Television channels are free to mark the holidays in any way they see fit. It’s in the Constitution somewhere. So on this first weekend of December, NBC will celebrate by exhuming “It’s a Wonderful Life," Hallmark offers a new movie about a Bronx boy and how all he needs for Christmas is a new heart (“The Christmas Heart") and TLC has “Holiday ER," in which Christmas Eve emergencies are re-created “with full medical accuracy."
And then there’s the National Geographic Channel.
Other broadcasters may focus their attention on Dec. 25 (or 8, or 26), but as far as National Geographic is concerned, Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are for sissies. The date that really matters this year is Dec. 21. Not sure what festive holiday occasion is being observed on that Friday night? It’s the Maya apocalypse, stupid. That’s right: mankind roasting on an open fire.
The channel, whose signature series is now the duck-and-cover show “Doomsday Preppers," will strengthen its brand by devoting its entire schedule tonight to the end of the world. The lineup will include two new programs: “The Mayan Apocalypse 2012" and “Maya Underworld: The Real Doomsday," about the supposed prophecy of cataclysmic events that will arrive less than three weeks from now.
Both shows play a double game, noting either the absurdity or the sheer speculativeness of their subject matter while merrily fear-mongering. “The Mayan Apocalypse" even takes time to piously note the negative consequences of giving attention to specious predictions, which is exactly what it’s doing.
Of course, all doomsayers these days can point not just to earthquakes, climate change, wars and financial ruin as evidence.
The two programs have a common approach: both exploit the fear and fascination regarding the Maya prophecy by claiming to investigate why people are so scared and fascinated by something extrapolated from thousand-year-old stone carvings.
“The Mayan Apocalypse 2012" features the Scottish writer Paul Murton, a genial tour guide who drops in on some American survivalists before heading to the Guatemalan jungle, where the scenery and the shots of the majestic Maya ruins make the time pass pleasantly. Murton interviews archaeologists and language experts who smilingly indulge him, enjoying their time on camera, but uniformly deny the existence of an apocalyptic prophecy. But Murton is unflappable, always finding a way to keep the conversation going: “The text doesn’t rule anything out, though," he says. “If the Maya had a creation myth, maybe they had a corresponding destruction myth."
“Maya Underworld: The Real Doomsday" covers much of the same ground as “The Mayan Apocalypse," but in the form of an adventure travel show rather than an educational special.