Sunday, February 21, 2010

Why I'm Not Excited about WDYTYA

Will everyone forgive me for being a wet blanket and not being awfully excited about Who Do You Think You Are?  I am happy to see another genealogy program on the air, and yes, I have been watching Henry Louis Gates on PBS.  But I'm not as excited as others seem to be, from all the buzz, because I have to admit that I am just about up to the gills with celebrities.  Yes, Dr. Gates is using celebrities on his show, too.  It is interesting to see, for example, that the genealogy of Yo-Yo Ma goes back so far and to hear the story of how courageously his kinfolk in China hid an extremely valuable family record from the ignorant depredations of the "Cultural Revolution."   WDYTYA is airing on a commercial station instead of PBS, which leads me to wonder just what the production values are going to be like.   One thing that worries me is that in all the announcements about it, I haven't seen the name of a genealogist yet.  At least Henry Louis Gates has earned his stripes in the field.  It is possible that I've missed something, so if there have been announcements that particular well-known genealogists are affiliated with the show, please let me know.  it might help to assuage my fears.

Okay, it's nice that people will watch the show because everyone in the world seems to be more interested in celebrities than I am.  But I think it would just be so much more interesting if they were talking to and investigating the lineages of plain people.  Plain people finding out interesting things about themselves and about artifacts or family documents and the people behind them is why I like Antiques Roadshow and History Detectives, and I think is part of the reason for the success of these shows.  I think it would be so much more interesting to see plain people -- who probably have thought "Who would be interested in my dull story?" -- finding out just how fascinating it is to learn who their ancestors were, even if there's not a famous person or royal bloodline among 'em.  How much more motivating would this be?  Watching the celebrities find out about their lineages may be nice, but plain people might watch them and say, "Well, they're celebrities.  Of course they're going to have interesting stories.  But not me."  Seeing other plain people find out about how their ancestors came across the Atlantic or the Pacific, or up from Latin America, how they dealt with situations such as wars and depressions and strikes and discrimination would, I think, be much more heartening to other plain people, who might say, "Wow.  That guy's a working stiff like me, and look at his story!  I wonder if there's something that interesting in my family history." 

I'll watch WDYTYA, of course, to see how the whole subject of genealogy is handled.  I'll be holding my breath.  I know how commercial television handles history.   I do hope they get the details right, because it will grate on me if they don't.  I'm also generally not impressed with the ability of network TV to present a subject intelligently these days, and in recent months, too, I've seen reason to have very unsettled feelings about the judgment of NBC executives!

My genealogy society is hoping that the show will cause the phone to ring at our headquarters, so in conjunction with our meeting next month, I will be presenting, in another room from the main meeting, my presentation called "Bare Bones: Getting Started in Your Genealogy."  I'm happy to do this, and will be happy if WDYTYA brings people into the door of the society.  We've been doing some exciting things in the past few years, and we hope more people will want to become part of that. 
.

12 comments:

Kerry said...

You're not alone. Part of my issue is that I am not into celebrities at all, so I would also prefer ordinary people.

On the other hand, if I can get my husband and relatives to watch this show and be just a little more interested in research...I'll be one happy camper.

My expectations are low though.

Marti said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Greta Koehl said...

I'm with you - I'd really like to see ordinary people and professional genealogists helping them along. The message I'd love to see passed along is that we all have interesting ancestors who played a part in history - heroes, villains, and yes, ordinary people who struggled and survived. Also two thumbs up here for History Detectives and Antiques Road Show! You have made some excellent points.

so carzy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sanjay Maharaj said...

While you may have concerns about celebrities and this being more of a commercial money making venture, do not overlook the fact that the series presents a great opportunity for all in the genealogy community to promote this field of sturdy and research.So take the opportunity to start a conversation about the larger benefits of genealogy.

Heather Rojo said...

I've heard that the new NBC show will feature the genealogists and showcase the research process (Yahoo!) I was at the NEHGS workshop last weekend, and Josh Taylor was telling his experiences with Sarah Jessica Parker's Salem lineage- and the previews showed him actually on the TV show (we all cheered for him!) I heard that Gary Boyd Roberts helped out with Brooke Shield's lineage, but I cannot confirm that... but, alas, more celebs. I wish it were ordinary people. I wish the shows were more like "This Old House", because watching the process is more fun than just being handed a new house.

Karen Packard Rhodes said...

Sanjay, I certainly see your point, and my own genealogy society is taking advantage by having me present my "Bare Bones: Getting Started in Your Genealogy" talk concurrent with our meeting two weeks from tomorrow. I'm not overlooking that aspect of it, just saying -- along with most of the other commenters here -- that we would rather they had helped plain people explore their genealogies. Why does it always have to be celebrities? I just don't think that's necessary.

Alice Dilts said...

I hope it sparks an interest in people that have not been involved with genealogy and that it helps local genealogical societies. To bad it isn't in time to help Michigan though!

Travis LeMaster said...

You bring up some good points. They could have sprinkled some of us 'common folk' in the mix.

Larry Hibbert said...

I agree that we need to be careful about how people see the Genealogical field. There is a place that is using real people to do their genealogy backgrounds. That would be The Generations Project at BYU. I have enjoyed their project and the lives they have explored. I like the way it has been presented as well.

Evelyn Yvonne Theriault said...

Karen,
I've been feeling the same way in the sense that every show about family history is valuable, but I find that shows about the genealogy of famous people are kind of the flip side of people who are doing their family history only in the hopes of finding someone famous or "royal" in their bloodline.
Of course, when famous people do something it does inspire others but I think that your point about genealogists not being highlighted is quite valid.
Let us hope that famous people are used to draw interest to the topic but that there will also be educational value to the show.
Incidentally, the show is not on in my area so I'm not criticizing this show in particular.
Evelyn

Mavis said...

I agree with you. I wish for once they would do a show with regular folks.