A+E Networks, the parent company of H2 and the History Channel, hasn’t always gotten along with me, particularly when they threatened to sue me last year over Scott Wolter’s “Hooked X®” trademark. But they were kind enough to accredit me as a journalist, which gives me access to screeners for their upcoming shows. I had hoped this would allow me to watch Search for the Lost Giants ahead of time, but no such luck. I received access to the first episode of the 10-part Brad Meltzer’s Lost History instead. It is one of the few new shows for which History/H2 has made a screener available.
So, lucky you: You’re getting an early review of Lost History. Keep in mind that screeners are unfinished and subject to change, so some of what I am previewing below may be different in the final version that makes it to air. Although H2 has not placed any restrictions on my reporting on the screener, I will be speaking primarily in general terms about the show, so you will need to watch the episode for specific names of individuals involved, the background and history of the objects discussed, and other key details.
Brad Meltzer’s Lost History is entirely in keeping with the History pair of networks’ attempt to appeal to angry viewers, particularly white men, who feel that their country is being taken from them. How do we know this? The show starts out with Meltzer telling viewers explicitly that “It’s time to take back what is ours.” In context, he means it literally as recovering lost artifacts, but as a mission statement, it also plays symbolically with viewers’ perceptions that traditional American culture and heritage have been replaced with an unfamiliar multicultural, postmodern world in which they have a smaller and less powerful role. And the artifacts he wants “us” to fight for during this series? According to Meltzer, they involve such traditional staples as aerospace, gold, Hitler, and flags. A little later in the show, he’ll tell viewers, “You’re pissed now. You should be.” He also talks about the need to “fight” for “our” history amidst beating drums and martial music.
“H2 feels obligated not just to provide historic programming for people who crave intelligent and educational entertainment, but also to preserve history for generations to come,” said Mike Stiller, a vice president of H2 and History, in a press release for Lost History.
Brad Meltzer’s Lost History debuts next Friday at 10 PM ET on H2, right after the return of Ancient Aliens, a show whose existence directly contracts Stiller. And sorry, Jim Viera of Search for the Lost Giants, Meltzer doesn’t have the “lost” giant bones on his list of lost history.
The trouble I have with Lost History is that it is lazy. In the first episode Meltzer devotes a large chunk of the show to making intense proclamations that his goal for the series and for the lost artifacts is to “track ’em down,” and yet the show involves no actual investigation or tracking. Instead, a few talking heads in front of what seems to be a green screen speak over archival footage, and then Meltzer orders the audience to do the investigative work for him and send him the results. Let’s cut out the middleman and just put up a “WANTED” poster on the screen for the hour. It would save even more money.
Meltzer starts the episode with 9/11 and the friend he lost in the attacks. He then explains that the flag firefighters raised over Ground Zero that day and immortalized in newspaper pages, on Newsweek’s post-9/11 cover, and on a postage stamp, disappeared within hours or days when it was apparently swapped with a larger flag. The show makes no indication, however, that anyone from the show tried to contact relevant officials about the incident, preferring to offer mystery mongering and intimations of conspiracy (“We must consider less innocent explanations…”—except that that requires work, so they don’t really). The show relies on emotional appeals to trump up the importance of the flag, and to my mind it borders just on this side of exploitative when we remember (and the show won’t let us forget!) that Meltzer is offering a “cash reward” for information about the flag. The soaring music, the crying older men, the paeans to American resolve—it’s very much hagiography, and it’s very much the kind of thing my grandfather would have loved to watch. And nothing says the American spirit like throwing around cold hard cash while appealing to patriotism and doing no actual work.
The second half of the episode begins with the jewel-encrusted Middle Eastern swords given to Harry Truman (technically, the United States) and stolen in 1978 from the Harry S Truman Presidential Library. Again, talking heads—all male—tell the story of Truman’s sword collection, and once again no one actually does any new investigation, but Meltzer tells us that the swords were “cool.” The show concludes with a look at John Dillinger’s missing tommy gun, but this is more potted biography of Dillinger than exploration of his gun, at least until the end when the show pulls a bait and switch—one that you’ll have to watch the episode to see, since I would never dream of giving away the shocking ending of the episode that happened to also be in every newspaper a few months ago.
This half of the show reminds me of the kinds of true crime shows seen on Investigation Discovery (and, in earlier days, A&E), but Meltzer’s insistent and repeated reminders that he “needs to know” and demands “action” are grating; they make him sound like a tweedy version of a Fox News pundit, and it makes me uncomfortable. And like Fox News pundits, he calls for us out in the audience to take action while he sits back and collects the accolades (and pay!) for hosting the show.
