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 power. 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 Visas. 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 decency". 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 Court. 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 policy. 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.