Who cares how they died? It’s how they lived that matters.
A Germany-based production company has just (August 2011) released online streaming of its pseudo-new “Atlantis” documentary, featuring high-tech animations of the catastrophic destruction that engulfed the Bronze Age Aegean (you know, where Western civilization began with about 1500 years of relative peace and general prosperity). I wish I had the link for you, but threw it away in a fit of mental health. For an agglutinated slew of sea-sick examples from this genre, visit YouTube:
This particular program features the well-regarded Dr. Floyd McCoy, who really does understand what happened at Thera and makes it clear. But Good Lord, will the well-funded mainstream (History Channel, Discovery, Learning Channel, PBS, National Geographic and more) ever get tired of this virtually-worthless catastrophe approach to Minoan/Cycladic civilizations. They are worlds richer and more interesting than any of this stuff suggests. Its Wagnerian histrionics are as far from a true representation of Crete as Egypt’s priest-befuddled Atlantis tale. The genre is rightly called Apoca-Porn.
How many times and in how many ways can you see Thera explode and the tsunamis take down these landscapes and architectures, while Minoan lifeways and their visible values scarcely ever surface. How many authentic-looking but always-terrified islanders need to get blown off the screen (and I suppose, out of the way of manly history) before we realize you can only learn so much from hot winds of volcanic spew.
How many funding-checks can an educationally-senile millionaire sign for the same story over and over. This is what marketing people (without ever having asked) say the public wants—I suppose because to them catastrophe and death are what make living things interesting, and because Western behavior since Crete has been guided [sic] by Mycenaeans; meaning, a needless realpolitik of ”Raid Before Trade” and “Profit At Any Cost.” (Mycenaean civilization rose, peaked and collapsed in perhaps 1/4 of Minoan Crete’s lifetime). What’s “fresh” is what’s really old as mold in each of these remakes, tricked out in ever-more-violent new tech. The content, like a delusion in defiance of a far more interesting reality, stays fixed to numb the mass historical brain.
It’s so us. The endlessly improving techno-tsunamis that amount to standing water. A gesture to erase the longest continuous cultural period in Western history (with, by the way, the most peace and the highest average living standards) —from people whose money claims the authoritative presentation of history, while they apparently find the responsibility unbearable. I.e., that they’ll teach something, beyond the bludgeon-fact that history smashes everything.
I’d like to hear what they think they’re doing, but I doubt that they’ve wondered or been asked. Who needs the intellectual rigor or real grime of archaeology (which alone, by the way, can direct us toward facts) when producers inside the bubble, tapped out by careers in creative incest, assume that only Gotterdammerung Kreta XIX will carry the audience through each lucrative block of commercials? As a tiresome sort of American, I just have to keep remembering that (as with the “news”) the commercials are the whole point of this culture.
On one of many sojourns in Crete I spotted a particularly garish, ghoulish poster of the man-eating “Minotaur” in its Labyrinth. Seeing what Cretan people thought they had to present in order to attract hotel-tourists out to Knossos (the Vatican City of its age), I had to get calm and try to speak. This image (and “Theseus slaying the Minotaur”) is even the unit insignia posted in front of the military base near Iraklion, while actually it’s a Late Bronze Age logo from the island’s first invasion. A “political cartoon,” in Robert Graves’ phrase, that turned an ancient and complete lack of visible “kings” into the fake need for one. Hooray.
In truth, the vast majority of Cretans eschew this kind of game. But there I was, over-fond fanatical fool, respectfully explaining to the hotel staff that this was an invader’s insult to the facts. With listening and appreciation of the motive, they later took it down, although (God bless anyway) I suspect that it went back up. The tourists go in and come out in their same Mycenaean stupor, and so does the viewer of these horrifyingly-cheesy “archaeological quests.” On it goes with every globalizing year, as those tourists give less and less to Crete itself for her treasures.
We should ask what “cultural work” is getting done by these death-farces, what they accomplish—since getting to know the living culture in the program before it gets clobbered is but a wisp of their length and sadomasochistic impact. Romans and Early American newspapers called their prototypes ”blood sports” and “blood pudding.” Ritual death for the commoners’ terrorization and distraction. These productions are twins of the annual PBS tripe about (sigh, not again!) tracking down The Old Testament, Exodus, and the miracle-studded, mysterious but surely-peaceful emergence of you-know-who in the archaeology of Palestine.
“I can’t show you, but I just know it’s all here!” gushes one of their recent narrators (with zero to show for a century of the most intensive archaeology in history). Yep, ya gotta toe the fantasy-line to keep that funding coming. Hell, if you did present what the current scientific facts amount to, what might happen to sales of our sponsors’ soap?
For that matter, what if he could show hard evidence of Old Testament fact and truth? In every atmospheric detail about Moses on Sinai, it’s clear that he’s engaged with a live volcano. Archaeology can’t even find that for sure.
When lies begin to fail, they get bigger and more intense, insistent, violent. They multiply their dimensions, as if just enough of them at last will seal out planet Earth. Till these lies crash or Armageddon, maybe the stupefying “Bible Theme Parks” of the Holy Land today will include multi-sensory “participation rides,” like those in Hollywood for the Terminator crowds. I see a gargantuan Philistine Goliath and his goons terrorizing a roller-coaster car full of Nice Holy Truth-Seeking Consumer-Families, because of course they hate freedom.
Behind the tableau, an arm-in-arm line of sex-obsessed Canaanite women kick like Rockettes (in authentic Iron Age Dallas-Cheerleader skimp), jiggling and howling in front of a city background that shouldn’t be there. With each verse of their song a tiny army of carpenters hammer and whistle in blind syncopated rhythm as they plank together a skyline of new apartment-buildings. Cedars of Lebanon sway and swoon, yielding up choice fragrant lumber to The Lord.
Over them all, a hulking dark idol of a Moloch with fiendish hot-coal eyes munches on a baby in a hot-dog bun. The chicks pop a mean Canaani can-can. They’re for Dad who pays for this crap and would rather be anywhere else. But once Goliath’s noggin drops (Ooooh! Aaaahh!), the Jezebels get theirs, and Moloch’s goons alike, from moral history. So ends the ride, and so re-commences the still-ongoing rescue of our benighted planet—headed by a fey, treacherous, horny but godly young hero who can really sling it.
I think this genre and its angels want to kill the Minoans, because—like Native Americans, with all their differences quarantined from “ours” in the mainstream West—they are a very bad example of fact in front of servants enslaved by fantasies.
Friends, our best boat still awaits, bound beyond Atlantis. Fake past, fake present, fake future, get thee behind us. There are far more facts and worthwhile mysteries in the lands where we really started out as human beings.
It’s how they lived that matters.
Stuck here in the mire of money-media, you can say anything you like about them (such is Freedomville), except that they really were richly, successfully there—before Greece or Israel, longer than Rome, older than Europe—digging the rhythms of cycles instead of dreaming disasters and other-where destinations.
Say anything except what might make a difference behind our living eyes.