[The above video (The Known Universe from the Hayden Planetarium) is really cool, but only relates to this post in the end. So … cool video to watch in its own right — very representative of my natural state of paralysis wonder — but makes more sense with this post after you’ve read it all, I think. I mostly posted the video at the top so you don’t miss it if you skip my wordy stream…]
I joke every now and then to Mrs. Fall of Because that the History Channel has an implied tagline: “Your 24-Hour Hitler Channel.” (I fear I’ve blogged a variation of that before, but bare with me.) Because whenever things are slow, programming-wise, you can always count on the History Channel to run some H!tler or N@zi-related filler. It’s like Shark Week on the … Discovery Channel, maybe?
It’s just too easy: What’s an easier fish-in-a-barrel grab for viewers: Explaining the unfamiliar and less-examined facets of the 1848 revolutions, or trying to dig into how one guy led one regime to lead one country to unspeakably execute well over 6 million people in an effort to very nearly take over the world and homogenize the gene pool? Just slap “The Secret Tapes,” or “Never Before Seen Photos” on top of old programming and you’ve got yourself a weekend to go up against “Super Chefs of the Runway.”
Anyway, it’s a true stereotype that lots of guys eat up History Channel stuff, and I’m sure for some there is a repressed-violence intrigue involved. (“Wow. Glad I didn’t have to march across Europe…but I wonder what it was like to shoot at people?”) But for me, and I would hope for many, it’s the crazy-story of crazy-humanity aspect. I’m so aware of my limited term on this planet; sometimes I just wanna know how all the terms that came before me went down. (“Went down” in an informal, “What’s up?” sense, rather than a death-is-inevitable sense.)
But I notice a cognitive problem that develops with my perspective: I start to see history, and more broadly time itself, as part of a real-time TV show — yet I will only get a limited and undetermined number of future episodes. In the same way I sometimes find myself surprised the age of the universe hasn’t grown since last time I checked (“Geez, seems like five years ago it was still 13.7 billion years … what are we, stuck in time?”), I also find myself looking at evolving historical trends as if I will one day find out how they all turn out. But — duh! — I won’t.
I read passages like the following and think, “Ooh, that would be fun!”:
A democratic revolution in Tehran could well prove the most momentous Mideastern event since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. A politically freer Iran would bring front and center the great Islamic debate of our times: How can one be both a good Muslim and a democrat? How does one pay homage to Islamic law but give ultimate authority to the people’s elected representatives? How can a Muslim import the best of the West without suffering debilitating guilt?
To an extent seen in no other country, Iran’s intellectuals have battled and evolved over these questions. For a century, the country has been trying to develop constitutional government. For 30 years, dissident clerics and lay intellectuals have struggled to reassert the democratic promise in the revolution.
Now taking my average expected lifespan and the pace of things in Iran, it’s hardly out of the question to think I might be around for the next major historical shift in Iran. Then again, it’s been 30 years since the last one, what if it’s another 30 to 50 more? (I get the same way when NASA and Hubble describe a star that “will one day explode” and I think, “Oooh, that will be fun!” — only to realize we could be talking about a thousand-year timeline here. A bigger time/space mind-fuck is that the explosion may have already happened but the light just hasn’t arrived here yet to tell us so.) I’ve already been spoiled by seeing the Iron Curtain fall and the EU emerge and even China open up — how much more interesting TV should I reasonably expect in one lifetime?
That’s what bums me out more than anything (except family and friends consequences of course) when contemplating my own exit from this mortal coil: I won’t get to see the ending of stuff I’ve been watching, be it historical or interpersonal. I imagine my response to the Reaper if he came to my door would be: “Hey, assface, I was watching that!”