Sunday, November 3, 2013

Why Do Scholars Want to Appear on Television So Badly?

I know why I want to do TV - I find the obstacles in participating in 'real scholarship' to be insurmountable.  I mean, if an idea came to me that could be synthesized into a 10 page article, I might take the time to work on a paper and submit it to an academic journal.  If I had a PhD in some related discipline, I would probably attempt this more often.  But that's the way it is I guess. 

However I have been musing about the way in which 'real scholars' have leapt at the opportunity to do TV.  Facebook was alive with Candida's appearance on Bill O'Reilly.  The same Bibliobloggers will congratulate one another on the fine job that they did in the new History Channel series.  'Thank God, we took this job out of the hands of 'charlatans' like Simcha Jacobovici.' 

But I am still wrestling with the real benefit of modern scholarship for the general public.  It used to be thought that the Bible was the cornerstone of western civilization.  When documentaries were made about early Christianity a number of boring and unattractive talking heads would come on explaining the meaning of the parable of the fishes and loaves.  It was terribly uncritical research.  Yet it was generally assumed that 'making people familiar with the teachings of Jesus' did the public some good. 

Now we have a new generation of scholars.  Are they there to uphold the value of the Bible for western civilization?  No, if Bart Ehrman, Robert Cargill and many of the other faces I see associated with this new production are any indication.  The purpose of these documentaries is no longer to reinforce the importance of Jesus Christ for our moral well being.  Do any of these people have any radical new understanding about who Jesus was, the nature of religion or the meaning of life?  No, not in the slightest. 

So why do they want to participate in these superficial productions aimed at the 'common man' and woman?  Is it really to 'educate' the public about the truth about God, religion and the meaning of life?  No of course not.  They might have argued that 'the truth' was at stake when 'bad men' like Simcha Jacobovici were running around making 'sham documentaries.'  But the reality is that it for purely selfish reasons that they want to go on Fox News, CNN and these television documentaries.  It's good for their career, it's good for their marriages, it's good for their self-esteem. 

But does the public really benefit from the change of guard from Simcha Jacobovici to these people?  I am sure that the 'real scholars' think so.  'The truth matters' they claim 'and since we are better evaluators of what the truth is with respect to early Christianity amateurs had better stay out of the picture.'  But can't a case be made that the public benefits from wildly imaginative reinterpretations of the evidence?  Isn't that the very reason why we watch TV in the first place - that is, for escapism?

One might argue that the History Channel is supposed to be a hard news channel or at least to pretend to stay within the facts.  But many of Simcha's documentaries appeared on the Discovery Channel.  Is it okay to have escapist fare on some of the channels or must people like Simcha be banned from making documentaries altogether according to the centralized planning department of the Biblioblogging community?  Certainly Simcha has a lot of crazy ideas.  Yet Dan Brown's books contain just as many silly notions.  Are academic bloggers going to take to writing works of fiction soon (Stephen Carlson already beat them to it)?  Or will they start to develop feature length films too?

The problem of course is that they have nothing to say or at least nothing that most of the world wants to see.  There used to be a time where scholars knew they were boring and ugly and were content to write papers and go to conferences and devote themselves to 'serious study.'  This was the life that you signed up for when you decided to become an academic.  Yet the modern scholar doesn't seem to realize that he has nothing to offer the general public.  It is as if all of these types suddenly decided that the work that goes on in the universities needs to be brought into people's living rooms.  But why?  Of what value is any of this nonsense for the average person? 

Why does the average person need to be brought into acquaintance with Bart Ehrman's work on forgery of church writings?  I have to admit, I might find it interesting but is society better off with Ehrman or Jacobovici?  In other words, does the world need myth or science in its television programming about the Bible?  There will never come a day when our culture will go back to the old beliefs of the past.  The secularizing of our civilization is underway.  Enough people in our society are now 'offended' by the very idea of the Church, God and the meaning of life can't be 'forced down their throat' any longer. 

Yet this does not change the fact that myths are absolutely essential to a healthy functioning society.  I just don't believe that science can create values.  I don't believe that a serious academic should be spending time currying favor with the general public.  He or she should be engaged in serious research and leave the mythmaking to the poets and artists.  It is not the sign of a healthy society when scholars are tarting themselves up to gain as much exposure in order to raise their profile and 'sell product.'  If people thought that they were going to rich being an academic they should have gotten into another line of business.

And if they really wanted to be in front of a camera so badly many of them should consider plastic surgery, hair transplants and tummy tucks - something we can be sure to expect with the next generation of 'scholars.'  Where does this all end?  We all know the answer.  We are witnessing the end of western civilization in slow motion ...

No compare this attractive list of new 'celebrity seeking' scholars to the equivalent group that work on Ian Wilson's Jesus the Evidence:

Let's face it.  One group looks like scholars and the other - well - it's symptomatic of the age.  The one group of scholars got all dolled up and the other group was like, 'listen, we're really busy doing serious stuff that scholars are supposed to be doing.  Come to my office and we'll fit you in after one of our lectures.  We'll even put on a tie ..."

I've been to these meetings.  I can guarantee you that the producers of 'Kendra on Top' and 'The History of Boobs in Playboy' or whatever it was called looked at one picture of Francesca Stavrakopoulou and pushed to the side a hundred fat, bald and old candidates - like the guys above.   Is that a crime?  No certainly not.  'It's television.'  But television is also supposed to be garbage aimed at the lowest common denominator.  Let's see how long this lasts. 

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Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
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