Wednesday, 26 March 2014

White Diggers, Black Diggers, British Metal Detectorists and the TV Company

"Out there, they just
discard the bones, and take the loot
Addicted to bleeps Wed Mar 26, 2014 8:30 pm 

In the context of the discussion of the team of metal detectorists from Britain who went with a Nazi relic dealer on an artefact hunting trip to the Eastern Front, I thought I'd post up a link to a news item I read with interest some time ago, but did not comment on at the time. I see however that it's coming up in other people's comments on the newly-released video clip from the National Geographic "Nazi Diggers programme": Lucy Ash, 'Digging for their lives: Russia's volunteer body hunters' BBC News, Russia 13 January 2014
Of the estimated 70 million people killed in World War Two, 26 million died on the Eastern front - and up to four million of them are still officially considered missing in action. But volunteers are now searching the former battlefields for the soldiers' remains, determined to give them a proper burial - and a name.
These groups work meticulously to locate the remains and identify them so that they can be returned to their families for proper burial, the news report gives a few examples. The author also writes:
These teams are known as the "white diggers", but there are also those dubbed "black diggers" who search for medals, guns, coins or even gold teeth which they sell online or to specialist dealers. They are not interested in identifying the soldiers - they just leave the bones in the ground.
Yesterday I gave a link to a forum with which one of the National Geographic "Nazi diggers" is associated which is selling 'Eastern Front dug' relics including a dogtag the condition of which suggests that it comes from a Missing in Action body dug up by such Black Diggers. The group that the BBC journalist reported on has a:
strict set of guidelines about how the remains should be excavated, labelled and stored. Each soldier is photographed and their location is recorded and entered into a digital database.
One of the photos of the BBC photogallery (photo 3 here - warning, shows human remains) showing two fallen German soldiers uncovered by the group illustrates how, in accord with such a protocol and methodology,  the White Diggers clear down and around the groups of remains over a large area before removing them, revealing the relative positions of any associated items and allowing the retrieval of the bodies as ordered remains, not the amateurish 'wiggle-and-hoik' in a narrow hole methodology seen in the Nazi Diggers video which has prompted such concern, and in some outrage.

Of course the narrow-headed beep-beep crowd gathered around the new "Nazi War Digger" smug TV stars just do not understand what the fuss is about. Their FLOs have been busy telling them for seventeen years that narrow hoik holes is "you done well" and really have no idea how the rest of us appraise what they are seen doing on the National Geographic Channel video.  On a metal detecting forum near you (Re: First video for Nat Geos 'Nazi War Diggers'!) the beleaguered "Addicted to bleeps" (Wed Mar 26, 2014 3:44 pm) is having a bit of a problem  explaining something to a fellow member who'd been roused by reading what was said on blogs outside the hobby to write critically of what the video showed:
Detectorbloke/Housed, I just read your blog post in relation to PB's blog post [UPDATE 27.03.14: even that coy reference to this blog without a link was too much for the ever-so-sensitive forum owners, where it seems my name is not to be mentioned - they immediately changed "PB's blog post" to "## MOD EDIT ##"]. Please, please, please don't knee-jerk like he does. There is information written about this as we speak. A public, Q&A. We were monitored very, very closely. The film is made to look like we just dug people up, willy, nilly, ha ha! In truth, there were a LOT of professionals on site with us at all times. Please understand that everything was treated with full professionally and decency, and very much in the boundaries of the law. 
The hole we see them digging on the video clip chosen to advertise the programme does not look like any project with which any reputation-caring professionals would be involved. The hoiking out of the femur was not done professionally (if there were professionals standing around watching this, why do we not hear "no, STOP!" and "no you foolish man, it's a femur" from behind the cameraman?). The names of these professionals will be in the credits at the end, won't they? As I say I'd like to see the excavation permits if this project was done in "the boundaries of the law".

The scene where one of the participants pretends to weep thinking about the poor boy they'd dug up is typical US vomit-making disneydumbdown, yuk (this is the guy that's reportedly hoping to make a big profit selling the personal possessions of a mass murderer). Pay particular attention to the music and the transparently obvious way it is used to build up tension and pathos. Most people however are disturbed by the bit where on camera they hand around the cranium amateurishly speculating about the significance of the damage on it (or Estuary English explaining 'ow this 'ere shrapnil wuld rip yer flesh apar' rip yer internal oganz apar' - horrible way t' die, horrible as he chucks the find somewhere off camera).  It's as if only now they realise they are on a battle site. One is reminded by the tenor of the discussion of the little boy who rewinds the DVD to play the fountain of blood and brains in the headshot of some gory film, crying delightedly "did you see that? Cor!". Disgusting. 

Interestingly the video attracted in the first day over 140 comments, almost all of them reacting with distaste at how the US TV company has sent some amateurs abroad to make a total mess of an exhumation. I saw some archaeologiosts (but no FLOs which is perhaps significant) and ordinary people expressing shock, dismay and outrage (several would like to see these diggers go to jail).     

"Going to a museum, but I've gotta play with it first"
These are not "knee jerk" reactions. I would argue anyone who takes part in such a project (even if at this stage the name "Nazi War Diggers" had not been chosen) should be aware how what is filmed is going to look to an outside audience expecting the highest professional standards. In taking part in such a project, they should be careful to behave at all times on camera accordingly, which includes not digging hoik holes and yanking out human remains while the camera is rolling. Is that so difficult to understand? Is it the case that after seventeen years of expensive outreach to metal detector using "finders" the PAS has not yet  got over to them the information what those proper professional standards should look like?

One caution. How possible is it that NatGeo has deliberately chosen provocative film and photos (the skulls) in order provoke public outrage, calculating that it will get people talking about their series and maybe encourage more people to watch it? Even if that is the case, it is still exploitive. Do they have TV standards commissions in the US?

What kind of xenophobic remark is that "over there, they just discard the bones"?

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