Idea for the xmas special – Zombie vs Shark!
I’ll make no bones about it – Spike TV’s ‘Deadliest Warrior‘ is absolute arse gravy. In fact, it’s so ridiculous, it’s almost beyond criticism. What they’ve done is take a pub argument and make a ‘documentary’ series about it. The very premise of pitting two warriors who never met and could never have met is of course completely meaningless. Then there’s the total lack of objective criteria for establishing a victor. I know what you’re thinking – I’ve seen it said online already – “you’re taking it too seriously”. I would counter that it’s the show itself that’s taking itself too seriously for sheer entertainment, and not nearly seriously enough as an educational effort. Besides, a quick google demonstrates not only that there are a lot of credulous goons actually buying the ‘scientific’ and ‘historical’ content of the show, but that the makers and promoters of the series are selling and defending it as popular science and history – not as pop-culture-based fun and frolics. It’s not even internally consistent, and appears to resort to outright fakery on a fairly regular basis. In other words, it’s ‘professional’ wrestling in a lab coat.
The episode that really takes the cake is ‘IRA vs Taliban’. No, I’m not joking. If, like me, you’ve ever wondered where the line should be drawn with the popular interpretation of bloody conflict, a new benchmark has been set. Whereas re-enactment groups (for example) tend to have a healthy respect for and knowledge of the history and even politics of the period they ape, these people come out with lines like;
“[The IRA] fought the british military for over 30 years and were successful.”
“…repressed like the irish people have been for hundreds of years…”
“You cannot defeat the ira. it’s literally impossible, or it would have been done already”.
“The IRA’s never been beaten by anybody, and they never will be”. (Apart from the British army, who exactly would they be beaten by?!)
They also refer to the Irish Civil War as the “War of Independence, and claim that it was ‘lost’.
All of this depends upon your point of view of course, but that’s precisely my point. Not a hint of impartiality, all statements go unchallenged and unqualified. The same goes for the Taliban, though they were noticeably more careful with their words given the (to them) more obvious risk of offending their demographic. I’ve no problem with entertainment, nor of challenging received ideas about our collective enemies – but this is how a lot of especially young people, will form their opinions and prejudices about history and politics. There were a few seconds devoted to the history of the Troubles, and that was it. Nothing about the peace process, the different factions etc. American viewers would come away thinking that full-scale battle rages on a daily basis even today to ‘liberate’ Ireland – the independent nation of the Republic wasn’t even mentioned! The whole presentation pandered to those fantasists across the pond that view the IRA as some sort of wholesome group of patriots, yet would have soiled themselves with indignation had the taliban “won” this insane contest. Simplistic views of history need to be challenged, not reinforced.
Breathtakingly enough, despite this Geiger says –
“…we decided that one of the things we could do with the episode is use it to raise awareness about the effects of these weapons on civilian population in a lot of places around the world”.
Yet nothing in the show reflects this awareness of the sensitive issues at hand (not his fault I suppose). He goes on;
“So the cast and crew got together and we all made a donation to landmines.org, which is the United Nation’s humanitarian fund, which goes and directly clears mine fields. They’re the adopt a minefield program.”
Oh, well that’s alright then. Guilty consciences about controversial weapons (but not the murderous terrorists deploying them) salved, we can all move on. What’s next, The Spanish Inquisition vs Guantanamo Bay? Max, you seem like an intelligent and thinking chap. Get the feck away from this trainwreck as soon as you can.
On to the completely unscientific testing, which includes such choice quotes as;
“…the centre of mass of the face!”
And, regarding the slingshot (you really need the narrator’s OTT husky voice);
“a child’s toy turned deadly sniper weapon!”
This is just one of many problems with the whole set-up – they need to give each side/warrior a balance of weaponry and equipment to allow anything like the “Top Trumps” comparison they’re striving for. So you get comedy weapons like this added – something that is, as they admit, not fatal, and in a historic sense, hardly an “IRA” weapon. Had they gone with a real IRA slingshot – ones used as petrol bomb projectors, it would have thrown out their back-of-a-fag-packet calculations.
It got worse. The Rocket Propelled Grenade test was faked. The backblast was (rubbish) CGI, and there was a careful and drastic cut to the projectile itself in flight, which flew in a most untypical manner with a suspicious-looking smoke trail, and might actually have placed the cameraman forward of the launcher. No, it was fake alright. This is likely because actual RPGs are impossible to get outside of hot sandy places, and quite a lot more dangerous than small arms. Here’s a real RPG launch as a comparison.
It was the same story with the AR-15 vs the AKM/AK-47 torture test, done with mud carefully applied to the exterior of the bolt of both weapons and water into the muzzle. Yet the guns in that state are not shown to be fired, instead there’s a crafty cut to scenes of shots being fired from the other (non-muddy) side of the weapon. These will have been different or cleaned weapons. This is likely a ‘health and safety’/insurance issue – if you’ve seen Mythbusters (and this applies to the explosive RPG warhead too) you’ll know that the really dangerous tests get vetoed. The final giveaway is that after supposed firing, the muddy weapons remain just as muddy – none has been removed by the cycling of the action. nor by the firer as in a real torture test.
