Cosmos Revisited

Neil de Grasse Tyson is hosting a new version of Cosmos, the documentary on the universe originally produced by Carl Sagan (Sundays 9 PM on Fox; Mondays on National Geographic). The first episode was disappointing to me, for two reasons. First, it was excessively simplified. Although Tyson covered many important points about the history of the universe, it was rare that he offered evidence for them. One exception was when he mentioned the background radiation left over from the big bang. The other disappointment was the frequency of commercial interruptions. These were very intrusive, and sometimes deceptively so, such as the ad from Boeing, which had some of the graphic aura of the documentary. There is a simple solution for me, and that is to record the show on my DVR and fast-forward through the commercials next time. Still, it is annoying. I understand that PBS made unacceptable demands for editorial control of the program, but the demands of commercial television do not fit very well with my idea of a documentary. Another feature that some might not like is the use of animated cartoons to depict the story of Giordano Bruno. This was a good topic to tackle, illustrating the negative role of religious dogma. Bruno was a visionary, not a scientist, and he had little evidence to back up his radical views on the infinite character of the universe. From the lens of today, burning at the stake seemed truly an unjust punishment. Tyson is not a polemicist, but this was a hard shot at dogmatism. On balance using a cartoon and not actors and sets to illustrate a straight historical narrative seemed to work. Not everything need be a movie. So I reserve judgment. I am planning to watch the next episode, but I hope it gets into details and evidence and not just fancy graphics embellishing the narrative history. The whole point is to convince people that they should believe the narrative; only the most naïve will accept a bald story.

2 thoughts on “Cosmos Revisited”

  1. I watched “Cosmos” as well, although not always giving my full attention. I found much of the visual to be stunning, but also a little frustrating (the “spaceship-view”), and while I could cut the documentary-makers a little slack for trying to reach an increasingly less-informed audience, the content seemed forced. The animation re Bruno caters to such an audience, and the fact that it came via Seth MacFarland of “Family Guy” bothered me. I don’t care if he is a fan and featured “homages” however stupid on “Family Guy,” I really don’t see a need for him here. As for the hard shot at religious dogmatism, I think it’s deserved, but still seems like an oversimplification/white-hat and black-hat presentation.
    Having the “calendar” motif was a good way to impress upon people just how new we are to the greater picture, but I am not sure it will sway anyone with deeply anthropocentric views.
    I like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, but I am not overwhelmed. I did think his description of his teenaged encounter with Sagan was moving.
    I will probably watch another episode and pay better attention in order to decide whether I want to keep watching. If I think I’m getting some more challenging content, future viewing is more likely.

  2. Thanks Jamie for your comment. I think your reaction is like that of many that I have read on other sites. I did not know much about Bruno; but it appears that he was heretical on a lot more than just the size of the universe. So it was not just for the latter that he was burned at the stake. So – a bit inaccurate, which is not good. The reviews in the more mainstream sites have been very favorable.

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