The title of this post is from a fascinating Forum in the latest issue of Near Eastern Archaeology, which explores the relationship between archaeologists and the TV media world. Why are archaeology programs on TV so bad? Whose fault is it? What can we do?
Eric Cline blames TV producers for not connecting with the best archaeologists, relying on fakes instead (by fake, I mean actors and others masquerading as archaeologists). If responsible archaeologists can get the attention of producers and directors, we can raise the level of discourse in TV archaeology.
Cline's ideas are countered by Neil Asher Silberman, who notes that "television is certainly not a forum for logical, abstract discussion. It is a delivery system for a rapid-fire succession of images that create stories meant to impress, frighten,arouse, or amuse." The blame lies with archaeologists for failing to rise above our potsherds and deliver the kind of non-technical storytelling that TV requires.
Cornelius Holtorf backs up Silberman's ideas, calling Cline's proposals elitist. "Before complaining that the public does not understand academic archaeology well enough, we should ask oursleves whether we actually understand the public well enough." Public archaeology is storytelling, and archaeologists should embrace this.
Cline closes by proposing a synthesis between the two positions argued in the previous sections. I find myself agreeing with most of the points made by all three commentators. Sometimes I think Cline is correct; we need to try to get more press for rigorous and authoritative archaeology. At other times I sympathize with Silberman and Holtorf—TV is entertainment. Period. Any archaeology that gets included should not be confused with scholarship.
Cline, Eric H., Neil Asher Silberman, and Cornelius J. Holtorf
2008 Forum: Archaeologists and the Media. Near Eastern Archaeology 71(3):172-179.