The results we saw/heard – that the RPG was ‘devastating’ and the AR-15 unreliable compared to the AK, were therefore wholly preconceived and contrived – how many other ‘tests’ are likewise but less transparent? Even if they accurately reflect reality, why go through the charade of a scientific ‘test’? I think you can guess the answer, and it rhymes with ‘gratings’. Perhaps this practice should be coined as “pulling a Brainiac”, after that programme was caught similarly faking its ‘experiment’ with reactive metals by using explosives. At least they tried to get real results and resorted to fakery, rather than planning it before filming even began.
The other episode I subjected myself to pitted William Wallace against Shaka Zulu. Honestly, it might as well have been against Chaka Khan. At least as far as the Scottish kit went, weapons, uniform, equipment and historical details were all wildly inaccurate. Wallace the “savage Scottish outlaw” himself was even more anachronistic than the also inexplicably-blue-faced Mel Gibson portrayal. Kilt, spiked targe, dirk and claymore all date from a minimum of 200 years later. Even the historical mythmakers never associated Wallace with a highland claymore – the sword purported to be his is of ‘Lowland’ type, and in any case there’s no evidence to suggest it’s anything but the later weapon it appears to be. The ‘ball and chain’ is straight out of the movie – no evidence at all for this. The programme makers might claim that “unrivetted mail armour” is “very typical for the william wallace era”, but I can assure you that it isn’t. The result of the zulu spear going through it is therefore utterly bogus, as the mild-steel links would simply open up and allow the point through, where the real rivetted iron or steel links would easily resist it. Unrivetted mail is not represented in the European historical record for a reason – it would have been a lot of work and weight to wear for little actual protection.
The final battles are (admittedly well-) choreographed, budget-CGI-ridden nonsense with no apparent input whatsoever coming from the “simulation software”. The IRA/Taliban one was grimly hilarious, with the Team America style comedy swarthy gentlemen in fake beards duking it out (literally at one point) in a US junkyard (for some reason). The only nod to consistency appears to be making the stuntmen use all of the arbitrarily chosen weapons “tested” in the main programme. When the last IRA terrorist…sorry… “freedom fighter” pulled out his slingshot, I involuntarily shook my head in wonderment. Absolutely bizarre. Worth watching only for connoisseurs of car crash TV (like myself!).
Another major problem I have with the show are the so-called ‘experts’ that they employ. The main host Geoffrey Thor (don’t laugh) Desmoulin is a published medical scientist, and injects the only actual science into the show (although his touted experience in the Canadian armed forces doesn’t appear even on his own CV). His helper appears to be a (student) game designer, so I suppose can legitimately be described as a ‘programmer’ and ‘computer whiz’. However, the computer programme that he wrangles is highly suspect, involving punching numbers into a spreadsheet which is then interpreted over a series of encounters using a modified piece of computer game code. These guys have taken a closer look at it, and to me its clear that even ignoring the dubious data that’s being fed into it, there’s little chance that it’s producing meaningful results from it.
The other ‘experts’ change each week, two per ‘side’, and they give more cause for concern, being drawn not from academia, but from the entertainment world:
Skoti Collins – great-nephew of Michael Collins (even if true, so what?) and an ‘IRA historian’ – actually a jobbing Scottish bit-part actor.
Peter Crowe – ‘IRA weapons specialist’ with zero web presence including publications. At least he sounds Irish.
Fahim Fazli – (boy) mujahideen he may have been (he does seem favourable toward the Taliban), but he is now a film actor.
Alex Sami – an ‘FBI anti-terrorism agent’? Well, if he ever was, he ain’t now. He’s a bodyguard.
Kieron Elliott – ‘highlander weapons expert‘ (whatever that means) and ‘william wallace expert’ – actually a radio DJ with a layman’s knowledge of Wallace.
Anthony Delongis – ‘blademaster’ – another actor cum theatrical fight director.
The ‘experts’ and ‘historians’ presented to us demonstrate just how debased the terms have become within the media. Not one academic historian amongst them. Seemingly it’s just another part to be played out in front of the camera, with no regard for credentials, experience, or expert knowledge itself. Bigging oneself up over and above your experience and qualifications is common in entertainment, where you are after all only playing a role. But if a programme desires subject specialists, it should hire them. The ubiquitous Mike Loades styles himself a “military historian”, but has yet to publish on the subject (or any other). But at least his role as host in such shows makes a certain amount of sense given his background as a stage and screen fight director, and he clearly does have a certain amount of specialist knowledge about arms and armour. Not so these people, none of whom could legitimately be described as historians, even if they do play one on TV. Finally, there are many out there who study historical swordfighting techniques based upon primary source – why were none of them employed?
I’ve only stomached these two episodes all the way through, but seeing clips of the ‘ninja’ and ‘pirate’ warriors made me wonder whether I was just the victim of a clever prank – that no-one really believed after all that this show was in any way serious. It would surely be the only defence this programme could mount – that it’s just for fun. But actually, that’s bollocks. Everything about the show’s promotion makes out that it IS scientific – one host even associating it with Mythbusters (which is hardly hard science but does balance it well with entertainment).
Even as entertainment – recommended only for the terminally hard of thinking or those (like me) morbidly fascinated by bad TV.
Update – after introducing UK viewers in the episode of ‘You Have Been Watching’ linked in the comments below, Charlier Brooker has now written a piece on this also.