Assuming that the screener accurately reflects the product that will go to air, with the sole exception of a woman who was once the owner of one artifact, everyone in the episode is a white male over the age of 40 (Meltzer himself is 44), and most are probably over the age of 60. The show’s talking heads are likely an accurate reflection of its target audience, and if you’re part of that audience you may well enjoy the hour—especially if you’d like to spend your Halloween with the lights out watching H2 and wishing the blasted kids would stay off your lawn.
Lost History wasn’t to my taste, though, and I already deal with enough angry people demanding action not to want any more of them on my TV. Maybe if H2 swapped out the intense Meltzer for the more amiable Brian Unger from How the States Got Their Shapes, this would have been a pleasant rather than an off-putting hour. I leave you with Meltzer’s own thesis statement: “You’re pissed now. You should be.” I’d rather not be, frankly. But I guess if you watch H2, you want to be.
An Over-Educated Grunt
10/22/2014 02:18:42 am
Some of your best work for a while. Reads professionally, expresses your opinion and the roots thereof. I suspect this has to do with the suspicious lack of the words "nephilim," "von Däniken," or "Templar."
10/22/2014 02:48:58 am
I will be giving it a shot also.
10/22/2014 10:02:30 am
Grunt, I agree with your first paragraph, though it does read a little like it's damning Jason with faint praise.
An Over-Educated Grunt
10/22/2014 10:26:20 am
Most of the shows Jason reviews on here are factually bad: AU, AA, ISOA, they're all based on a complete misrepresentation of the facts. They are provably, demonstrably false. "Oak Island" played up the mystery angle pretty hard, but the impression I got from the show itself was that the two guys at the center of the show knew it was a money pit, that it was a hobby for them, and that if they found Francis Drake's lost treasure, great, but they didn't expect to find it. What they did find at the end of the first season was a couple of Spanish coins. While there were plenty of sensational guests, like the Shakespeare guy, I never once got the sense that they were buying into all of it, and that helped make the show watchable. I liked it, Jason didn't. That show wasn't his cup of tea. There was room for difference of opinion, rather than the way AA, AU, and ISOA are only likeable if you ignore the fact that they were filmed in an alternate universe.
10/22/2014 10:33:54 am
Perhaps I'm being dense, but how does what guests buy into affect whether the content is false or disputable?
An Over-Educated Grunt
10/22/2014 11:09:29 am
Oh, what the guests believed on "Oak Island" was generally ridiculous (Shakespeare guy was a standout in that regard). Point was that the two central characters never came across as buying into it. They knew what they had on their hands was a money pit that probably at best might contain a few curios. If they came across Steve St. Clair's grandfather's holy Jesus cup, fine, but they didn't go into it expecting to find it, far as I could tell. Their attitude towards people like the Shakespeare guy was generally to thank them, take a deep breath, and go "Well THAT was... interesting!" before going about their hobby of attempting to dewater the Atlantic. They themselves never drank the Kool-Aid, and did a decent job of showing that they weren't completely nuts.
10/22/2014 02:24:29 pm
Oh, you mean room for difference of opinion from the *show's* perspective! I thought you meant room for differences on informed (or our, if you prefer) opinion about the show.
An Over-Educated Grunt
10/23/2014 01:46:30 am
No, I meant ours. I suspect I'm not being clear here. Jason didn't like "Oak Island," mostly because the show just wasn't to his tastes. I liked it, because I never felt like the central characters bought into the crazy even when the show was hyping the crazy. Difference of opinion on our part.
10/23/2014 03:07:01 am
Well said Grunt, I couldn't agree more
10/23/2014 05:43:24 am
"fits right into the Ayn Rand fantasy"
10/22/2014 02:50:08 am
Did they explain why the "original" 9/11 flag matters? It's not magic. It won't fix anything, or bring anyone back to life. It's not like the reality of the event is in question, so what difference does having one particular flag make?
The Other J.
10/22/2014 08:45:49 am
Isn't it just the symbolic significance, like a restaurant framing the first dollar they earned? That doesn't answer the question of WHY we put significance in that dollar, which has the same buying power and actual significance of any other dollar (unless it's reeeeeaaaaallly old). But people like to assign powerful symbolic significance to things that don't really have any specific special power.
10/22/2014 10:11:27 am
I must say, as distasteful as I find symbol fetishism of all sorts, I'd say it's still a museum-tier item. No worse than the flag raised by the Soviets over Reichstag in 1945 or Napoleon's penis.
10/22/2014 03:14:54 am
There is quite a bit of controversy about the 9/11 flag raising event including how it was later portrayed in sculpture. I believe they changed the firemen in the depiction. It's a very similar story to the flag raising at Iwo Jima, photograph, etc. I didn't hear anything about this flag at the recent NAVA conference, a report of which is linked above---full disclosure, it includes the mysterious embossing of the Oreo, and the "Blacks Flags of Khorasan."
