A few years ago, I wrote an article outlining some of the efforts of the former Soviet and current Russian governments to undermine faith in Western science through propaganda aimed at promoting pseudoscience. I discussed longstanding efforts to promote UFO and ancient astronaut mysteries, and I late described how Russian Twitter bots had been caught spreading UFO and ancient astronaut memes along with medical pseudoscience and extremist political views aimed at sewing discord among Americans. For my efforts, I receive a barrage of criticism that I had given the Russians too much credit for propaganda, particularly when I highlighted instances where ancient astronaut theorists repeated Russian propaganda claims or proudly admitted to receiving Russian “secret” information. Some even appeared on Russian propaganda outlets, and Ancient Aliens devoted several glowing episodes to praising Putin’s Russia as a source of UFO mysteries.
I feel like I should analyze in some depth the newest guest article published on Graham Hancock’s website. In it, Rory Duff claims to have discovered the real Holy Grail and that it is a vortex created by a network of sound waves that envelops the Earth. These sonic ley lines are somehow both broad enough to form pathways and nodes hundreds of miles across on one of his maps but area also narrow enough that single church can be positioned exactly on the line and not a meter left or right of it in other parts of his work. According to Duff, the Knights Templar learned of these lines beneath the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and spent centuries hunting for the most important vortex that would serve as the true Grail, located somewhere in Spain.
But I just can’t do it.
Young Viewers Tune Out "Secret of Skinwalker Ranch"; Plus: The Return of "Rob Riggle: Global Investigator" Delivers Humiliating Ratings
This week Ancient Aliens is off (returning next week), so I am also taking the weekend off. But I do want to pass along the ratings data for this big week in pseudo-documentaries. On Tuesday The Curse of Oak Island brought in 3.5 million viewers, while its lead-out, The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch had a soft launch, fumbling more than a third of its lead-in. Skinwalker brought in just 2.0 million viewers—high for cable, but disappointing compared to its lead in. It lost fully one-half of all the Oak Island viewers under the age of 49, earning a 0.34 rating in the 18-49 demo to Oak Island’s 0.70. Turns out that the ceiling on interest in space poltergeists remains fairly stubbornly set at 2.0 million mostly older viewers, just as it has been for almost ever alien-themed cable pseudo-documentary. The only silver lining is that Skinwalker built massively on the even poorer ratings for the show it replaced, Project Blue Book, which had only 1.4 million viewers when it left the air last month. Skinwalker is therefore the most successful Oak Island companion series, and seems destined to run itself into the ground for years if it can keep up ratings. Meanwhile, Rob Riggle: Global Investigator totally shit the bed with ratings that made its Sunday failure look like a success. After failing hard with only 650,000 viewers on Sunday and being pulled from the valuable broadcasting night, the relaunched Discovery Channel series humiliated itself by drawing just 489,000 viewers in its new Thursday timeslot, with a 0.13 rating among adults 18-49. By comparison, the same night last week had twice as many viewers for Discovery’s Homestead Rescue, and three times as many for the same show the week before that. Riggle’s show is actively repelling Discovery’s viewers.
As coronavirus continues to shut down much of global life, there isn’t a lot of news from the world of fake history, space aliens, and other imaginary things. The real virus commands much more attention than fictitious threats. So, today I am going to devote some of my time to making progress on revising the chapters for my upcoming book on pyramid legends. I’m not sure what will happen when the deadline hits since the publisher currently has its offices closed and the staff are working remotely, though not consistently. In the meantime, here are the latest ratings figures for Rob Riggle: Global Investigator and Ancient Aliens in a week when people are stuck inside and watching more TV.
As you might imagine, the global standstill created by the coronavirus pandemic has also slowed down the purveyors of pseudohistory, who have fewer conferences to share their new claims and whose TV series are beginning to see production delays. So, today I thought I’d take the time spent socially distancing from everyone to discuss my new favorite category of TV series to watch on Netflix, Spanish dramas—the ones from Spain, not just in Spanish. I burned my way through their Brazilian shows, which were generally quite good, and most of the French ones, too. I didn’t really get into the formless Dutch blob of a supposed thriller Ares, but I have been pleasantly surprised by the exceptional quality of Spanish dramas. Once you adjust to the Spanish style of somewhat mannered and overdramatic acting, it becomes quite interesting to see how Spanish TV producers remix and play around with templates and forms pioneered on American TV and add an extra layer or two. They also seem to move much faster, which is, like British series, a function of generally shorter seasons.
It was not a good week for ancient mysteries on TV. Ancient Aliens suffered a massive tumble in the ratings, losing around 20% of its viewers as its total viewership fell to just 881,000 for Saturday’s episode, ranking at the seventy-fifth most watched show that day. By contrast William Shatner’s The UnXplained, airing an hour later, cracked the top fifty with 946,000 viewers. Once again, a greater number of viewers under 49 tuned in to Shatner, giving his show the edge. Neither, of course, could hold a candle to Food Network’s 11 AM showing of The Kitchen, which trounced both in total viewers and in the demographic.
This week, Sophie Gilbert writes in the Atlantic about the trend for Netflix teen dramas to “reject modernity” by embracing a retro aesthetic deeply at odds with contemporary teen culture. According to Gilbert, this aesthetic choice, seen in shows as diverse as The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Sex Education, and I’m Not Okay with This, isn’t just a creative decision but symptomatic of a cultural psychosis that refuses to deal with our fractured reality and instead wants to escape into an idealized past. However, Gilbert’s conception of history stretches no further than her own lifetime, so she sees the shockingly postmodern and new in cultural trends that have always been with us.
On Tuesday, Sarah Scoles published They Are Already Here: UFO Culture and Why We See Saucers (Pegasus, 2020), and to promote the book, which I have not yet read, she published an excerpt in Wired magazine. Mostly the excerpt is a fairly standard description of the first two decades of the modern UFO era, from the Kenneth Arnold sighting to the Air Force efforts to investigate and debunk saucer sightings. I am, however, interested in Scoles’s sociological approach to the question of flying saucers. In the excerpt, she asserts that even without Kenneth Arnold, UFO culture would have emerged anyway:
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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