Wednesday, July 2, 2008

How Safe Is The History Channel?

As a kid and even a young adult, I was interested in a lot of off-beat subjects, including all of the stuff they talked about on the forbidden late night radio talk shows that I listened to anyway on a transistor radio (by some unknown company named Sony) hidden in my pillow: ghosts, magic, UFOs, psychics, homosexuals, and monsters like Bigfoot and Nessie.

Yes, in the 1960s, homosexuality was as fringe as UFOs.

Homosexuals turned out to be real, all the rest are not, but belief in them persists. Cryptozoology is the subject of History Channel's "MonsterQuest" series. Tonight, I saw the recent episode on the Ohio Grassman.

This Bigfoot-like creature supposedly lives in the area around Salt Fork State Park in Guernsey County. Salt Fork is Ohio's largest state park. It is east of Columbus, between Zanesville and Wheeling, West Virginia.

I grew up in Ohio, in Mansfield, and lived in other parts of Ohio until I was 26. I'm not very familiar with that particular area, but I'm pretty well versed in Ohio history and lore generally. I've never heard of the Ohio Grassman.

Apparently, I'm not the only one. Charlie Toft writes What2Watch on Charlie is based in Ohio and he hasn't heard of it either. Neither has Len Lacara, Managing Editor of the Zanesville Times-Recorder newspaper (though he's a transplant from New York). Len noticed that the producers decided to spell the name of the nearby town of Coshocton phonetically as Kershocktin.

I'm not saying the History Channel or its producers invented Grassman. There is, after all, a 2006 book called Bigfoot Encounters in Ohio, by Christopher L. Murphy and Jody Cook, who just happen to be the primary authorities interviewed on the "MonsterQuest" episode.

Although most of the action in the show is around Salt Fork Park, sightings in Knox, Gallea and Adams County are mentioned, and each of those is in a completely different part of the state. Knox is near where I grew up. Either there are a lot of these creatures or they travel widely.

Bigfoot in Ohio isn't just a story told to scare children. It isn't a story told at all. Just about the only references you will find to it on the web are derived from either the "MonsterQuest" episode or the book. I'm not about to buy the now-out-of-print book to check its references. All I can say is that most people in Ohio, like most elsewhere, are hearing about the Ohio Grassman for the first time this summer.

Like most of television, the History Channel always has had decent shows mixed with utter garbage. Usually it's easy to tell them apart. Something like "MonsterQuest" can even be rationalized as being about the history of belief in and searches for the creatures (or ghosts, UFOs, or whatever else it is), which is "real" in that there is a history, presumably, of these sightings. But now I'm starting to wonder. I have seen other examples of History Channel shows where a subject has been so sensationalized as to render the program almost completely untrustworthy.

In the episode of "Lost Worlds" called "Al Capone's Secret City," virtually every segment is so exaggerated as to convey almost nothing that is true, such as the claim that the Green Mill Tavern was a favorite Capone hangout and the tunnels beneath it were used by Capone and his men to escape police raids. The Green Mill was controlled by Capone's organization back in the day, but all the rest is merely legend.

Perhaps more disturbing is the recent History Channel special, "The Lost Pyramid", which states some very widely disputed claims as fact and uses a pretty blond spokesmodel posing as a historian to make them, according to an article in Newsweek.

Whenever we watch television we need to remember its purpose is to deliver audiences to advertisers. Realizing that, it makes sense that the more gullible that audience is, the better.


Len LaCara said...

Thanks for the mention. But in fairness, I should note that Andy Donaldson first noted the spelling error, which I first acknowledged in my blog in the Coshocton Tribune.

Rebecca said...

I know what you mean! You can easily tell on the History Channel what shows are really sensationalized. They are usually on in prime time to try to draw more viewers in. I still like the History Channel though. As you pointed out, you have to take the good with the bad!