What’s with the Atheist TV Hate?

I seriously don’t understand it. Vice‘s Dave Schilling attended the Atheist TV launch party and slammed it for being a channel for those who “love hearing the sound of their own voice.”

As if Christian televangelists and political pundits everywhere do it purely for the benefit of the audience…

His whole piece was like that — a vessel for snark with very little substance.

Schilling blasted American Atheists for including its polarizing founder Madalyn Murray O’Hair in their programming, despite the fact that the 1990 speech she gave (which Atheist TV aired in its first few minutes) was an excellent primer for why atheism matters.

Schilling went after a technical glitch, the kind that unfortunately happens even at much larger events, as a sign that the whole organization was run by old people with no tech savvy whatsoever.

He was upset that AA distributed pro-atheist literature and flyers “as though they were holy text,” even though this was a publicity event for the organization.

And he really went after the kind of content airing on the channel, which he says consists entirely of the “archives of the Richard Dawkins Institute” (which isn’t true and doesn’t exist, but, you know, it’s Vice).

That’s really the biggest criticism I’ve heard so far: Why isn’t the programming more diverse and original? There’s a simple answer to that: Because there’s not a lot of content to choose from. American Atheists has its own material, like the Reason Rally footage, speeches from old conferences, and its own public access show. Then you have the material provided to AA free of charge, like YouTube videos (hi) and The Atheist Experience episodes.

That’s pretty much it. So of course the content is thin. It’s not like AA has a massive budget for this project. The point of launching a TV channel (even on Roku where pretty much anyone can start one) wasn’t that it was supposed to rival mainstream channels, but that it offered an alternative perspective on a new medium. That’s it. And good for them for giving it a shot.

If you have suggestions for free programming, want to create your own and submit it, or want to donate money so AA can create more original content, go for it. You have my non-religious blessings. But it pisses me off when people criticize groups that are trying to do something unique, even though they have nothing to offer themselves. It’s not like the armchair activists are about to create a 24-hour stream of atheist content from scratch, but it’s all too easy to criticize others who are making it happen. Believe me, I would love to see this channel grow and expand — it’s not a channel that’s part of my daily rotation yet — but it’s completely unfair, I think, to be mad that it didn’t live up to your unrealistic expectations in the first week. (I’ve seen the same kind of criticism directed at conference organizers by people who have never tried to plan anything at that scale.)

That’s not to say all criticism should be silenced. People can (and should) criticize Atheist TV if, for example, they feel the content does a disservice to atheists or would turn off potential viewers. But I would take that criticism much more seriously if it included alternatives that AA could actually use. Saying “you shouldn’t air this” doesn’t help unless you also add, “you should replace it with this.”

I’m not really hearing much constructive criticism right now. I mostly hear about how this channel isn’t up to par with a big-budget one.

For what it’s worth, AA announced at the launch that they want original content and are working with a professional to make that happen:

Among the people helping to bring that about, the channel has announced, will be the producer Liz Bronstein, whose credits include reality shows like “Whale Wars,” on Animal Planet, which is part of Discovery Communications — a company that [American Atheists President Dave] Silverman slammed hard on Tuesday night [at the Atheist TV launch party].

Bronstein is simply a consultant whose exact role is still in flux — original programming isn’t even an option without more funding — but it’s a sign that AA is at least thinking beyond the launch party, which I appreciate.

As someone who has created a lot of online content (including this site, a YouTube channel, and a podcast), I’m well aware of how imperfect those things are when they launch and how much they improve over time.

The hardest thing to do is taking that first step. There’s never a shortage of critics with strong opinions. What we don’t have are enough people with the vision and willingness to actually get things done. I love that AA took this chance, even if everything isn’t perfect.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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