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.
It should surprise no one that yesterday’s siege of the United States Capitol by a pro-Trump right-wing mob included close connections to right-wing conspiracy theories, and not just the putative election fraud claim Pres. Donald Trump used to incite the violence at a rally yesterday afternoon. Many of the thugs who invaded the Capitol sported QAnon clothing, and at least one brandished a flag printed with a “Trump—JFK Jr.” slogan, a reference to a QAnon conspiracy theory imagining that the late son of John F. Kennedy is both secretly alive and about to become Trump’s second vice president. On Fox News Channel, Tucker Carlson spun a conspiracy theory that Antifa agitators had infiltrated the mob, while actual journalists identified several of its members as known white nationalist and right-wing extremists.
In cable television, as in politics, there is no shame, no depths that the purveyors of conspiracy theories won’t plumb in the endless quest to wring out just a little more money and power. The History Channel, though, must surely notice that the brand of anti-science, anti-fact, antisocial conspiracy that they have spun for years now has not only poisoned out democracy but is also getting some relatively heavy pushback. The question, of course, is whether they care. That answer is almost certainly no. In the nihilist marketplace of fracturing media, holding on to a small but loyal army of extremists is more important than either civic responsibility or mass appeal.
The Believer: Alien Encounters, Hard Science, and the Passion of John Mack
Ralph Blumenthal | High Road Books | Mar. 2020 | 312 pages | ISBN: 978-0-8263-6231-5 | $29.95
Ralph Blumenthal’s The Believer is probably the wrong book for me to be reviewing right now. Coming on the heels of me finishing a six-month project writing my own new book, which also combined biography with UFOs, the structural and formal similarities between our two volumes became uncomfortable. That Blumenthal made exactly the opposite choices in putting his book together served for me as an object lesson in the difference between reportage and storytelling. The Believer is a bad book, though not without a basic factual utility. It’s unpleasant to read, confusing, and lacks a clear perspective on its subject beyond hagiography. But worst of all, it’s bad as biography. You won’t leave this book feeling anything for or about John Mack, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer who became an alien abduction researcher and who serves as the book’s titular subject. He never feels human.
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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