April 14, 2014

Cosmos Rewrites History

The FOX series, Cosmos, is truly wonderful. But it also shows that even something that advertises itself as strictly factual can stoop to rewriting history or presenting history as they wish it had been--as their version of the story.

Take, for example, the cartoon scene where the series talks about first buds of democracy in the Greek city states. Here the show plays fast and loose with history. When the Greeks talked about "the people," they had a highly selective group of people in mind: no women, no slaves, no children, no foreigners, no one who was not a citizen. Perhaps the show should have said, democracy was it was understood in the 19th century, not as we understand it today.

Next, Neil DeGrasse Tyson mentions Democritus as the "father of science" and he was indeed an important thinker, but he was also student of Leucippus. These are both shadowy figures at best, and it is difficult to attribute what ideas originated with whom. If the show wants accuracy, some things have to be nuanced.

Then there is the wildly inaccurate cartoon scene of ancient Greek men and women sitting together informally discussing philosophy. Very appealing but highly unlikely that women were allowed to mix with men on an equal basis and be allowed to speak with authority in the public sphere. This is just wishful thinking.

All this to say, that viewers need to be careful when watching even a great show. With the limitations the producers have to work with, they do a fine job. But not all of what it shown and said is reliable. You can't bank on all of it. The show exhibits its own degree of prejudice. They should leave the history to real historians and let the scientists do science.

Grace, Kathy

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