Saturday, September 20, 2008

Under the Microscope: Into the Unknown With Josh Bernstein: Akhenaten

Got it on my DVR, and about to fire it up. I don't know anything about Akhenaten, but given Bernstein's episode on Noah's Ark, I have a feeling this is going to be just as sloppy, if not filled with woo. But given that ancient Egypt is a nexus for woos, I won't be surprised. So, firing up the DVR.

Tail end of a program on "mummified" duckbilled dinosaurs. I should probably watch that on repeat. Minor eye twitch on the narrator calling them 'the most successful species to walk the Earth.' I would think that honor would more likely be bestowed on some variety of ant.

Anyway, opening with Josh. Akhenaten was Tut's dad, and apparently nearly ruined Egypt. (Was he the guy who tried to monotheitize Egypt's religion?) Says he's got 'exclusive access' to some mummies, which sounds like exaggeration. After the opening sequence, talking about the volume of deities running about Egypt, so I'm guessing I remembered correctly. Good look at King Tut's death mask. Move onto line of succession, with Tut inhereting a nasty situation. Had to restore the people's trust by moving back to the 'old ways.'

Finally getting around to what Akhenaten did after all that needless time building up. At least they didn't include a commercial break to dangle that over us with. Yup. Monotheism for Amun-Ra, king of the gods. Apparently Amhotep, Akhenaten's dad built a particularly impressive temple for him in Thebes. Showing a lot of desecrated cartouches. Akhenaten's older brother died, leaving him as the successor. Apparently he was originally going to be a priest and desecrated the 'Amun-Ra' portion of the cartouches. It's kind of hard to follow the way they're doing this. It's like they're rearranging the dialogue to work backwards so that we can have suspense. Kind of hard to follow, but I think I'm having some previous knowledge of the incident interfering, leaving me puzzled as to why he'd be desecrating Amun-Ra's name when he goes to compact Egyptian religion around him. So, explanation, finally: He likes his deity invisible, kind of like an anti-idolatry sentiment.

Commercials. Some action movie about a CIA guy playing information games. Wonder how bad they get the spy business. Think it'd be interesting to see a realistic depiction. Probably too much desk work for Hollywood's taste, though.

Back. Onto abolishing all the other deities. Moved the religious center to a new temple. In barren spot. Boat ride to the city he built there and the city bounds markers. Goes all crappy poetic as a sandstorm obscures their view, saying it's like entering Akhenaten's world. Yeah, yeah, just get to the artifacts. Have to park at the bank. Goes on about how those sandstorms would make life harder for the locals. Markers are about the monotheism decree, saying the city's for Aten, the solar disk. Naturally, this gets the superstitious in a tizzy. Josh tries to get a handle on the tizzy by asking the guide if it'd be analogous to someone declaring Christianity to now be a mass polytheism. Guide says the response would be worse because Egyptians attributed national prosperity to the gods' favor. Wonder if he's ever heard of America.

Going into the tomb of a high priest. Increased effort at realism in the art. No mention so far that the stylized art most people remember was done for religious reasons. Talk about how obsessed Akhenaten was supposed to be. Mention of a depicted ox and how sacrifice is a part of worship. Somehow, I get the feeling this is one of a series of Christian jabs at the (equally) silly pagan religions, as if Christianity wasn't built around a similar sacrificial sentiment. Temple grounds, mention of the ceremonial chamber being unroofed so that they could properly worship the sun. Bunch of offering tables.

Commercial teaser: Talking about the level of physical labor, which would be a more sensible complaint to raise about a ruler.

Commercials: One more of those about the GM employee discount for everyone. Doesn't sound all that great to me. Kind of like a price lowering that affects everyone except their employees. Don't pay close enough attention to economics, but aren't they having a hard time themselves?

Onto manual labor. New city was built quickly, apparently more so than other stuff. Using smaller stones than the big ones you see in specials on pyramids. One person can handle them. They guess building the city quickly would help with trust issues. He lugs around one of the smaller stones after a bit of chiselling, and we move to a cemetary for the workers. Quite reasonable-sounding assumption that there's no era crossover since the city was specific to Akhenaten's time. Gingerly picks up a bone and places it in a box in a very 'gay' looking manner. Since we're talking about a 3,000 year old bone, I'd probably be similarly delicate with it. Signs of spinal trauma from heavy lifting.

