Before I begin, I will briefly note news from Britain, that Blackpool’s council has authorized the use of compulsory purchase (what Americans call “eminent domain”) to use the force of government to acquire land for the long-gestating Chariots of the Gods theme park to be operated by the company that now owns Erich von Däniken’s so-called “intellectual” property. Final permission to build the amusement park hasn’t happened yet, so the immersive Chariots entertainment experience is still years away. And now, on to more… well, I almost said “pleasant” thoughts, but that isn’t quite right.
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.
For years now, I have ended each trip around the sun with a summary of the preceding twelve months in fringe history, space aliens, and the weird. Most years, these summaries run into the thousands of words because so much happened. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic and the American presidential election severely curtailed the number of extreme claims made about ancient history, as conspiracy theorists turned their attention toward disease and politics. Last year, I said I was ready for a long, difficult year to end, and now those look like the good old days. This year I published a new book and wrote two more, and I look forward to what I hope will be big things next year when publishers get a look at my newest manuscript. In the meantime, we can look back in sadness and anger.
I have now sent my agent the final revision to my book proposal for my book about James Dean, flying saucers, and midcentury panics. My agent seems confident that publishers will be interested, and it is out of my hands now. I imagine this is the point when I urge Apollo and the Muses to intervene. “Happy is he whom the Muses love: sweet flows speech from his lips. Hail, children of Zeus! Give honor to my song!”
This week two more celebrities announced their supposed encounters with space aliens, and it was about what you would expect. The less surprising was Miley Cyrus, who told Interview magazine that she was traumatized by a flying saucer that she witnessed while high on drugs:
Kevin Burns, the prolific Emmy-winning producer of such pseudohistorical and reality television programs as Curse of Oak Island and Ancient Aliens, died yesterday, according to social media posts from friends and colleagues. Burns was 65 years old.
Most people who have studied the weirder parts of the twentieth century are aware that L. Ron Hubbard of Scientology fame had a longstanding antagonistic relationship with the Feds. In my research for my new book, I discovered how Hubbard’s Dianetics intersected with a Red Scare flap that sparked federal interest in Hubbard at exactly the wrong time and set off a decades-long hostile relationship. As best I can tell, no one has previously written about the impact of the now-forgotten Reuben L. Revens scandal on the FBI’s eventual interest in Dianetics, so here is the outline of a disturbing story. I compiled it from FBI documents, Ben Bradlee’s memoir, and a year’s worth of reporting in the Washington Evening Star. I’ll caution you here that some of the details about sexual exploitation are upsetting.
I’ve been making great progress on my new book, and I’ve nearly hit 40,000 words. The bigger challenge is trying to interest anyone in it. It’s rather rude, really, that literary agents can’t be bothered with even a pro-forma rejection but instead expect me to wait out response windows for silence to speak for them. But on the plus side, I’ve had an opportunity to explore some areas of historical research I hadn’t had the opportunity to look into before. Honestly, it was a little weird.
Yesterday I ended up getting into a discussion on Twitter with Naomi Wolf over her 2019 book Outrages, which was published in Britain but pulped in the United States after a British interviewer pointed out that Wolf had based some of her argument on alleged sodomy executions that did not occur, having mistaken odd British penal terminology for a death sentence. The last British sodomy execution occurred in 1836, but Wolf had alleged that they continued deep into the nineteenth century. A revised version of the book has now been published here. After seeing a tweet Wolf made yesterday, I expressed my dismay that Wolf was still defending that position and also my sadness that she describes John Addington Symonds, a Victorian-era author whom I’ve discussed before, as a man who “refused to be silenced” in pursuit of gay rights. Wolf took issue with my tweet and we had a lengthy discussion of the matter that ended productively. That’s an improvement over my usual interactions with the likes of Scott Wolter and Giorgio Tsoukalos!
Over the course of the past few weeks, I’ve found that blogging less has made me much more productive as a book writer. I’ve churned out 25,000 words of my new book on midcentury panics in the past five or six weeks, and I am remarkably pleased with the results. However, I can’t let weeks pass without offering at least a few words about the new series Lovecraft Country, currently airing on HBO. The series, based on a 2016 novel I have never read (having a kid really cuts down on reading time), transforms traditional horror tropes by filtering them through the experience of midcentury Black Americans, directly critiquing the racism inherent in classic horror stories, especially H. P. Lovecraft’s.
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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