Thursday, January 14, 2010

Thoughts On 'Solving History'

Last night I watched a new Discovery Channel program called Solving History with Olly Steeds.  It sounded interesting - British journalist Olly Steeds travels the world and tries to find out the truth about some of history's greatest mysteries and legends. 

After seeing the premiere episode (about finding the Ark of the Covenant), I no longer think it's an interesting show.  Sloppy, offensive and culturally insensitive are better words to describe it.

Olly takes a sort of Mythbusters-like approach to his show.  He tries to prove that things were possible - such as carrying the Ark out of Jerusalem through its underground tunnels.  He hires a carpenter to build an Ark much like the one described in the Bible, and then, with some help, attempts to carry it through the narrow tunnels.  Mission accomplished, although he had to take the Ark apart to do it.

What I dislike about the show is Olly's disregard for other peoples' cultures and religions.  Anything dealing with the ancient Jewish and Christian world is already touchy, but Olly takes things way too far:

  • While in an Ethiopian Christian Church, each of which houses a replica of the Ark that, although a replica, is still considered holy, Olly tries to push his luck and enter its room.  The room housing the Ark, we are told by the church's priest, can only be entered by holy men - priests and bishops of the Ethiopian Christian Church.  No one else is allowed inside.  Olly asks the man how far he can go, and the priest keeps telling him that under no circumstances can Olly enter the room.  He's almost pleading with Olly, probably knowing that he will lose his job should he let a non-holy man enter the Ark room.  Olly admits in voiceover that he fantasized about going inside anyway.  He should have left it alone after the first 'No.'
  • Out in the desert with the Bedouin people, Olly is sitting at a campfire eating the meal of freshly-slaughtered goat.  These Bedouins have gone out of their way to take Olly and his crew around the desert, show him their way of life, and even set up tents and slaughter an animal for him.  While eating the meal, one of the Bedouin men offers Olly some goat testicles, specially prepared for their guest.  He asks if they'll be offended if he says no, and the man says they won't, but they would be most pleased if he did accept them.  He does, and makes a face about it.  Now, Anthony Bourdain would never do that!  Nor would Andrew Zimmern.  I can sympathize with Olly, because I wouldn't want them either, but if I knew how special it was I'd probably at least make the effort and be grateful.  
  • This last one is the most daring and most offensive.  Olly has tracked the Ark to Ethiopia.  The Ethiopian church truly believes that they possess the Ark and consider it the most holy of objects.  They consider it the presence of God on earth.  Only one man is allowed to see it.  He is the Guardian and he is not allowed to leave the chapel grounds.  His position is for life.  Any intruders are shot dead on the spot.  This is taken very seriously.  So what does Olly do?  First, he disobeys the Guardian's wishes for no cameras by using a hidden camera.  How disrespectful.  Then, he blatantly asks to see the Ark.  Did he really think they'd say yes to some schlub from the West with fancy cameras and no governmental or religious authority?  Olly knows darn well that no one is allowed to see the Ark, that this is tradition, and yet he still thinks he can try.  After being denied, he walks off and pouts about it.  Does he not realize that the entire point of the Ark for the Ethiopian church is that no one is allowed to see it?  That it is so holy that it must be protected at any cost?  I felt like he was showing a complete lack of respect for Ethiopia's traditions and faith, and all for the benefit of some 'look at me' travel TV show.  That's ridiculous.
So, that is the first and last time I will be watching Solving History.  If that's how Olly Steeds treats other cultures, I want no part in it.  He could learn a thing or two from Anthony Bourdain.

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