A Thousand Years of History MILLENNIUM TV

Article excerpt

How are you spending New Year's Eve?

Some of us, I don't doubt, have invitations to special parties in exotic settings -- the Pyramids, Windsor Castle, St. Peter's Square or atop the Eiffel Tower.

A few inner-directed souls will tell themselves that this is just another night. They will deny the millennium. They will stay home, read a book and go to bed at 11:45 p.m.

Everyone else will watch TV.

T make sure we are watching TV, the media have been hyping the millennium, or the century -- in the press, on film and, above all, on TV. The special issues of magazines and the "Sunday morning gasbags" have come on with their lists of "greats" some more serious than others.

American Heritage (November) has cartoonist Edward Soler pay homage to the century's "20 Greatest Innovators of the Century," with No. 1 as Philo T. Farnsworth (1906-1971), the inventor of TV. Time (Nov.22) is preparing us for its announcement of the person of the Century. George W. Bush and John McCain have nominated Winston Churchill; Al Gore has named Franklin D. Roosevelt. On Bob Schieffer's "Face the Nation," (Nov.28), historian Douglas Brinkley nominated Franklin and Eleanor together: him for the "Four Freedoms" speech -- of speech, of religion, from want, and from fear -- and her for the Declaration of Human Rights, which she guided through the United Nations. Others named Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.

Gail Collins, in her New York Times column (Nov. 9), trying to lighten thins up when she sensed that the millennium just wasn't catching on, came up with tentative list of the millennium's top tunes. She and her friends included: "Ave Maria," "La Marseillaise," "Oh! Susanna," "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," "After The Ball," and "Auld Lang Syne." Somehow they over-looked "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life."

On Sunday (Nov. 21) NBC tried to give viewers a jolt with "Y2K," a sci-fi thriller in which planes crash, subways stop. an old man dies in an emergency room power failure, the lights go out in Times Square and a nuclear reactor almost melts down. The electrical companies, fearing viewers would mistake TV for reality, asked NBC not to run the show: But there was no need. NBC's ratings were the lowest of the night and lower than "Mary, the Mother of Jesus," the week before.

Meanwhile, a planned "Party of the Century," a $25 million bash for rich people at New York's Javits Center -- $1000 to $2,500 a head featuring Andrea Bocelli, Aretha Franklin, Sting and chauffeur-driven limos for the first 2000 guests -- has been scotched for lack of interest.

Why so little concern? Columnist Charles Krauthammer suggests (New York Daily News, Nov. 22) that this is a much less religious age than the last millennium, and the birth of Christ is "less fraught with meaning." At least he associates the event with Christ. A radio commercial for travel in Israel tells us, "See Israel for the millennium. Masada, Tel Aviv -- that's what the millennium is all about."

On PBS, "Frontline" presented a thoughtful two hours, "Apocalypse," a scholarly consideration on how John's Book of Revelation has been interpreted -- usually misinterpreted -- over the centuries. Explaining the Babylonian, Zoroastrian, Hebrew, Greek and Roman origins of the complex imagery, they document its misuse by Pentecostal movements and cults. Contrary to the babble of contemporary fundamentalists who link up Biblical passages with contemporary events like the atomic bomb, the Arab-Israeli war and AIDS, this last book of the Bible is not a prophetic prediction of thins to come but a Christian attempt to give hope during the Roman persecutions.

On thanksgiving Eve, "Nightline" was honest enough to point out that since Christ was born not at year zero but about 5 B.C., the millennium we're waiting for was actually about five years ago -- and nothing happened. Anyway, St.Thomas Aquinas told us in the 13th century not to think about it, that it's all symbolism. …