The first thing that came to mind was that this was a real-life (well, a fabricated real-life) version of a Lovecraft story ending. Lovecraft had a tendency to have his first-person narrators record their own demise in somewhat ridiculous ways. This is the last line of "The Diary of Alonzo Typer" (written with William Lumley), scribbled in the narrator's titular diary:
Too late—cannot help self—black paws materialise—am dragged away toward the cellar. . . .
I always imagined Alonzo Typer's death looking something like that photo.
Do you want the good news or the bad news first? The bad news is that Ancient Aliens has apparently been renewed for a fourth season, according to lead ancient astronaut theorist Giorgio Tsoukalos. This means another dozen or so episodes of repetitive, fact-free nuttiness. The good news? The History Channel has apparently grown tired of the program bringing down their channel's reputation for quality programming about junk pickers, miners, and truckers. According to Tsoukalos, the new season of Ancient Aliens is being moved to H2, History's little-watched sister station, where it will have a much lesser impact than on the main channel.
I guess if Ancient Aliens must exist, it's better that it's on an obscure digital-tier channel that relatively few people will ever watch.
H2 averages 196,000 viewers in prime time, according to Broadcasting and Cable. Ancient Aliens had drawn between 1.3 and 2 million weekly viewers during its run on the History Channel.
AMC's The Walking Dead had its mid-season finale last night, and my first reaction was: Thank God, something finally happened! It was a bit slow going. It's interesting, though, that AMC paired Walking Dead with Hell on Wheels, its Reconstruction-era drama about the Old West. As I reflected, I supposed that Walking Dead is more or less a Western in approach and tone, something made rather evident from the pilot when Sheriff Rick rides into Atlanta on a horse like so many marshals from old movies. The addition this season of a gruff old doctor, an isolated homestead, and fights over guns more or less moved the show from horror to Western territory definitively.
But if Walking Dead is a Western, and the humans are the cowboys, the implication would be that the zombies must therefore be the Indians. They certainly act like old movie Indians: Attacking caravans, raiding camps, and picking off settlers. And this is troubling since the main thrust of the last few episodes is whether to see the zombies as human or non-human and we are meant to agree with our heroes on the inhuman status of the zombies.
I'm not one to read elaborate claims about race, class, and gender into TV shows; writers have to churn out product too fast to spend too much time on subtext, and Walking Dead is not particularly subtle or deep to begin with. But if the show wants to use the tropes of the Western, it must expect its viewers to read the show through the lens of the Western. So when little Sofia--a pretty adolescent white girl--has been found to have been taken by the zombies, converted, and made so impure she had to be put down by the sheriff to save her from a fate worse than death, how can I read that as anything other than a latter-day version of old Western trope where the white woman is raped by Indians and forever set apart from civilized white society?
Ancient Aliens has done more to resurrect 1970s-era extraterrestrial foolishness than the entire truckload of ancient astronaut books put together. The Peruvian news site RPP published an article (discussed here) about a deformed skull found in Peru that quoted unnamed "anthropologists" from Spain and Russia who were adamant that the skull, almost certainly the result of well-known Peruvian cranial deformation practices dating back thousands of years, was really an alien-human hybrid. But of course. And the internet, primed by Ancient Aliens picked up the stupid story and ran with it despite the clear evidence that ancient people have deformed their skulls into tall cones for tens of thousands of years, and worldwide, too.
Meanwhile, another Ancient Aliens mainstay, Erich von Daniken, the "father" of the ancient astronaut theory (despite not having invented it), received glowing praise on Open Minds Radio's website for his role in inspiring Ridley Scott's new movie, Prometheus, which will use von Daniken's ideas as background for alien-human interactions in the universe first created for Alien. This is not the Alien franchise's first foray into ancient astronautics; Alien vs. Predator used the same idea last decade. The problem isn't so much that Scott is using a fringe theory for his fiction (after all, that's what H. P. Lovecraft did in his stories); the problem is that Scott appears to believe in the theory and will use the marketing machine for a major Hollywood release to promote the ancient astronaut theory as something that is true.
Ancient astronauts are an evocative idea. H. P. Lovecraft got great mileage out of that fringe theory and elevated it to the level of literature (and forty years before von Daniken). But he was always careful to assure everyone who asked that there was no truth to his fictions whatsoever. Less scrupulous showmen have no such compulsion to uphold the value and sanctity of truth, and as a result falsehoods get passed off as truth. Even dead Cthulhu would roll over in his undersea tomb.
