THE SECRET TOKEN:
MYTH, OBSESSION, AND THE SEARCH FOR THE LOST COLONY OF ROANOKE
Andrew Lawler | June 2018 | Doubleday | 448 pages | ISBN 9780385542012 | $29.95 USD, $39.95 CA
A recurring theme in fringe history is anger at the scholarly establishment, which tends to manifest as the conviction that academics have something to hide about history. But the roots of that rage are more frequently found in the difference between what the public wants to know about history—stories of triumph and tragedy, grand historical narratives, and the actions of sainted heroes and ancestors—and what academics want to study about history—the holy trinity of race, class, and gender; the minutiae of daily life; and anything that calls grand narratives into question. Neither approach is prima facie wrong, but the difference produces an uncomfortable tension between what popularizers want to write about and what scholars think they should be writing about.
"Alien" Mummies Actually Desecrated Human Bodies; Plus: Ashley Cowie's Confused Article on Vandalism and the Destruction of Monuments
Live Science paid up to view Gaia TV’s exploitative Unearthing Nazca streaming TV show in order to learn more about the supposed three-fingered “alien” mummies that Russian researchers allege are somehow both genetically and biologically human while also being inhuman morphologically. After viewing the documentary and examining broadcasted images of the mummies’ bones, experts consulted by Live Science determined that the most likely explanation is that the bodies are genuine Andean mummies that have been desecrated, with parts removed or rearranged to appear “alien” before a coating of a white, plaster-like substance was applied to hide the crude taxidermy.
Live Science found that Russian state media, the Russian propaganda channel RT, and other Russian outlets were heavily promoting the story—despite the fact that many of the credentials Gaia assigned to the lead Russian researcher, Konstantin Korotkov, could not be verified. The schools where he claimed to work, for example, either had no record of him or did not exist. It’s almost like the whole story was set up just to see how gullible American audiences could be, and how servile the media.
China's Hunt for Zheng He's Treasure Fleet Seen as Effort to Appropriate History for Political Propaganda
At the beginning of the century, British writer Gavin Menzies wrote the bestseller 1421: The Year China Discovered America (2002), in which he alleged, without sufficient evidence, that the Chinese admiral Zheng He had crossed the Pacific Ocean and reached the New World. While archaeologists dismissed the claim as fantasy, there was a widespread suggestion at the time that Menzies was inadvertently doing the work of Chinese propaganda, and that the country’s Communist regime would use the claim to support its growing role on the global stage by inventing a historical precedent. China secured Menzies’s cooperation by making him an honorary professor at Yunnan University, despite the fact that he does not speak Mandarin. He continued to write about supposed Chinese primacy over Europeans in various ventures for the next decade and a half.
THE SLENDERMAN MYSTERIES
Nick Redfern | 2018 | 288 pages | New Page Books | ISBN: 978-1-63265-112-9 | $15.99
In 2009 a man named Eric Knudsen created photo art of a thin, mysterious supernatural man in a suit, and he posted these photo illustrations to Something Awful, where they became the fodder for countless online stories of a creature soon known as Slender Man, sometimes stylized as Slenderman. In this, it was not entirely different from the fictitious Blair Witch of 1999, or the Cthulhu Mythos of H. P. Lovecraft’s fiction. In each case, a fictitious creation came to be embraced as “real” by fans who should have known better. The story of Slender Man is important, however, because in 2014 two 12-year-old girls lured a third into the woods in Waukesha, Wisconsin and stabbed her 19 times in an effort to impress the Slender Man. The victim survived, but the perpetrators were found not guilty by reason of insanity. Each was sentenced to decades in a mental health facility. The incident undercuts the collective “fun” to be had from pretending a fictitious thing was real.
History Channel to Launch New "In Search Of..."; Plus: Scott Wolter Marks Three Years Since End of "America Unearthed" with Radio Interview
The History channel has greenlighted a ten-episode revival of In Search of… starring Zachary Quinto, taking over the hosting role originated by Leonard Nimoy in the 1977-1982 original. Quinto was selected because he, like Nimoy before him, played Mr. Spock in Star Trek. In announcing the decision yesterday, the network said that the revived series would explore “dynamic” subjects “such as alien encounters, mysterious creatures, UFO sightings, time travel and artificial intelligence.”
"Aeon" Article Claims Racism and Nationalism Are the Driving Force Behind Good vs. Evil Sci-Fi and Fantasy Stories
In Aeon magazine, freelance writer Catherine Nichols has an interesting but flawed essay speculating on the reasons that modern pop culture narratives are “obsessed” with the conflict between good and evil, while ancient and medieval myths, legends, and folktales lack a recognizable locus of evil. It’s a question that is good for generating discussion, but Nichols only identifies some of the reasons for the difference between ancient and modern approaches, leaving out one of the largest and most important.
All right, I’ll admit it. I’ve got next to nothing today. It’s been a pretty slow period for bad historical ideas, and a lot of what is currently floating around is retreads of retreads. But that did raise an issue for me when I read Tim Goodman’s recent article in the Hollywood Reporter debating what the proper role of a TV critic is in the world of peak TV and more than 480 primetime scripted series. Goodman tried to make the case that the critic is justified to ignore TV series that millions of people might watch in favor of focusing only on the most interesting or ambitious series, especially those that few people might ever see. Goodman’s argument is essentially one of elitism, but it reflects a lot of the criticism I have received for reviewing media products that are well below the cultural interests off media elites.
Micah Hanks and Friends Launch New Website Covering Archaeology, History, Weird Pop Culture, and Other Stuff I Write About
I have to say, somewhat facetiously, that I’m feeling a little ripped off today after learning that podcaster and writer Micah Hanks and some of his friends have launched a website covering much of the same material as my own, only worse. In a Facebook posting yesterday afternoon, Hanks announced that he, environmental scientist Jason Pentrall, and geologist James Waldo launched Seven Ages, a WordPress-powered blog focusing on history, archaeology, science, and genre fiction—the topics I also cover here. The team currently offers lightly rewritten versions of current news stories, along with a biweekly podcast. The three men collectively produced seven posts in the past 17 days, along with three podcasts.
The first in my new occasional series reviewing movies I watched over the weekend.
It is hard not to feel like there is a moral rot at the center of our civilization, one that has been festering for decades and threatens to become gangrenous. In the past few months, we have learned that nearly every man with any power is a sex predator. We have seen freedom redefined as a celebration of anger, hatred, and disgust. Self-interest has been remade as the new national interest. The crass vulgarity of Donald Trump has unleashed a toxic miasma of American ugliness that was always there but had hitherto been kept hidden by the fantasy that civility was a virtue. Johnson and Nixon were nearly as foul as Trump, but never before have large crowds cheered open displays of crudity. When historians tell the story of our times, I wonder how it will go? Perhaps future historians will punctuate chapters on America’s decline in the face of power and prosperity with vignettes of individuals who went mad and in self-destructive rage lashed out against the perceived enemy within.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation came under fire yesterday for a new documentary on the Solutrean hypothesis that the network was scheduled to make available online today ahead of its Sunday television broadcast. Critics expressed concern that the network was promoting a fringe theory and giving it spurious credence without addressing the theory’s popularity with white supremacists. The network, for its part, said that it was aware of the controversy but didn’t care.
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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