The Guardian August 28, 2002

TV Programs Worth Watching
Sun September 1 Sat September 7

According to SBS, the English series A History of Britain (SBS 
7.30pm Sundays) is "returning by popular demand". I hope this is merely 
publicity hype, because however successful the series might have been as 
television, it was definitely not good history.

This is history presented as the result of the individual acts and 
psychological foibles of assorted "great men" (and a few "great women"). Do 
not seek here for an understanding of the interplay of social forces or the 
changing relationships between various strata of English society and the 
means of production.

The development of classes and the economic causes  and effects  of the 
transition from one historical stage (such as slavery or feudalism) to 
another are not a significant part of the series' concerns. When it does 
deal with issues of class, as in Episode 5 King Death (c.1348-
1500), which looks at the Wars of the Roses, it trivialises them.

The Wars of the Roses were an essential part of the process of unifying the 
country under a centralised monarchy that would in turn allow the 
foundations of capitalism to be laid.

Series historian Schama, however, typically deals with them as a battle 
between "toughs and toffs" out of which rose "the most unlikely of 
survivors: the English country gent". (Good bloody grief!)

Similarly, the 16th century, when the capitalist class really began to 
emerge, was not (in this series) a time of growing power on the part of the 
merchant class, becoming wealthy from trade and in alliance with the 
monarchy which depended on their financial backing, in political struggle 
with the declining power of the landed aristocracy, the remnant of feudal 

Instead, the motive force for the great changes that took place during the 
16th century is identified as "the love affair between Catholic King Henry 
VIII and the woman who first spurned his advances, Anne Boleyn".

Later in the series, Schama's inability (or refusal) to see English history 
as a law-governed process leads him into some amazing philosophical and 
logical gymnastics as he tries to answer spurious philosophical questions 
like how was it that "in the space of less than a century the people who 
thought of themselves as the freest in the world ended up subjugating so 
much of it?

"How did a nation with such a deep distrust of armies end up with the 
greatest military power on earth? How did the empire of the free become an 
empire of slaves?"

The empire of the free, eh? Oh dear.

Why does Compass (ABC 9:40pm Sunday), a religious program, this week 
deal with science? It is not the first time, either.

There is a determined move on the part of some bourgeois ideologists to 
make religion, and philosophical idealism on which it is based, acceptable 
somehow being "scientific". In other words, they are out to undermine and 
defeat the materialist philosophy that underpins Marxism.

This week's Compass is such a program: a "scientific" account of 
what is essentially a science-fiction concept, Parallel Universes 
(the program's subtitle).

Boldly asserting that "scientists now believe there may really be an 
infinite number of parallel universes [floating] less than one millimetre 
away from us", Compass dishes up a whole range of sci-fi hypotheses 
as serious scientific concepts.

"Our gravity is just a weak signal leaking out of another universe into 
ours", is typical.

"The latest theory is that two of these parallel universes floating through 
space suddenly collided. This released an unimaginable amount of energy 
from which a new universe was born  ours.

"The idea has shocked the scientific community  because, if it's true, it 
will explain the one remaining mystery about the origins of our universe  
what actually caused the big bang." "Sure" it does.

Cutting Edge: Seeking Asylum (SBS 8.30pm Tuesday) is a piece of 
useful television journalism from Piper Films in association with SBS 
Independent. The program examines the Howard Government's refugees policy 
and its effects on asylum seekers.

Narrated by Jack Thompson, the program includes harrowing interviews with 
people who risked their lives at the hands of people smugglers and are now 
living in the Australian community for 30 months on Temporary Protection 

All speak fearfully about their escape from persecution, torture and death 
at the hands of fanatical, extreme right-wing fundamentalist regimes.

They also speak frankly and fearfully about life in the remote and 
notorious Woomera Detention Centre  where the incarcerated children of 
asylum seekers suffer psychological trauma and others commit acts of self-
mutilation through their desperation from simply not knowing when  or 
even if  they will ever be released.

The odious Philip Ruddock, Minister for Immigration, vigorously defends the 
Government's racist and inhumane policies on asylum seekers. Scandalously, 
in the Howard Government, Ruddock is also the Minister responsible 
Multicultural Affairs and Indigenous Affairs!

While Ruddock defends the Government's policies, the program also talks to 
former Liberal Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, who is highly critical of 
them. Fraser, an astute politician, recognises that a people's movement is 
growing in support of the rights of refugees. He calls it a "groundswell of 

The program also looks at Australian Correctional Management (ACM), the 
privately owned US prison management company that operates the Woomera 
Detention Centre on behalf of the Department of Immigration and 
Multicultural Affairs. For many viewers this will be their first awareness 
that such a sensitive national facility as the Woomera Detention Centre is 
both private and foreign-owned.

True Stories: Scout's Honour (ABC 10.00pm Thursday) traces the 
conflict between the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and the broad-based 
movement by many of its members to overturn the BSA's anti-gay policy.

The rhetoric of the BSA leadership and its much vaunted principles are 
belied by the experiences of former scouts and scoutmasters who were 
expelled for being gay. To say the BSA is out of touch with modern thinking 
on this question would be putting it mildly.

Prejudice and bigotry rampant would be another way to put it. 
Significantly, the fight to change the BSA's policy is being led by 
straight, heterosexual scouts, who have joined the expelled gay scouts and 
scoutmasters, one of whom took his expulsion all the way to the Supreme 

The story is told predominantly through the experiences of 13-year-old 
Steven Cozza (now 15) and 69-year-old Dave Rice (now 71) in their hometown 
of Petaluma, California. This is where they began an international 
grassroots petition drive and media campaign to overturn the BSA's anti-gay 

In 1998, they formalised their movement into an organisation called 
Scouting for All. Scout's Honour documents the growth of Scouting 
for All, and the growth of Steven Cozza, who comes of age during the film.

Back to index page