrashing. Indeed, I might go so far to say that if it has to do with anything whose roots are European, i.e., Western Civilization, you can expect the worst presentation possible from the Hysterical Channel. I suppose that this only reflects the modern day social/academic climate. And like the National Park Service, the Hysterical Channel is very quick to trot out legions of academics to support their presentations.
The Hysterical Channel seems to be cooking up something. Think of it as a recipe for History for the Masses. And while the “third ingredient” of the recipe disturbs me the most, it is this ingredient in combination with the other two ingredients that terrifies me.
The First Ingredient: There are, I believe, few instances in history of absolute good vs.absolute evil. If you’re looking for absolute evil, I suppose Hitler is as close to that as you’re going to come. Perhaps the viewing public doesn’t have the attention span to handle anything more than a crusade against a super-villain. Give the viewer a strong dose of good vs. evil....repeat the Hitler story over and over, (because any other serious subject presented later will be presented in the same light).
The Second Ingredient: Of course, the viewer needs a break now and then, something light-hearted, so throw in the Wild West Tech, Mail Call, etc.
The Third Ingredient: After the viewer has been thoroughly overwhelmed with Hitler stories while almost simultaneously being entertained with more innocuous stuff, present selected stories of conflicts (the Hysterical Channel picks which conflicts), within the same context as the Hitler Stories - good guys vs. bad guys.
Add a heavy dose of presentism (judging or interpreting the past according to the standards of the present), mix thoroughly and serve COLD to an unknowing, non-thinking viewing public and call it... HISTORY.
The History Channel has broken new ground. It has taken the hostile, destructive, biased and unscholarly attitude of the modern day academics, and converted it into an easy to digest pabulum for the masses. It has created, “History in a Can.” There’s no more thinking or reading involved, you just sit back and soak it all in.
The effect of this “History in a Can” on the viewer reminds me of what Richard Weaver described in “The Southern Tradition at Bay,” when he referred to the progress of the modern world and the effect it appeared to be having on the general population in making life easier and in freeing up man to do “other” things. Frighteningly prophetic, Weaver called it right and described perfectly what it was, and what it is --
“An Emancipation from thinking”.
Bill Vallante, firstname.lastname@example.org, is an associate member of the Jeb Stuart Camp 1506, SCV, an associate member of the Edmund Ruffin "Fire Eaters", Camp 3000, SCV, a reenactor in the 9th Va. Inf., Co. C, and is living "behind enemy lines" in Commack, N.Y.