Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Universe - FOX News Edition

I'll watch any science DVD that comes my way, and I have a special soft spot for shows about space. Anything that helps me get a grasp of the vastness, complexity, and beauty of the universe is a good thing!

Except for this History Channel program called "The Universe," my disdain for which I cannot put into words.

But let me try.

The program is OFFICIALLY called "The Universe," but I suspect that the full title is "The Universe is Full of Scary Stuff and HOLY SH*T, WE COULD ALL DIE AT ANY MINUTE!" It's produced in the bombastic style generally used for self-serious war movies, full of loaded adjectives and contextual tricks to convey one thing and one thing only: THREAT.

The music -- which never ends -- is of the type used by TV stations to brand military offenses. The announcer's delivery alternates between doomed acceptance and self-referential downplaying...everything he says sounds like the promo for a cheesy TV show. Even when he's describing the atmosphere on Mars, he's saying it in the same tone he would use to say something like "Buffy is 100% man-killing hot stuff, but a bigger enemy is slouching over the horizon...and he could unleash the very powers of hell. On. EARTH."

I knew something was wrong in the very first episode, which was called "Secrets of the Sun" but was really "Secrets of How the Sun COULD KILL YOU." Despite all the overwrought gravitas about the power at its core and the turmoil on its surface -- complete with real disaster footage from earth, as though there was a relevant comparison -- the bulk of the episode was about solar flares and the predictions about the Next Big One.

HOLY COW, WHAT'LL HAPPEN?!? Show us footage of stuff on fire, and rioting, and mass chaos! More CGI of violent solar winds and snapping magnetic force lines! ARGH! ARRRRGH!

But are the BRAVE NASA TECHNICIANS who tirelessly scour the sky in order to predict these solar storms! Thank goodness these selfless soldiers of the stars are there to protect us, with their fingers always on the button that...well, puts satellites to sleep for a few hours until the storm passes. BUT THAT'S REALLY BRAVE!

Then, of course, all the stuff about the sun eventually expanding and burning the earth "like a charcoal briquette." End of episode.

I kid you not. Any bits of actual, scanty SCIENCE is trampled by the whiz-bang visuals and endless depictions of disaster. The sun is even scarier than TERRORISTS!

I figured I'd give the show a chance and watch the second episode -- "Mars: The Red Planet" -- because I figured they couldn't make Mars frightening. WAS I EVER WRONG! The surface used to have this HUGE VOLCANO, and that volcano might have RIPPED A GIANT CHASM RIGHT ACROSS THE PLANET! And do you know what would happen if you visited Mars? YOU'D DIE! YOU CAN'T BREATHE THERE! How did Mars turn into such an inhospitable place? BECAUSE THE VICIOUS, DEADLY SUN RIPPED AWAY ITS ATMOSPHERE! AND ONCE PEOPLE THOUGHT THERE WERE EVIL ALIENS THERE, WAITING TO INVADE! MARS IS TERRIFYING!

You can imagine how the third episode -- "The End of the Earth" -- turned out, with its killer asteroids and exclusive focus on "The Big Rip" (SO much more scary than any of the other hypotheses), and don't forget about the VICIOUS, DEADLY SUN, and the same handful of earnest science-guys explaining that we're all gonna die...though probably not for another 50 billion years, shhhh.

As usual, though, there are Fearless American Scientists protecting us, "cosmic bounty hunters" who "refuse to be bullied by the asteroids." Jesus RETCH!

The fourth episode was "Jupiter: The Giant Planet." I managed to sit through fifteen minutes because I wanted to know how Jupiter was gonna kill us. Fortunately it doesn't appear that Jupiter -- "a giant ball of intrigue" -- is out to murder our babies and steal our freedom, but -- here you go -- it tends to draw asteroids into its own orbit...ASTEROIDS THAT WOULD OTHERWISE HIT EARTH AND DESTROY CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT! Cue disaster footage again, and CGI images of disintegrating buildings and fifty-foot tidal waves.

What the f*ck is wrong with people? Can we only engage with things if we consider them to be threats? Are events only interesting if they involve violent turmoil? Maybe I'm so disgusted because I grew up on a diet of Carl Sagan, for whom the universe was a big and comforting pair of breasts, but most of the problem is that I have NEVER seen an emotionally-manipulative, fear-mongering science show about SPACE before. I'd understand if the show was PROMOTED as such, but it's not.

I can't tell you about the atrocities in the rest of the show, but the episode list gives a few hints. Seriously, if I didn't know better I'd think this was a joke:

EPISODE SIX: "A survivor of one of the most violent 'neighborhoods' in the universe, learn how earth was created and discover what creatures hold clues to how life began. What evil forces threaten the demise of Earth?"

EPISODE SEVEN: "Scorched by their proximity to the sun, Mercury and Venus are hostile worlds; one gouged with craters from cosmic collisions and the other a vortex of sulfur, carbon dioxide and acid rain. Prime examples of planets gone awry, do they serve as a warning for ominous scenarios that might someday threaten Earth?"

EPISODE TEN: "Ignited by the power of the atom, burning with light, heat and wrath [?], stars are anything but peaceful. They collide, devour each other, and explode in enormous supernovas--the biggest explosions in the Universe."

EPISODE TWELVE: "Super massive black holes can figuratively 'lasso' the Earth out of the solar system. A clash between two galaxies can result in a barbaric ritual called 'galactic cannibalism' in which the dominant galaxy's super massive black hole eats the weaker one. Magnetars are a cosmic magnetic force so strong it could wipe out data on every credit card on the planet."

And on and on and on. These people should be ashamed of themselves.


Kimber said...

I'm disappointed in the History Channel. Usually they don't show such tripe. But I think it speaks volumes about average viewers - they have to be sucked in by a "reality tv" sort of approach or they'll just go channel surfing right back to Big Brother and Hogan Knows Best. Ugh.

(You did make me giggle with the line about Carl Sagan and the giant breasts though.)

Muffy St. Bernard said...

In Carl Sagan's universe I bet the giant breasts dispense barbituates.

Yes, I was shocked at the reality TV approach. After looking at online reviews it appears that other people noticed this slant as well, though they tended to dismiss it as "edutainment" as opposed to "insidious."

I hope they follow-up with a show called "Animals," which introduces interesting animals from around the world, then shows what happens when they're allowed to attack small children.

Kimber said...

Ooh! Make sure you tell me when it airs!