I have avoided writing about Niall Ferguson's new book, Civilization: The West and the Rest, despite the plethora of reviews, not to mention Ferguson's own promotional pieces in any venue that will have him. (And let's not forget the unwarranted accusations of racism.) Ferguson writes about the decline of the West, and that topic got me in trouble a few times back in 2005, when the media elite didn't believe decline was possible (the U.S. was conquering the world by force back then) and heavily criticized my Cult of Alien Gods for suggesting decline was occuring (though I was merely citing historians). Oh, how things have changed in six short years.
It's not that I don't agree with Niall Ferguson on a basic level about the fate of the West; it's that the quality of his books has tended toward an inverse relationship to Ferguson's fame. By most accounts, Civilization is Ferguson's sloppiest book, designed as a companion to a British TV series and framed around fashionable jargon (such as "killer apps") whose half life will leave this book looking ridiculous not long from now. I am reminded of Tom Holland's otherwise splendid Rubicon (2003), whose language is so salted with the fashionable militarism of the period between 9/11 and Shock and Awe that those little spikes of bad verbiage from the War on Terror break the spell of the book.
Beyond tonal issues, the problem I have with Ferguson's Civilization is that Ferguson presents his discussion of the rise and relative decline of Western Civilization from 1500 to today more or less as a great discovery. But his book has been written before, without the silly techno-babble about "apps" and with much smoother grace by Jacques Barzun a decade ago. From Dawn to Decadence (2000) not only is deeper in thought and more comprehensive in scope (while covering the same 500 year period, 1500-2000), but it also benefits from diagnosing the decline of the West in an age when the intelligensia were still celebrating the imaginary universal triumph of Western Civilization. Barzun's book was prescient; Ferguson's is behind the times.
_With the recent release of the fourth Twilight movie, Breaking Dawn Part 1, journalists and critics have weighed in (yet again) on the franchise and the values it is apparently indoctrinating into young girls. On his blog, Roger Ebert mused on heteronormative values inherent in Twilight and whether the movies are hostile to "non-traditional sexuality." Over at The Daily Beast, Ann Rice had to explain that her comments extolling her vampires above Stephenie Meyers's vampires were intended in jest, and that she sees the book and movie series as a contemporary version of Jane Eyre. And of course there are the analyses searching for hidden Mormonism in the movie due to Meyers's religious leanings.
_ It’s Thanksgiving in the United States today, and I for one know what I am thankful for today: Last night brought us the final episode of Ancient Aliens for 2011. Yes, indeed, we have at least a couple of months without any new ridiculousness about alien artists, warriors, and genetic engineers. Lead ancient astronaut theorist (AAT) Giorgio Tsoukalos billed this season finale on his Twitter feed as the “best ever” episode and one that was something called “Tsoukalicious,” but I’m just glad it’s over.
As a personal note, I had a terrible headache last night and could barely force myself to watch Ancient Aliens. This was only made worse by History's decision to show the program’s HD finale in the wrong aspect ratio, squishing the images down into a thin strip across the middle of the screen and making everyone look wide and weird.
Today I consulted on a program to air on History Channel Canada and Discovery Channel UK covering the weird and the wild. The program's researcher was interested in learning more about fringe claims that nuclear bombs were used in prehistoric India after reading my eBook Ancient Atom Bombs? We had a nice conversation about the science behind the claims and the scholarly malpractice through which genuine ancient Sanskrit texts were systematically altered to make them seem like they told about nuclear weaponry. I will keep you posted if more comes of this.
I'm quoted and discussed in a brand new book from the University of Texas Press on the horror genre after September 11, 2001 called, appropriately enough Horror After 9/11 by Aviva Briefel and Sam J. Miller. In this book, the authors quote my Knowing Fear several times in relation to the torture porn genre. The authors examine my view that the popularity of horror cannot be conclusively tied to states of war, and they critique my opinion that the Saw movies' villain, Jigsaw, exists primarily as a justification for depicting torture on screen, preferring to read him instead as a complex psychological figure.
Read more about the book here.
My newest JasonColavito.com Books release is The Faust Book, a collection of early tales about the legendary Dr. Faustus, the scholar who made a deal with the devil and traded his soul for knowledge. Be sure to check it out. The cover I designed is, I think, my best work yet.
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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