Channel hop

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 May, 2011, 12:00am


This week, Channel Hop invites you to march into battle with three programmes that examine aspects of conflict in their own way. After all, while the populist view holds that war is good for absolutely nothing (as American Edwin Starr proclaimed in his 1970 hit single), it remains a part of human history and practice. Those of us lucky enough to live in the fold of peace would do well to look deeper at the issues and agents of war and discover the human values that connect us with those living in conflict.

First up, an episode of Mystery Files (NGC; Fridays at 10pm) attempts to subvert the old adage 'history is written by the winners' by challenging historical records of one of the largest showdowns between the United States military and the native Americans of the northwest. Mystery Files: Sitting Bull (Friday at 10.30pm) re-examines the role of the Lakota tribe leader in the deaths of Lieutenant George Custer and 268 US soldiers under his command during the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn, which took place on sacred Cheyenne and Lakota land in South Dakota.

News media of the era painted Sitting Bull as the fierce and savage anti-hero to the courageous Custer. The oral history passed down to the Lakota elder's great-grandson, Ernie LaPointe, who is interviewed in the programme, tells a very different version of events. By tribal accounts, Sitting Bull was a spiritual guide in his mid-40s at the time of the battle. His vision of victory, received during a sun dance ritual a few days before the enemy invasion, did galvanise the warriors to defend their home; but drained by the ritual, which requires flesh offerings to the spirits, Sitting Bull was asked to stay away from the frontlines to watch over the young, old and weak. Conceivably, the pale faces' public enemy No1 wasn't even on the battlefield on that fateful day.

The background of broken treaties, greedy prospectors and arms trading makes this a colourful and convincing revision of war history; one that carries a bittersweet lesson that goes beyond the David-and-Goliath-like ending.

Where there's violence and conflict, there will be Ross Kemp (above right), barrelling through both sides of enemy lines straight into the heart of the issues. In Ross Kemp: Middle East (BBC Knowledge; Wednesdays at 10.30pm) the actor and television journalist takes us on a two-part journey into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and the surrounding state of Israel, where rocket and suicide bombings are a matter of daily exchange. Since the 2008 Israeli Operation Cast Lead attack, which left 1,300 Gazans dead and 60,000 homes destroyed, living conditions have been dire in Gaza, and tensions at an all-time high.

As ever, Kemp industriously puts himself in harm's way. Part one of the series is spent in Gaza, where he interviews Hamas police and government officials, Islamic jihad factions during a bomb-planting mission, UN aid workers, and smugglers at work in one of the more than 1,200 tunnels to Egypt. He is even summoned to witness the taping of the martyrdom video of a 24-year-old law-school graduate. Kemp asks the young man, whose vest is loaded with TNT explosives as they speak, if he thinks his sacrifice will bring about peace and whether he believes there are Israelis out there with no ill will against Gazan Palestinians.

Perhaps the most heart-wrenching segment of all is Kemp's visit to a psychiatric clinic for children who have lost family members to the violence. It is difficult even for the stoic Kemp to hear the gruesome memories of six- and eight-year-olds who have seen their parents and siblings die in front of them. It's enough to dim the hope that the younger generation carries the vision of a peaceful future. Still, Kemp asks us to wipe away any judgment and expectations as he prepares to find out the other side of the story. Ross Kemp: Middle East is an unembellished and sobering look at the complex effects of a struggle with no end in sight.

Finally, Hell's Kitchen US (Star World; Fridays at 8pm) brings the foul-mouthed fury of Gordon Ramsay (above left) back to the small screen, in its eighth instalment. The latest 16 contestants, initially split into two teams, fight for the honour of becoming head chef at the LA Market restaurant at the JW Marriott hotel in Los Angeles, as well as have the opportunity to be a spokesperson for winemaker Rosemount Estate. But first, they must survive the scorching venom of Ramsay's forked tongue.

The dictator general of the kitchen relishes the blood, sweat and tears of his opposing armies of contestants. In the course of 15 episodes, he will pit men against women in a battle of the sexes; he will pull the rug from under a few unlucky contestants; and he will do his utmost to make a grown man cry. He is out to destroy all egos but his own. Luckily, he does seem to draw the line at actually taking lives, as evidenced by his parting words about an eliminated contender: 'The only thing positive I can say about her performance tonight - she didn't kill anyone.'

All is not fair in love and war if the spoils are Ramsay's approval - or throne.