Commercials. Include the Mythbuster's episode on the water stungun I won't spoil. Happened to include some side stuff with the Mythterns doing fire myths, including firewalking. Spore commercial. I'm having a hard time in space, myself, being outnumbered in combat with quirky controls.

Back with the bones. Woman working with them mentions the "shocking discovery" (Bernstein's description. Is there ever any other kind to these sorts of people?) that these were the shortest people in Egyptian history by half a foot. Malnourishment is the suspected cause, and the supposed feasts depicted in the documentation of the era as Akhenaten's propaganda. Sounds fairly reasonable, and I'm more willing to trust the woman with the bones than any idea coming from Bernstein.

Moving back to Luxor/Thebes to the temple of Karnak to talk about King Tut's efforts to fix the damage his dad did. Horumhepth, however you spell that, essentially called the shots for Tut and worked on erasing the temples, Akhenaten, and the deity. Teaser: Trying to find out what got Akhenaten so obsessed. From what I remember, it was doing away with the deities who couldn't be seen.

Very short commercial break later: Seems I remember some correctly, but they're bringing up something new to me: Supposedly, he had bad eyesight. Goes over his physical oddities point to Keratakonis or something like that which can include blindness. More stuff with another condition with his hands called Marpan syndrome or something. Given that they're going by idealized depictions of him, I'd be wary of drawing conclusions. They move onto the idea of checking relatives for genetic signs. Seems they're going to look at his grandchildren through Tut.

Commercial. Apparently Saturn's doing that employee discount thing. Unicycle guy again. And my signal's getting choppy. Apparently there were some troubles when the DVR was recording.

Black, green, static, green, black with commercial clips, blocky stuff... Normal with a few blocks. Flicker... Lingering at abnormal but watchable. Just in time for the show to get back.

Seven month fetus. Mention of all the inbreeding that makes this plausible for me. Yeah, the fetuses are small. Get over it, Josh. Pointed chin and long fingers apparently point to the condition as well. They're getting X-rays. Dramabomb panning over the Xray. Guy says he can't confirm or dismiss the condition. So, Akhenaten needs the sun to see with his nearsighted eyes. Not much of a connection from my view. Signal gets broken up, making his closing ramble hard to follow. Did get some feeling of apologia from how he doesn't bring up how shaky that connection is. About the only thing I can think to infer from this is that Akhenaten was a bad ruler and genetically messed up.

So, the woo was fairly shallow, rather than deeply crazy woo like Noah's Ark. I'll post this anyway, since it involves a nasty bit of fundamentalism over vaporous deities. It just happens to involve a dead religion.


King of Ferrets said...

For Spore space battles, it's got some pretty simple strategies; in straightforward dogfights, just fly in a circle. Lots. And use the missiles. For chasing pirates who are running away, use the laser and just follow them. For city destruction, either stay high and fly while dropping lots of bombs for things in the civilization stage if they have turrets, stay low and next to the city hall if they don't. Kill space colonies with flybys so that their missile turrets don't hit you.

Flit said...

'the most successful species to walk the Earth.'

To quote The Winnie Coopers, I guess it depends how you measure success.

I'd give the 'most successful' title to an evolutionary line that is still extant.

ReverendRob said...

Akhenaten's didn't worship Amon-Ra. He concentrated his religion around the Aten, the sun "disc"," while Ra was the chief god of the henotheistic system he was rebelling against. This was really just a way of concentrating power & diminishing the influence of the Ra priests, who had become politically powerful. Pure politics, not some religious epiphany. He screwed up the empire doing it.

On the dino mummy: I love how these shows point out the longevity and success of the dinosaurs as if they were ONE species that existed over all those hundreds of millions of years. None of the species that started the era finished it, and vice versa. BD's probably right about it being some species of ant that's the "most successful," although I don't feel like doing the research (How woo of me! ;-).