10/22/2014 10:38:48 am
It means the court is operating under the Admiralty Jurisdiction! :D
10/22/2014 01:49:24 pm
PaulN, one of the organizations that presented at NAVA 48 I mention in the report (link above) --- Flags of the World (FOTW) --- has a good piece by a past President of NAVA Dave Martucci on the whole fringe factor. Evidently, people have attempted to foist all sorts of conspiracy theory on the supposedly "unauthorized" presence of gold fringe including, for example, it being emblematic of the U.S. abandoning the gold standard, etc., etc. I'm sure these are the kinds of stories that go out in viral emails with big, wacky font no doubt also claiming things like the green color on an EPA seal (of course) represents the Queen of England and her Reptilian DNA. They, like many legitimate (official) uses of props and symbols, are forwarding a political agenda through story telling, but doing so by largely making up stuff to fit their storyline. We hear about that kind of thing a lot from the shows reviewed here, AA, AU, etc. In sum, like the surrey, the fringe is merely decorative.
10/22/2014 02:32:10 pm
Thank you for the replies, they were very informative. I always thought the fringe was nothing more than a decorative just like tassels and cords, while ribbons were often used for received honors. However, the fringe and conspiracy types put a spin on it that was hard to refute. Thanks again for your help.
An Over-Educated Grunt
10/23/2014 01:54:30 am
Properly speaking, a flag has no fringe; these are generally meant for regular use, such as from a flagpole or in a funeral (the fringe complicates folding). A color, on the other hand, has fringe, and is meant for ceremonial use (parade, headquarters display, courtrooms, et cetera). The difference isn't in honors rendered to it, it's in the actual use of the flag. Colors tend to be heavier weight, of finer material, because they're not meant for use as "flags," while flags tend to be lighter per square foot, of highly variable materials (think of those cheap flags you find around patriotic holidays in most stores, versus the ones used by government installations and car dealerships - thin nylon versus sailcloth). There are two reasons for the difference. First is that the only way you could haul up a garrison-flag-sized color, with fringe and four-ply silk, is by first having fifty people carry the blasted thing, because it'll weigh approximately all the pounds, and by having shoulders like a medieval archer on growth hormone, for the same reason. Second is because once it's up, it's comparatively fragile and will not weather at all well. Most places that fly flags proper keep them lit so that they don't have to come down at night or in weather, because flag ceremony done right is a pain, and flag ceremony done wrong is a disgrace.
10/23/2014 06:56:41 am
EP, good find! I remember reading about some of these cases. What an excellent FAQ on Quack. Of course, these kinds of conspiracies are related to the whole Sovereign Citizen movement which often grasps at "shiny objects" in the form of stories and tales to distract the noncritical-thinking listener for long enough to slip in some pretty, seriously kooky ideas. Take for example their idea that the way UNITED STATES is rendered as all caps is, well, here’s one version:
10/23/2014 10:02:16 am
examiner.com? That's where that crazy Mayans-in-Georgia guy publishes his stuff, isn't it?
10/24/2014 06:55:27 am
EP, lol. haha. I don't know the writer you're talking about --- wasn't the Mayans in Georgia covered by one of the AU episodes? Being that you have no comment on the Article V Convention, I'll humor what seems to be the point of your comment. Examiner has 415 political writers, thousands and thousands of pop culture writers, etc. who are in the "professional–amateur," or "am-pro" category, and the site generates thousands of pieces a day. It's currently ranked in web traffic in the states at #182 by Alexa. My pieces and interviews have appeared in more traditional venues like C.S. Monitor, NBC News, LA Times, Huff Post, etc. and I've also written under the rubric "Progressive Examiner" for Examiner's national edition for 5 years. If you'd like to check it out, and I'd be interested in your opinion, one of my most considered pieces that appeared in Examiner is entitled, "Our World Beyond 9/11," which is linked on my name. However, being that major television networks (like A&E, History, H2, Discovery, etc.) are producing material like AU, AA, etc., I have no doubt that some writers on examiner are producing similarly sourced content. We can take the conversation about Examiner and/or the piece I linked to above offline if you'd like, by email is my first and last name without any punctuation <at> gmail.com
10/24/2014 09:20:02 am
Nah, it's okay.
10/24/2014 10:24:37 am
k, I gotcha.
10/22/2014 05:04:59 am
So this is America's Most Wanted except instead of hunting criminals the audience is asked to hunt for missing artifacts?
10/22/2014 10:03:44 am
"So this is America's Most Wanted except instead of hunting criminals the audience is asked to hunt for missing artifacts?"
10/22/2014 07:13:18 am
Rembrandt's SEA OF GALILEE is missing and has been
The Other J.
