In the tradition of the great Stephen Colbert, I would like to take a moment to praise and deride certain elements of our entertainment culture.
Tip of the Hat to…
The T.V. show "House". Those unfamiliar with the medical-themed T.V. show, should do themselves a favor and watch a few episodes. The show’s focus on rare maladies and the logical process of diagnosing them is both original and fascinating. The title character, Dr. Gregory House, is a quirky, somewhat bitter doctor whose sometimes anti-social behavior and biting sarcastic wit are tolerated due to his undeniable brilliance.
Perhaps the most encouraging part of the show is its strong emphasis on rational solutions, reinforced by the Dr. House’s personal skepticism on all things supernatural. There have been opportunities where I feared some superstitions would be given an ambiguous treatment or perhaps even be left unexplained to teach the grouchy old skeptical Dr. a lesson. Fortunately, as far as I know, this has not happened. A couple of brief examples:
Last season, a boy was brought in, seemingly with faith-healing abilities. There was some good discourse among all the characters, with different theological viewpoints presented. Someone as a joke wrote "House" and "God" on the Doctor’s dry-erase board and kept score. Every symptom or aspect House explained, they put a point by his name. Every time he was stumped or something seemingly miraculous occured, "God" received a point. House was nearly stumped at the end, and it seemed "God had won by a point. The point was given to "God" because the boy apparently performed a miraculous healing while at the hospital. In the end though, House diagnosed the boy and even explained the "healing" he performed, allowing him to get a point to tie, and he personally erased one of "God’s" points since he explained the healing.
This season House debunked a seemingly convincing alien abduction case using scientific reasoning, and provided some gratifying sarcasm to those who gave the supernatural explanation any credit whatever.
As recently as this week’s episode, a patient who was planning to die asked Dr. House what was beyond this life, to which Dr. House responded, "Nothing". This unapologetic homage to reason is a breath of fresh air in television, a medium that seems to be filled lately with…well, mediums.
A wag of the finger to…
The History Channel and the National Geographic channel. Recently I have seen what seems to be an increase in pseudoscientific and supertitious infotainment pieces out of both of these channels. It’s almost become expected of the history channel which has developed a reputation as the "bible history" channel. This would be ok if biblical stories were critically examined with real historical evidence, be more often than not they are sycophantic pieces for the theologically dependent rather than pieces concerned with academic merit. National Geographic is sometimes better, but I was very disappointed when I watched a show called "Is it real". There was an episode on bigfoot and one on alien abduction. While both presented more critical and skeptical arguments than many shows I’ve seen in the past, both seemed to leave the question ambiguous and give room for those who "want to believe" to keep their faith.
How strange it is when channels that are pure rating whores like Fox put out a quality show steeped in rationality like "House", while those traditionally associated with the more academic crowd or at least those that pay lip service to education, rarely seem to give the enlightenment a chance to shine.