Mr. Marder was my eighth grade History teacher...and while I am cursing him right now...he is no way to blame. Let me elucidate...
I loved Mr. Marder. He was this dark-haired guy who always wore a burgundy suit on Friday, and sported mutton-chop sideburns...sideburns invented (or at least made famous) by Ambrose Burnside (don't believe me, look it up)...and thanks to Mr. Marder I remember silly historical trivial tidbits like those. (I'll be doing a lot of "thanking" later on, by the way.)
He'd come up with all sorts of gimmicks which we thought were just plain stupid to get us to remember facts and figures. We'd roll our eyes at such "beauties" as this one...
"Where are we going?"
"Get it 'Bering Strait'?"
Silly perhaps, but I still remember those idiotic mnemonic devices after all these years. And I still remember he had a friend who worked in the Archives and History Department in Washington, DC, who would smuggle out all kinds of films to him in 1974 that any school system nowadays would get sued over watching. They were...in a word...fascinating. Shocking, in your face realism...but it was history and you couldn't deny it...there it was...in black and white archival format...and I sat there mesmerized.
With a flick of the lights and a flip of a film projector switch, he did something no other teacher before him...or after...could manage to do...until The History Channel came along: he made history interesting.
In fact, thanks to him I owe a debt of gratitude...I love documentaries. I eat them up. Give me anything on Egypt, mummies (peat bog or regular), Kennedy conspiracy theories, Tunguska, UFOs, icebergs melting, global warming, the history of distilling (hey, I'm still fond of all things distilled), the Romanovs, Newton, Einstein, Euclid, and Copernicus. The list literally goes on and on.
I am like a deer in headlights. I love them. And for a long time I went without.
Then came things like NOVA and Carl Sagan's Cosmos Series. Oh, how I loved Carl when I was young. Then there was nothing...there was a void...and then came A&E's "Biography"...and I was again hooked. Discovery Channel had pyramids and The History Channel had bi-planes and Hitler. Well, those last two I could do without -- but the first couple years, that's all The History Channel had to offer. Then it graduated to Civil War...which wasn't very civil, by the way...but it somehow it piqued my interest again.
History, I found, could indeed be interesting again.
Mr. Marder you have now met your match!
For years, between episodes of Seinfeld and Frasier, I was enraptured. I could always tune into A&E for a show like "Cold Case Files" (years before CSI, there was Cold Case Files) - and I could watch...until the wee hours of the night...all sorts of things. Jack the Ripper theories abounded. So did Tutankhamen ones. Who killed Kennedy? Who killed Rasputin? Who killed Marilyn?
The field was wide open...and so were my eyes.
Then, just when it started to get really good...
A&E's "Biography" ran out of people it seemed. They started doing biographies about...people I didn't care about. They went from the guy who invented Ford's assembly line...to the guy who invented the straws they put on juice drink packages. What the??
Then it was the Discovery Channel. My channel about diseases and medical things and scientific paraphernalia...was tanking. Slowly I was discovering it was turning into the reality show channel.
"Engineering an Empire"...went more to engineering a gang...when "Gangland" started up...and I still haven't a clue what "The Dog Whisperer" does...nor do I care. And I have no idea how many "Dirty Jobs" they can do...I think they exhausted their supply and are now down to "the guy who picks the straws up off the floor on the juice box assembly line".
"Ice Road Truckers"? Let me guess. Truckers who drive on ice? How many different variations on this theme can we get? Okay...there's a lot of ice...there's a big truck. Episode One: Battery doesn't start. Episode Two: Truck slides off road. Episode Three: Truck falls through ice. Episode Four: Um...truck slides off road AND his battery doesn't start...ad infinitum...ad nauseum.
"Monster Quest"? About as entertaining as when I saw it all before...IN 1979! "Nothing new ever happens here...move along people."
But I had hope. "Mythbusters" still survived...until it went from being the "Jamie and Adam" show to the "Three Other People No One Cares About" show. All I can remember is that one year they went from interesting topics like "Can you really get your tongue stuck on a pole like in "A Christmas Story"? and "Can you get your butt stuck on a toilet at 30,000 feet?" to totally far-fetched, cockamamie ideas like "Can you actually eat just one Lays potato chip?" and "Can thunking a watermelon predict doneness?" Oh yeah...myth busted! I'm sooooo glad I watched Cary Grant and Tory this time around. (Yes, I know it's "Kari, Grant and Tory" - I just always think of Cary Grant when they say that and how livid he would be if he saw one of these episodes.) I'd like to see more episodes where logical myth things are blown up, and less other stupid stuff...oh, wait, I've got something really stupid for them to blow up: Kari, Grant and Tory! Now that's a show I'd watch for sure.
And I don't know if any of you have noticed...but The History Channel now makes up their own history. It's true. That show "Life After People" isn't even ABOUT history. It's just a play-by-play "as we see it" pre-historical fabrication we're hoping no one will be around in 2013 to dispute. Yes...they are obsessed with the 21 December 2012 Mayan Calendar and everyone's eventual death on that day; and you thought Conan had high ratings...tune in on 20 December 2012 for this "final" episode.
You know - it's bad enough I read Nostradamus' quatrains when I was 14 (thank you, Al Stewart)...and (thanks to a library book on paranormal activity) worried unduly about my premature demise by Spontaneous Human Combustion...but to have to be reminded that I'm going to turn into some Pompeiian-ish cinder right before Christmas two years from now...every single day??? That's a bit much...so thank you, Mayan Calendar Apocalyptical shows...I can't wait until the next 24-hour marathon you've got planned. I'll be there with my remote in one hand and a noose in the other.
Sigh...whatever happened to the good old days where the most you'd have to worry about from watching some documentary is some crop circle in your yard and a sore butt from an alien probing the night before?
So, thank you, interesting history and science documentary channels for morphing your line-ups into some asinine reality show pabulum, and, in essence, giving us "Human Death Race 2012".
Seriously, I promised when I first started blogging that I would dedicate one to Mr. Philip Marder. This is it. I don't know if he's still around...but he was the 7th/8th grade History teacher at Laurel Hill School in Browns Mills, New Jersey. If you know him...or ARE him...I'd love to thank you personally. You've instilled a love of history in me that I am forever indebted to you for.
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