DOOMSDAY by National Geographic
The TV program, “Doomsday,” aired via the National Geographic channel is a significant disservice to public understanding about the situation it presents and is highly unrealistic in significant ways. Although presented in a style of personal video camera footage, much in the style of “The Blair Witch Project” fictional movie, the documentary quality of this style is vastly undercut by the errors and effects of dramatization.
National Geographic has a decades-old tradition of presentation of “the truth” via its magazine and more lately its TV programming. Unfortunately, National Geographic shapes its programs into highly dramatic form, with protagonists and their jeopardy, a dramatic arc of story action, and a “pay off” of happy endings. This use of fictional stylistic techniques may attract and hold audiences which are schooled by other truly fictional drama to expect these “entertainment” factors, but the results in what are presented as factual documentaries is beyond creating lies and becomes dangerous when presenting erroneous information to the public as if fact. This factor is mildly irritating when the subject matter is the behavior of seals, but it becomes nearly criminal when dealing with life or death situations such as in the “Doomsday” program. This stylistic technique used in this program develops characters, an arc of their specific activities from desperate jeopardy to happy resolutions, and, along the way, disseminates truly dangerous errors and lies.
The most glaring dangerous lie in the program is the omission of the need for drinking water for all the characters. Only, the “preppers” have water although all the characters easily survive into the third and fourth day with no portrayal of available water. If the situation were actual, all but the preppers would have expired or become significantly ill from thirst. Human beings can not live that long with no water. The unavailability of water needed to be shown, not as a non-function tap at the sink but as the characters becoming desperate, including drinking poison water or their urine. The die-off from thirst would have been significant in the week portrayed but was absent from the program. Perhaps National Geographic wishes to tell its viewers a lie about human physiology.
The lies extent to other desperate situations. A list should include no display of real gun violence, the idea that TV broadcasts helpful news but has no working TV receivers available to see them, and the implication that a total grid shut down could be brought back up with all damaged transformers, especially, replaced in about a week. Anyone on continuous medical machine care or even oral medications would begin to suffer immediately, likely leading to death. Grim as the situations are as presented, the events are so diluted and made palatable that a viewer wishing to learn from the program will be immeasurably misled. A ham radio operator is portrayed as a right-wing nut case when in fact, ham radio will be one of the few communication devices working in such a disaster, and that is because the individual hams take it upon themselves to function helpfully in emergencies. Another lie.
A point totally ignored is the idea that police and other emergency personnel will obediently report for duty, abandoning their own loved ones and homes. The behavior of such personnel deserting their posts during the Katrina disaster demonstrates that even doctors, nurses, and EMS people will be hard pressed to go to help others when their own personal situations are so critical. This is covered by the boy missing his mother, but no resentment nor mixed feelings of duties are raised by the mother/nurse. Major disasters have shown that when really pressed, people feel that help begins at home. Civic order would break down much faster and more significantly than shown.
One must conclude that this is strictly an “entertainment” program and one must seek more factual information on this topic from other sources. However, one factor was developed quite realistically and that is the irrational, thoughtless, and confrontational interpersonal behavior of individuals who show, except for the prepper, a basic inability to grasp the size of the problem, to be self-reliant, and to cope effectively. The interpersonal arguments and failures to form a survival strategy is foreground in the story and for dramatic purposes is the equivalent of the fearful woman home alone who actually does “open that door” in horror fictional movies; that is reflective of likely human responses.
Even the prepper family is unsuccessful in survival, mainly due to inadequate perimeter security and an inability to meet neighbors coming for help. Human interactions within that family also illustrate the weaknesses of such a strategy. And, disposal of human waste is not touched in any part of the program.
It is unfortunate that such a much-promotes program from what appears to be a highly reputable source, National Geographic, provides such misleading and error-filled information. Perhaps the most misleading is the manufactured happy endings for the characters (most) and the “deus ex machina” technique of news that the electricity was back on which seems to solve all problems.
The kind of disaster portrayed is quite possible to happen on some scale, at least, and could come from cyber crime or natural effects or even human error. The problem of electric failure is only one of several disasters that could happen on a very wide scale. It is more than just unfortunate that National Geographic utilizes it vast media reputation to disseminate such errors and lies.