The idiot box

I’m a fan of the History Channel. I’ve been known to binge-watch “American Pickers” on Wednesday evenings. So this is not a complaint.

Well, yes it is.

With much fanfare, the History Channel launched a new show recently. It’s called “Join or Die” and is run by Craig Ferguson, former star of “The Late Late Show” and current syndicated game show host.

The obvious goal with “Join or Die” is to bring in a younger demographic to the History Channel. Younger than me, to say the very least. So to attract millennials — roughly, the under-35 crowd — somebody advised the History Channel to serve up off-color jokes and a heaping helping of vulgarity. Then throw in a little bit of history from a pop-culture perspective to keep to the channel’s roots.

Splendid. Reminds me of the cartoon I used to have on my desk at work. Members of the board are being shown a chart with the sales’ arrow going up and up. The guy with the pointer is saying: “We have finally succeeded in attracting a younger audience. We’ve also lost our immortal souls.”

“Join or Die” doesn’t say much for what the History Channel thinks of itself. Or millennials.

The gimmick amid the sexual banter and the vulgarity is this: Ferguson introduces a topic drawn from pop culture and history. Then a few celebrity panelists debate the merit of the issue at hand. At the end, the audience votes a “winner” among the topics.

I saw the second episode, and the topic was “History’s Worst Medical Advice.” The choices were: bloodletting as a treatment for illness; lobotomy to address mental issues; smoking relieves nervousness; extraction of healthy teeth to ease depression; ingesting mercury as a general cure-all; and drinking one’s own urine for its overall medicinal benefits.

At some point, the discussion turned to the efficacy of prayer in matters medical, and the role of religion in all this. Laughter and jokes at the expense of faith commenced.

Which was truly nonsensical, because the so-called medical advice under discussion — even bloodletting, which has been around for well more than two millennia — was sold as science, not religion. (Except smoking benefits — that was actually a marketing campaign, not medical advice.)

Lobotomy as medical therapy was considered pure science and practiced as such fewer than 75 years ago. Tooth extraction for depression and the use of mercury were common science in the early 20th century, and the drinking of one’s own urine is still argued today in some circles as medical science.

These are perfect examples not of faith gone amuck but pure “scientism” — the belief that science knows all, teaches all, and that the universe and life itself is simply an elegant equation. Scientific method and the worship of reason explain it all. Scientism is a 19th-century “ism” that lives on today. Along with medical lobotomies and pulling healthy teeth to cure depression, scientism has brought such wonders to humanity as communism, racism, eugenics and genocide.

They could have debated the impact of scientism. Instead, hilarity at the expense of faith. The only saving grace was when Ferguson said that nobody should be offended because this is “just a stupid TV show.”

The audience voted lobotomies as worst advice.

“Join or Die” was later followed on the History Channel by the premier of “Night Class” where Ludwig van Beethoven was transported to the present and revealed that the “lyrics” to his most famous compositions are scatological.

So it goes to attract — or insult — millennials.

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Indiana.