I’m curious as to how many of our readers watch the newish History Channel program, “Chasing Mummies.” It features Egyptologist Zahi Hawass as he takes a team to explore mummies and their crypts in the land of the Pharaohs.
The show seems to expose in rather dissonant fashion the tension if not outright contradiction the History Channel tries to maintain nowadays for ratings purposes. On one hand, the show explains a good bit of actual discoveries regarding ancient Egypt and their religious/political/social practices. Egypt, as one of the world’s oldest civilizations, shows itself to be far from exhausted as a topic of research during the episodes of this show.
On the other hand, however, we find in Hawass a focus on entertaining personality. Much of the show’s kick appears to be Hawass yelling at his crew, firing interns, and self-consciously making combinations of grandiose statements of congratulatory self-assessment and impossible demands of those around him. The show is considered interesting to gape at the demands, gasp at the insults, and laugh at the grandstanding. In many ways, these techniques appear little different than the rather vapid programming dominating the former music channels, MTV and VH1. We watch for the exhilaration of vicarious horrifying, disturbing, or just plain weird experiences.
That the History Channel would so brazenly and awkwardly combine these two components seems to either be poor marketing or a pretty desperate attempt to reach two very different audiences; or maybe it takes watchers to be somewhat obtuse. Regardless, the show’s posturing to reality-like personality programs dilutes its better moments. The beauty and vanity, strength and weakness, longevity and fleetingness of Egypt become too often a backdrop for that which is only vanity, weakness, and fleeting. For all of its interesting research, the show fails both to emulate and to properly consider that which is noble and beautiful. With Egypt as a backdrop, such a failure has little excuse.