History Channel Executive Boasts: Templar and Alien Conspiracy Shows "Continually Worked for Us," Will Inspire More of the Same
Last night the History channel debuted its new series about the Knights Templar and the Holy Grail, Knightfall, a series designed to capitalize on the momentum generated by the network’s hit series Vikings and its core audience’s fascination with Da Vinci Code conspiracy theories. While critics offered mixed reviews of the series, many complained that the show was either dramatically inert or overly generic. Nevertheless, it is the first entry to build on Vikings to create a multipronged programming strategy designed to turn History into a full-service entertainment destination, where scripted shows provide an entry point for documentary features on the (quasi-) real history behind the story.
Next month, the Travel Channel is sending Expedition Unknown host Josh Gates on a “special event” in which he goes in search of “the mother of all questions.” Do I even have to say that he’s doing a multi-episode hunt for ancient astronauts and UFOs? While I have every confidence that Gates will fail to find ET (since he’s never found any other myth he’s looked for), the fact that the ancient astronaut theory—for which, read “ripping off the more popular Ancient Aliens”—is seen as a ratings-grabbing “event” is about as depressing as it gets in the shady world of unscripted cable TV. Almost a decade after Ancient Aliens debuted, it remains the platonic ideal of cable TV programming: lazy, cheap, and wildly popular. Stay on the air long enough, and every program ends up talking about space aliens.
And becomes repetitive. That, too. Ancient Aliens has covered the Stone Age Turkish site of Göbekli Tepe, a 12,000-year-old stone temple complex, many times in the past. Off the top of my head, I know of at least six episodes that discuss it, but I’m sure I am forgetting some. It should probably be obvious that the producers of the show were paying attention a few months ago when some Graham Hancock super-fans decided to try to cast Hancock and Andrew Collins’s speculations about the astronomical orientation of the ancient temple complex in academic language in an obscure academic journal, spawning a media frenzy among the uncritical who failed to realize that the academic authors basically just repeated Andrew Collins (though I am surprised that they did not mention the article by name). I give them this much credit, however: Ancient Aliens makes no bones about revisiting a well-worn topic. The title of S12E16 is “Return to Göbekli Tepe,” conceding that we have been down this path before.
I guess when a favorite piece of evidence for ancient astronauts is debunked as little more than a hoax, you have two choices: You can accept the verdict of reason, or you can fight it. Ancient Aliens has made the unusual choice to try to rehabilitate the fake Dropa Stones, a hoax that first appeared in a German vegetarian magazine in July 1962 before being popularized by books like Peter Kolosimo’s Not of This World. The Dropa Stone hoax became popular enough that Sputnik magazine used a picture of one such stone as part of the cover illustration for an article on Uzbekistan “alien” cave art that Erich von Däniken later mistook for the art itself. The stones, it goes without saying, have never been shown to exist outside of the imagination of ufologists. Ancient Aliens takes the lack of evidence as proof of a massive conspiracy to suppress the truth.
History Channel Sends Giorgio Tsoukalos on Latin American Tour as Part of "Ancient Aliens" Promotional Extravaganza
Venezuela is in the midst of a terrible crisis that is consuming every level of its society. Pres. Trump called the country a dictatorship, and the socialist government has come under international criticism for pushing through constitutional changes under a dubious referendum with the goal of consolidating the ruling party’s power for a generation. Meanwhile, ordinary people are starving as food supplies run low. So what does one of the country’s leading newspapers think that the public needs to know about? Giorgio Tsoukalos and space aliens, of course.
Tonight’s episode, “A Spaceship Made of Stone,” focuses on the Ishi-no-Hōden (“Stone Treasure-House”) megalith in Japan, a large roughly cubic rock carved out of the side of a hill between 500 and 700 CE, and it is said to hold the spirit of the deity of the Jinja Shinto shrine in which it sits. It weighs about 500 tons, and its most impressive feature is the clever way its base was carved into a narrow pedestal to give the illusion that it floats above the water atop which it sits. The monument has been known to the West since at least 1832, when Philipp Franz von Siebold, a German who disguised himself as a Dutchman in order to sneak into an isolationist Japan, published a picture of it in the first volume of his Nippon. The monolith appears on tonight’s show because last year, when the current batch of episodes was being planned out, an article and video about the cube made the rounds of the fringe history message boards and spam sites, where Ancient Aliens gets all its ideas.
Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. When Ancient Aliens started down the path of saying that all human genius was the result of human brains tapping into an alien internet signal, it stood to reason that eventually they would deny that even our own sense of self, our consciousness, belongs to us but rather is a projection from another realm, thus accounting for reincarnation and psychic channeling. This is similar to the New Age idea that the brain is really a receiver for consciousness from the spirit world—i.e., that consciousness is a projection from a realm beyond the physical into the material world. They just bastardize the idea down to its grossest level, which, frankly, is what Ancient Aliens always does. This is New Age religion for dummies, dummies who aren’t quite ready to commit full on to faith and still want to pretend that this is all either entertainment or science.
The title of the episode, “The Replicants,” suggests that the episode will focus on mind-control, soul-cloning, or something like that. The actual content never addresses the episode title at all. What a missed opportunity.
It’s been a good ten seasons since Ancient Aliens had an original idea, so it goes without saying that we’ve heard much of the material in tonight’s episode before. In this episode, the show is looking to go beyond its typical claim that humans were genetically engineered by aliens to extend the aliens’ plans to animals. We’ve seen elements of this in the past, from the time when Giorgio Tsoukalos alleged that space aliens made a peace treaty with coelacanths to protect them from a dinosaur-killing asteroid to the time that the show claimed that Bigfoot arrived on Earth in a flying saucer. But the real purpose of this episode is to cast doubt on evolutionary theory, a disturbingly common theme that the show has been pushing since its decision to adopt creationist claims and rhetoric.
Ancient Aliens has been working hard to find ways to refresh its old formula, and this season the producers have struck upon twin strategies. First, each episode is now framed around a field piece starring one of the show’s most important talking heads, and, second, the show has made its peace with creationists, nationalists, and other unsavory types, gleefully adding their claims to the core ideas of the ancient astronaut theory. We saw this when the show embraced creationist claims about “OOPARTS,” and in “Voices of the Gods” producers embrace the extreme claims of Hindu nationalists, melding together old claims about India from UFO literature with bonkers efforts by the government of Prime Minister Modi to celebrate India’s supposed prehistoric technological past based on dubious readings of Sanskrit texts. The show also leaves aside the vexing problem that so many of these claims originate not among native Indians but rather among white Europeans of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries who sought to celebrate Aryan heritage by looking for the “oldest” Aryan myths, legends, and sciences among the oldest layers of Indian civilization, a layer then presumed to be a “pure” representation of ancestral Indo-European culture.
Almost twenty years ago, biologist E. O. Wilson published Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, in which he postulated that the various fields of human knowledge can be linked at a deep level and that one day we will unify the sciences and the humanities. But what about false forms of knowledge? Do they have a deep connection, too? Is there such as think as Collusion: The Unity of Anti-Knowledge? If there is, then Ancient Aliens represents collusion at its worst. Tonight’s episode plunges us to new lows when New Age guru Deepak Chopra brings his carnival of crazy claims about quantum consciousness to a program ostensibly, though rarely actually, about space aliens. All of this occurs in service of an episode dedicated to the Akashic Record, a name that should sound familiar since Ancient Aliens has already covered it several times before. The Akashic Record is a modern pious fraud, an alleged ancient Indian concept of a universal record of all past, present, and future knowledge accessible by psychic power.
Wednesday Roundup: History Channel "Investigating" "Earhart" Photo; Plus: Gaia Claims New Alien Mummies and Marzulli Claims Demons Pretend to Be the Virgin Mary
According to a new poll from Pew Research, a clear majority of Republicans, 58%, now view higher education as bad for America. While the poll did not distinguish between Republicans who view education itself as bad and those who are angry at colleges and universities for being too “liberal” and therefore bad, the results are overall disturbing for anyone who cares about education and scholarship.
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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