Brad Meltzer’s Decoded and The Presidents’ Book of Secrets
Is it me, or is The History Channel growing dumb.
This isn’t a fair statement as I have rarely had cable and have only watched The History Channel every once and a while. I recall seeing an afternoon’s programming on Vlad The Impaler when Van Helsing was coming out. These were entertaining enough. But my impression of The History Channel is one of education, one of, well, history. Documentaries that are informative and interesting. However, the last few times I have seen THC, it has seemed incredibly sensationalized. America: The Story of Us favored pointless CGI and barely scratched the surface of what could have been a brilliant documentary on the origins of The United States. Instead, we got an hour per episode that covered different periods of US history. We certainly won’t be going in-depth here.
This weekend we visited my parents. The History Channel was on as we arrived and we got to see two episodes of Brad Meltzer’s Decoded and a particularly dreadful documentary called The Presidents’ Book of Secrets. Decoded, while overdone and unnecessarily suspenseful (think thriller-genre editing and directing), it was interesting. The first episode dealt with the capstone of The White House. It turns out no one knows where it is. While this is a fairly benign mystery, it is the conspiracy theories that make this story interesting. Some people think The Freemasons stole it. This is an absurd accusation with no real evidence to substantiate it (which is what was concluded on the show), but it makes for a fun journey. Brad Meltzer’s The Book of Fate deals a bit with Freemason conspiracies, so it makes sense to capitalize on the success of that book by drawing from the same material. The second episode that was on was even more interesting. They investigated the possibility of Merriweather Lewis’ death being a murder rather than the suicide the history books claim. And I have to say that the evidence is quite compelling. The inn keeper that is supposed to have heard the shots told three distinctly different stories about what she witnessed. There were two wounds to the body, a chest wound and a head wound, which seems odd for a suicide attempt. In addition, the gun used would have most-likely killed on first hit. The would all be easily settled if the body could be exhumed (supposing it hasn’t decayed to a point where the remains are unreadable), but since the body is on National Park land, bureaucracy won’t allow it. It is all quite fascinating. I’d love to see more of Decoded if I had cable, so long as they stay away from the wild conspiracy theories from the premiere episode.
Now, The Presidents’ Book of Secrets illustrates half of what is wrong with The History Channel (the other half would be reality
shows). It is overly sensational and built upon a gimmick which is just stupid. The show purports to address the existence of a secret book that has existed since Washington’s presidency. This book is a guide for U.S. Presidents. First, there show offers no evidence for such a book. Second, the show doesn‘t even believe the book exists. No, the eponymous book is a hook by through which the filmmakers can address different topics such as national security, terrorism, and other situations The President could deal with. Essentially, the show states: “If such a book did exist, this is what it might say.” Naturally, the narrator had to have an ominous voice and the documentary seemed interested in raising levels of tension and suspense. Think 24-style directing and editing, only used on a documentary. Thus, what could be interesting and informative was nothing more than laughable and overdone.
Note: Upon further research which proves I am obviously not up on my conspiracy theories, The President’s Book of Secrets is one of those mysterious artifacts that supposedly exists. It was even the subject of one of the National Treasure films. While this makes more sense to me, my opinion of the documentary hasn’t changed.