Sunday, March 4th, 2012...7:23 pm

NatGeo’s Junk TV

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When I was growing up the National Geographic magazine had the reputation for a stodgy exoticism (“native girls in all your favorite poses” as we quipped in our high school knowingness). In fact, you didn’t subscribe to the magazine: you became a member of the National Geographic Society (and received the magazine). Later critiques suggested that its articles and splendid photography tended to gloss over the seamy sides of some cultures and to offer a colonizing eye, an up-market Life magazine.

Unfortunately, its TV avatar has abandoned the judiciousness of the print journal and descended into the debased vulgarity and sensationalism of what passes for kulchur today.

As I write NatGeoTV is showing a program on what “will” happen when alien invaders attack the Nation’s Capital. We are given the impression that planning for this inevitability is already underway, numerous “experts” are interviewed, and simulations presented.

This apocalyptic scenario is joined by a new feature on NatGeo: “Doomsday Preppers.” Why we need an expose of those who lead the paranoid delusional lifestyle is beyond me. Perhaps a single one-hour documentary might have sufficed, but, if the trailers for the series are any indication, the subjects of this series take great delight in having their 15 minutes of infamy, and mug appropriately for the camera.

If you’ve had your fill of end-times chaos, NatGeo will feed the American addiction for crime: Alaska State Troopers, Border Wars (the other kind of aliens are featured here), American Weed (it’s not about lawn care), and Locked Up Abroad are also available.

The National Geographic Society proclaims that it has been “inspiring people to care about the planet since 1888,” but if its TV lineup is a reflection of the planet, I don’t care anymore. The doomsday preppers can have it all to themselves.


  • One can only wonder if this vulgar vehicle will do for geography what the History Channel has done for its academic discipline — from the HC, a viewer gets the impression that s/he cannot see too many film clips on the world wars — students then wonder why their instructor is not “the video professor!”

  • I think you’re referring to the Hysteria Channel, Charles. Its programming would make the National Enquirer blush. It think its slogan should slightly revised: “History made [up] every day.” I’m all for history-from-below, but today’s lineup asks “How below can you go?”: Ax Men; Full Metal Jousting; American Pickers; Mudcats; Swamp People; Pawn Stars (demonstrating that Americans are a nation of cynics–we know the price of everything and the value of nothing). It employs two formulas: 1) stretch out 15 minutes of material into 50 minutes of programming (lots of reaction shots); 2) examine the most specious claims for 45 minutes, and in the remaining 5 minutes offer the disclaimer, “Most experts don’t accept these claims,” by which time the damage is already done. I recall when Republicon politicians said we don’t need PBS anymore because we have a variety of fine documentary cable channels like NatGeo, Hysteria Channel, Discovery, and TLC.

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