So, this week the New Yorker interviewed racist author Erich von Däniken, the elderly ancient astronaut theorist who once wrote that the Black race was a “failure” and who has included transphobic and Islamophobic commentary in his most recent books. Why would one of America’s premiere publications give a platform to a man whose claim to fame was arguing that nonwhite people couldn’t stack rocks without help from rapists from outer space? It’s because a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist seems to have relied on her adolescent memories of ancient astronaut rather than researching current controversies—current being anything after, say, the late 1970s.
Recently, UFO propagandist Leslie Kean had her book on the afterlife adapted as a Netflix series. Her writing partner, Ralph Blumenthal, is about to publish his long-gestating biography of alien abduction researcher John Mack, endorsing Mack’s ideas about reaching a transcendent afterlife through aliens. The pair came to renewed national attention in December 2017 when they revealed the existence of a Pentagon UFO office, a report instigated through the offices of To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science, staffed by refugees from both the government office and its major contractor, wealthy UFO believer and hotelier Robert Bigelow’s flying saucer research organization. The relationship between these various data points wasn’t entirely clear until now. Today, the New York Times ran a new piece by Blumenthal rhapsodizing over Bigelow’s newest venture, an effort to prove life continues after death.
On this, the last full day of the Trump Administration, it’s worth spending a moment considering the final insult to history that Donald Trump’s stooges lobbed on their way out the door. Trump’s 1776 Commission released a partisan report on American history that actual historians, journalists, and pundits have rightly excoriated for its propagandistic conservative tone, its excuses for slavery, and its relentless claims that liberalism is anti-American. (James Grossman of the American Historical Association called it a “hack job” designed to foment division, which is going some for a guy who praised the History channel, home to Ancient Aliens, as vital for “stimulating and nourishing” interest in history.) I’m not interested in going through those well-covered problems, but I do want to point out a couple of the less noticed parts of the report, highlighting its mendacity.
After some final discussions with the last people on my team to weigh in on the title for my new book, we have come to an agreement on the working title we will be using:
Yes, it's different than the one I though we would be going with just this morning, but I like it. It recalls the sort of melodramatic titles that 1950s movies had: Rebel without a Cause, All That Heaven Allows, The Day the Earth Stood Still, etc. The next step will be sending the proposal and manuscript to editors, which should take place this week.
Before we begin today, a quick note that one of the men who participated in the failed insurrection at the Capitol rioted and threw a wooden post while wearing a Giorgio Tsoukalos Ancient Aliens sweatshirt. I need not point out exactly how on-brand it is for angry, rioting right-wingers to also be Ancient Aliens fans.
Before we begin, be sure to read this recent academic essay exploring the History Channel as a vector for conspiracy theories and masculinity panic. I’m cited in it, and, well, we all know that this mix of conspiracy culture, toxic masculinity, etc. feeds directly in to the conspiracy culture we are seeing all around us, notably among the Capitol Hill insurrectionists, whose demographics are a close mirror of the History Channel’s own target audience.
Major news outlets are finally starting to notice that Jake Angeli (Jacob Chansley), the horned QAnon "shaman" who infiltrated the Capitol last Wednesday, is kind of weird. News reports said that Angeli claimed that Pres. Trump had invited him to attack the Capitol, and a judge ruled that Angeli was entitled to special organic food in jail because QAnon shamanism is his religion, and organic food is his sacred diet. Also, there were the rants about QAnon conspiracies of every stripe. So far, mainstream media haven't reported on his since-deleted YouTube videos claiming to be a government psychic space warrior battling Lovecraftian abominations from another dimension.
In the wake of the Capitol insurrection and renewed interest in QAnon and its web of conspiracy theories, Q-believers have been trading images of a map of "hidden history" that, not coincidentally, maps exactly onto the fake history deployed by Ancient Aliens, Scott Wolter, and the History Channel, Science Channel, and Travel Channel band of speculators. To the best of my knowledge, the map was first developed in 2018 by fashion designer Dylan Louis Monroe, a Q-curious artist who displayed it at both the History Channel's AlienCon and a special 2018 exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to conspiracies theories as art. The Met called it a way to "oppose political corruption, bureaucracy, and media manipulation." You know, by accusing all of history of being a Jewish-Catholic Satanic conspiracy. As you do. Seriously, how could the Met not have considered the consequences?
As part of my book research, I came across several references to the suicide of either one or two girls in Hamburg, Germany sometime between 1959 and 1964, connected in some way to James Dean. They were said to have killed themselves, as David Dalton put it in his 1974 biography of James Dean, "on the anniversary of his death, leaving a note to their parents that 'this was the anniversary of the day Jimmy died and life was intolerable without him.'" James Howett repeated the story, in briefer form, in his 1975 biography, obviously copying from either Dalton or their common source. The lack of primary sources and citations led me to think the story was an urban legend, but it turns out to be true (though Dalton recounts details incorrectly), and worse than Dalton summarizes. Since no English source seems to have reported the account given by the Germans, I want to make it available after reading it today.
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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