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History vs. Reality

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Industry | December 14, 2009 |

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Industry | December 14, 2009 |

The History Channel has announced that it will be creating its first reality television show. Called “Top Shot,” it will broadcast in 2010 and feature top marksmen competing for a $100,000 prize as they reenact history’s most celebrated feats of marksmanship, from Annie Oakley’s mirror shot to William Tell’s tragic murder of an apple.

The press release gushes “not only will contestants have a chance to experience history in the making, but they might make history themselves by breaking a world record.” Oh! A world record! That makes it so different! What are you going to do? Shoot twice as many apples off of mannequin heads as the previous bored dilettante? The legends don’t have power because somebody made an impossible shot. They endure through the ages because someone did something impossible when it mattered. William Tell is a legend (though possibly fictional) because a sadistic jackass of a lord thought it’d be hilarious to force a peasant whom pissed him off to play a sick game for his child’s life. The impressive part isn’t the shot, spectacular though it was, it was the stakes of the game and the sadism of the lord. Remove the context and all you do is trivialize everything that makes the story resonate over the centuries.

If this is the first reality show to be broadcast by the History Channel, what the hell have they been broadcasting? History is reality. Oh, of course, you can debate the endless interpretation and reinterpretation of what actually happened versus who’s just making up a mythology, but that’s exactly the point. You’re arguing about reality. Yes, I’m splitting semantic hairs on the subatomic level here, but as many times as the point has been made it bears being made again. It’s not reality television, it’s attention-whore television.

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Steven Lloyd Wilson is the sci-fi and history editor. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter.