I wound up watching The Men Who Built America on the History Channel last night.
This was because it was an episode involving Andrew Carnegie and the Homestead Steel Strike. I am a Pittsburgher and we are, above all other things, full of self-love. When we find any kind of media that so much as mentions our city, we’re drawn in like moths to the bug-zapper.
Originally, I thought that the show would be something special and new. Seeing as the main Discovery Networks have drifted from their original purpose by crafting nothing but reality shows (some of them positively repellant), it was nice to know that the History Channel would be getting back to actual History rather than constant reruns of Pawn Stars, American Pickers, and American Restoration (all great shows, mind you) interspliced with episodes of Ancient Aliens and Ghost Hunters and some such other nonsense about grown men chasing after Bigfoot. That’s not even to mention the apocalypse shows which, clearly, prove we’re on the brink of utter annihilation by drawing in only the best backalley crackheads money can buy.
This show, I thought, would return to an older sort of format. Shots of brief dramatization with modern actors overlayed with old pictures, well-narrated, well-constructed documentary television.
For the most part, this was the case, until it came to the action scenes.
These were so poorly orchestrated and historically false that it made me not want to watch the show. They contradicted known facts and eyewitness accounts of history to make for a better show. I remind my readers that this show is billed as a documentary, not a drama, not a soap, not a mini-series. They are supposed to be illustrating the pure facts, not altering things to make them more spicy and keep the viewers glued to the set.
While this might be a traditional practice on most networks, it insults the intelligence of all viewers of a documentary series to blatantly alter facts just so they could get more gunfire and violence into the program. Granted, there was plenty of gunfire and violence in the Homestead Steel Strike, as every good Pittsburgh kid is taught coming up, but the way they characterized the conflict between the Pinkertons and the striking workers could not have possibly been based on anything but speculation and the skimming of one of the numerous books written on the subject.
Also, the assassination attempt on Henry Frick was completely inaccurate from everything I’ve researched. Bad, bad History Channel.
I know, I’m being a history nerd about this whole thing, but I would have let the small inconsistencies slide if not for the preview shown for next week’s episode.
Apparently, the only two people ever involved in electricity in the world, ever, ever were J.P. Morgan and Thomas Edison. From the looks of the episode they completely skip the involvement of fan-favorite Nikola Tesla as well as Pittsburgh’s own George Westinghouse. Nope, just Edison as the genius inventor and Morgan as the financial backing. That’s all it took to get America juiced up. Two guys and some money. See, that would be a great conflict to cover – Tesla vs. Edison. Look it up. It’s awesome. It essentially adds up to a mad scientist fight back when science could still be mad.
I suppose I can’t complain about the quality of Discovery Network’s programming lately. They are, after all, the purveyors of Honey Boo Boo Child and other such redneck drek which threatens to completely drain our minds. This sort of thing will continue unless, of course, James Cameron can go to the bottom of the sea, find the bar, and raise it.
I find it horrible what the Discovery Networks have become. Beyond a very few shows, the only good programming on that network was originally done in partnership with the BBC (Planet Earth, Blue Planet, any other animal documentary).
Please, don’t use the History Channel as your only source for information on what happened in the past. There are plenty of people out there who write books on these subjects in an attempt to scrape out a living in a soon-to-be paperless world. There are other sources than the television where great information can be found. If you find yourself interested in something they mention, be sure you pick up a book to get your facts straight before you run off and tell all your friends.
Mind your sources and be careful what you watch. I’m not much of a quote guy, but this is one of my favorites:
“Get your facts first, then you can distort them as much as you please.” –Mark Twain
Keep fighting the good fight.