The Most Subversive Show on Network Television

Lately we’ve been enjoying possibly the most subversive show on network television. It’s a show that’s breaking all the rules, challenging all the paradigms, clasting all the icons. Every time I watch it I’m amazed they let it on the air, and in prime time, no less. It’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson.

FOX, the network that would bring us hobo fights if they’d let ’em, has given up an hour a week to a straight-up show about science. How insane is that, even given that it’s a pet project for the Family Guy guy? (Let’s not do the FOX News thing. FOX the channel has always been out of step with its brownshirt brother, and this is no different.) For an hour a week a black man, hired for his knowledge instead of his resonant yet buttery voice, tells you about the wonders of scientific discovery. In a time-slot that could have gone towards a reality show where they fool poor people into thinking they won the lottery.

And it’s a science show with actual science in it. It doesn’t haul in mermaids and UFOs and ghosts and psychic powers and other kookery to get the ratings up. While it doesn’t go into a lot of complicated detail on some of the scientific principles, it also doesn’t shy away from digging into the actual science as much as it can. It’s not too embarrassed to be smart.

This embrace of actual science has caused the show to have to flat-out say, “look, some people believe in an alternate religious explanation for this and they are wrong.” Practically right out of the gate it had no patience for Creationist nonsense, but instead of ignoring it, it straight-up took it on. And in the latest episode, it talks about how the petroleum industry bought its own pet scientist to assure everyone that eating lead was completely okay despite massive evidence showing that lead-filled gasoline was poisoning the hell out of the world. A corporation doing something wrong? Environmental catastrophe being hushed up to make money? Scientists on the take? Say it ain’t so, Neil!

Now, a lot of the folks this will bug don’t see anything new here. As far as they’re concerned, the liberal media is allatime saying hateful and hurtful things about the one true and unquestionable religion and also Christianity. But for these people, all it takes to qualify as bashing capitalism is to simply not cheer for capitalism for a moment. For them, a non-white person on TV talking shit about Jesus and petrochemicals isn’t news because this is how they see everything always. But for me, wearing a different set of blinders, it’s pretty amazing to see someone in mainstream primetime TV just cold saying that Genesis isn’t true fact.

(And of course, they have been bugged, and are demanding “equal time” and what-not, as though there’s enough time in the world to make creationism equal to science.)

Now, I’m not saying the show is perfect. It often zips from subject to subject a little too fast for me, and ‘d like to see a little more depth in each episode and a little less breadth and also its theme song is boooooooring. But I’m going to cut it some slack because god love it, it’s there. An African-American scientist is telling me about actual science on real TV and by gum I’m gonna sit down and listen to him.

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