10/22/2014 08:42:32 am
"And nothing says the American spirit like throwing around cold hard cash while appealing to patriotism and doing no actual work."
10/22/2014 09:47:41 am
he's reduced to file footage of art heists or folks
10/22/2014 10:05:08 am
The only thing that's more American is jilting people out of the cash reward they honestly earned. Which I'm sure could never happen with this show. No, Sir!
10/22/2014 10:10:37 am
Technically, he says viewers "could" qualify for the award, but I haven't read all the rules to find out how someone could actually get the money.
10/22/2014 10:16:20 am
And isn't that what being an American is all about - that you "could" qualify for things? :)
An Over-Educated Grunt
10/22/2014 10:28:38 am
Second-best part. The best part was occasionally they'd have an investigation where at the end they concluded it was nonsense. They also managed to dodge the classic in-search-of-woo trio of a "skeptic," a true believer, and a supposedly-neutral guy who always sides with the true believer. "UFO Hunters" may not have invented it, but they perfected it.
The Other J.
10/22/2014 05:19:41 pm
True -- I loved it when they actually had a debate about what they could reasonably conclude based on the available evidence, especially when they weren't afraid to just chuck the claims into the bin. Way more satisfying than the milquetoast "we can't disprove it or prove it, so it's still possible" responses those sorts of shows usually offer up.
10/22/2014 10:29:51 am
"with the sole exception of a woman who was once the owner of one artifact, everyone in the episode is a white male over the age of 40"
10/22/2014 12:41:37 pm
First a disclosure, I'm 51 and I guess would be considered white. I enjoy Jason's site, have learned quite a bit of the origin of myths and laughed a bunch at Jason's cutting insights. I also am worried about our history or at least our republic and its foundational structure. I think multiculturalism is simply warmed over statism which attempts to define groups and decide on the use of force, govt, to ensure fairness. The idea of america as a melting pot where people's from all over add to the culture of america while not changing our views on natural rights, liberty, sound money, free markets is what america stood for and for which I am concerned about the multiculturalists and their agenda. It is anti liberty and freedom at its base. Where every decision is not on its merits but the apparence it could impart.
10/22/2014 01:43:29 pm
That's sort of the issue in a nutshell: When the media depicts "history" as belonging just to older white men and not to the melting pot, it actually promotes the idea that each group should have its own history in conflict with one another. I don't see any reason that African Americans, Native Americans, etc. shouldn't be just as much participants in the search for lost artifacts. PBS's "History Detectives" manages to do so just fine. Of course, I have only seen this show's pilot, and for all I know the next episode might be completely different.
10/23/2014 04:01:55 am
Agreed. Given the many tribes/nations of native americans in North America alone, the pre columbian history is something that needs to be given more attention. Other than the "five nations", very little of native american history is taught in the schools.
An Over-Educated Grunt
10/23/2014 04:16:45 am
That really depends on where you are in the country. I grew up, in the 1980s, reading about the Karankawa, Caddo, Comanche, and Apache. My wife grew up knowing about totem poles and whale hunting. Those, by the way, were in public elementary and middle schools, not including any outside influences. I strongly suspect that a kid growing up in Oklahoma or the Dakotas gets a thorough, full education on the subject.
10/22/2014 01:50:16 pm
What does multiculturalism have to do with anything?
10/22/2014 01:58:58 pm
I think you guys might find this amusing. A few days ago Coast to Coast AM had on a guy talking about the afterlife. He is offering a $1,000,000 reward to anyone who can prove that life after death does not exist.
10/22/2014 02:33:11 pm
Did he elaborate on what he would consider to be proof? :)
10/23/2014 08:16:13 am
The guest didn't say much about the reward. The host mentioned it.
10/22/2014 03:00:11 pm
If I'm not mistaken, Anatoly Fomenko was/is offering a reward for anyone who can disprove his revised chronology of world history. Of course there is a huge list of things that aren't acceptable evidence. The one that I can think of off the top of my head is dendrology.
10/22/2014 03:25:12 pm
Fomenko's reward is tiny in comparison to some analogous offers made by Creationists.
10/22/2014 02:56:42 pm
I never understood how these "angry Americans" think that "their" country is being lost. America - as it was taught in the schools I attended - is supposed to be a melting pot of peoples and cultures. It's a big land, so there's room for everyone.
10/22/2014 05:40:34 pm
“You’re pissed now. You should be. I just stole an hour of your life including commercials."
10/22/2014 05:57:38 pm
10/26/2014 03:45:23 am
I love reading these reviews because I am a big fan of Brad Meltzer's comics. It's refreshing to put his creative work in the context of the poetic license which he takes with History. It's a bit sad to see how it fits within a broader culture of celebration of white privilege.
3/25/2020 05:00:33 pm
Jason, I can't find any reference to Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel.
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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