[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index][Subject Index][Author Index]

Some examples of documentary problems

Although I am most concerned about mistakes within documentaries about 
paleontological subjects, the problems pervade the genre. Even within the 
context of a cable channel that should know better. 

Being into military history, it is a bit of a hobby to watch documentaries 
on the subject to see how many mistakes they contain. Such as the Battle of 
Britain scenes showing the Germans using Bf-109G's deployed in the middle of 
the war, and later in the show they are shown sending the early model 
Bf-109Es used in 1940 up to attack B-17s and 24s in 43/44. Or Hellcats taking 
from Essex class carriers during the Battle of Midway. Then there is the 
casual repeating of common myths. Such as the Hood blowing up because of 
inadequate armor (she was about as well armored as the Bismarck which had 
knocked out without blowing up the whole ship, it was actually the 
dangerously unstable cordiate the RN used), that radar and Spitfires saved 
from invasion (very doubtful that Hitler seriously intended to cross the 
channel without a credible navy to protect it against the RN), that Japan 
surrendered because of the A-bombs (Hirohito et al could have cared less about 
that, to prevent being executed and having Japan being split like Germany he 
had to surrender to American when the Soviets entered the war). 

Back when the wonderful MST 3K was being aired Joel and the robots viewed 
what is regarded as one of the worst SciFi movies ever made, cannot remember 
the name. Afterwards the traumitized trio reviewed scenes of the film and 
asked why it was so bad. The refrain they kept repeating was that "they just 
didn't care." Although there are exceptions, this get the product out there 
and don't worry too much about the details attitude pervades the production 
of documentaries. 

Not long ago National Geographic presented a program on the possible 
stealth characteristics of the Horten flying wing jet fighter being developed 
the Germans near the end of WW II. Most of the program was pretty good. But 
towards the end the producers got out of hand -- perhaps because the radar 
tests on a full scale replica showed that the fighter was not all that 
stealthy (which was obvious from the start because the radio wave reflecting 
fans of the twin jets were exposed at the front of the plane). So they 
showed Hortens attacking England across the channel in 1946 on the assumption 
the war had not ended. It is a stretch that the Germans who could barely 
operate the Me-262 in 44/45 could have deployed such advanced fighters (roughly 
equal to the F-86 and Mig-15) in significant numbers a year later, especially 
since they had severe problems with jet engines partly due to a lack of 
heat resistent alloys. The Brits were shown using Spitfire 9s, which has 
entered service in 42 and were obsolete by 44. In 46 the RAF would have been 
Griffon engined Spitfire 14s, 18s etc, Tempests, Hornets, Meteors and 
Vampires -- this is an example of how inaccuracy can lead to producing a less 
interesting program. 

Then things went into la-la land. The Hortens were designing a giant flying 
wing bomber, which had not been started before the end of the war. In the 
NG program the plane is finished and sent on a mission to bomb New York in 
1946. No way such a complex and exotic machine could have been constructed and 
sent all the way across the Atlantic so quickly. Nor would there have been 
any point because it would have been nothing more than a nuisance raid. So 
the producers made a vague claim that Goering said the plane would carry an 
atomic bomb, and animation shows Manhatten under a mushroom cloud. It is well 
documented that the Nazis never had a serious nuclear bomb project, it was 
way beyond their industrial capacity (they may have been trying to produce a 
dirty bomb, or a slightly boosted conventional-fission device). 

The program continues to be aired. That even NatGeo is willing to release 
such a patently errant and sensationalist "documentary" that assumes the 
average viewer has no idea they are being suckered, and do not care that the 
audience is being grossly misinformed, means that no field of research is safe 
unless something is done to bring the documentary producers to heel. 

When I see a highly accurate military documentary I'm amazed, which is not 
how it should be. An example is program on Hitler. I was delighted that they 
got one thing after another correct -- Adolf was disappointed with the 
peace pact over Czechoslovakia because he was denied his first little war of 
conquest, he was shocked when England and France actually declared war after 
what was meant to be his little war on Poland, Hilter was already shiftin the 
military to the east in preparation for invading the USSR before the Battle 
of Britain and so forth. I was wondering why the program was so good when 
the reason was revealed at the end -- the narrator was also the creator, a 
professional historian who knew what he was talking about and wrote the program 
the way he wanted. That tells us one way to address the problem.   

While mulling over the paleontological aspect of the problem it occurred to 
me that the cause of its now chronic extent is historical in nature. Until 
recently, there were so few science documentaries because there were so few 
media outlets, so the problem was not sufifciently large to warrant a 
response. Now there is enormous programming time to be filled because of the 
proliferation of outlets, hence a plethora of documentaries. Some of the media 
outlets are exploiting this situation by exploiting the scientists who have 
not yet developed a strategy for gaining more control over the situation whose 
scope has suddenly expanded to unheard of proportions. This situation is 
permanent in terms of the system that needs the product, and many producers 
will not cease as long as they can get away with it. To a fair extent the 
media outlets have worked to gain and control the product, often making 
researchers into independent vassels that are expected to happily go along as 
are often abused, and the public misinformed. 

A new and its not going away problem requires a novel and sustained 
response. The only way to change the long term situation in a manner favorable 
scientists and the public is for researchers to organize in some manner and 
assert a level of control over the contents of the product they are 
associated with. There is no point in whining and complaining unless a serious 
is made to address what will be a permanent problem.