In his closing remarks as host of the Daily Show, Jon Stewart spoke about his overriding leitmotif, his concern that politicians and cable news were filling America with bullshit. His words were equally applicable to the bullshit spun by advertisers, hucksters, and most of what passes for cable TV, including Ancient Aliens: “Now the good news is this: Bullshitters have gotten pretty lazy. And their work is easily detected. And looking for it is kind of a pleasant way to pass the time, like an ‘I Spy’ of bullshit. So, I say to you tonight, friends: The best defense against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something.”
Ancient Aliens has been stinking up the airwaves for eight years, and its muscle memory is atrophying with laziness. In the past, the show would zip through a dozen or more crazy claims per hour, but not the zany moments are fewer and farther between as they vamp for time and rely more and more on the elements of traditional documentaries and segments that could pass for real nonfiction programming.
Tonight’s idiotic installment, S08E03 “Aliens and Robots” is a partial return to form. Sure, it focuses a bit too much on current robotics and too little on aliens, but it has a good number of crazy claims about aliens and robots that hark back to The Day the Earth Stood Still and Forbidden Planet. There’s even a new title card with mood-lit pyramids. In the end, though, it represents something of a disturbing new approach to legitimizing the ancient astronaut theory, as we shall see.
We open with a discussion about Japanese robot technology and its efforts to create humanlike robots, followed by American efforts to do the same. Steve Fuller, author of What It Means to Be Human, slumming it here, compares these robots to Blade Runner, one of many sci-fi humanlike android stories. They’ve been a staple of science fiction from Metropolis right down to the current CBS series Extant. Nick Pope worries that this might lead to the robot apocalypse, and the show wonders whether robots can surpass ancient astronaut theorists in intelligence.
This somehow leads us to Abydos to talk about the god Osiris and whether he flew to Egypt on a spaceship. While the narrator tells us that ancient astronaut theorists believe the Egyptian gods were aliens, the producers asked them to instead ponder whether Osiris might be a robot who was disassembled and reassembled rather than a humanoid who was dismembered and resurrected. William Henry tells us that the Djed pillar, a symbol of Osiris, is a Tesla coil that powered him, while Giorgio Tsoukalos said that Isis operated him as a puppet by inserting her hand into his back. It’s clear that the talking heads don’t really believe what they’re saying, and they have no enthusiasm for claims that the show itself seems embarrassed to try to defend. Tsoukalos points to a carving of Isis standing behind Osiris to speculate that her hidden hand is operating his controls. It is a literal argument from ignorance.
This segment discusses the Antekythera Mechanism, an ancient Greek mechanical computer from the second century BCE. While it is the only surviving example of such complex astronomical computational devices, the ancient astronaut theorists use an argument from ignorance to imply an alien connection. The Antekythera Mechanism matches quite well the type of ancient Greek technology recorded by the Greeks and Romans. Cicero, in De re publica 1.14 described a similar star globe created by Archimedes. The show discusses Pindar’s mention of moving statues, and David Wilcock says that they were alien robots “1,500 years too early.” But clockwork automatons are attested in ancient literature, and they were well known from the Greek successor state of the Byzantine Empire. These would not be “robots” in the sense of androids, but rather like wind-up toys. The show, though, prefers to tell the story of Talos from a very late version of the Argonautica. The trouble is that Talos, while a man of Bronze, was not intended to be a robot. As A. B. Cook discussed a century ago, Talos was sometimes a bull, sometimes a man, sometimes the last survivor of the Bronze Age—as his name, “the Sun,” implies, he was the old Cretan sun god rationalized. Later writers confused the last survivor of the Hesiodic race of bronze for a man made literally of bronze.
The show briefly mentions the robot shown to the Chinese king Mu of Chou, which they should have done more with since I bothered to include the original text in my Foundations of Atlantis from book 5 of the Liezi of the fourth century CE (attributed to the fifth century BCE). It’s a weird story about a creature made of leather, wood, and glue—complete with kidneys that controlled its locomotion.
The segment concludes by saying that humans send robots to explore Mars, so aliens probably sent automatons to explore and conquer earth for them. Our ancestors didn’t notice because they were robots in disguise. No, wait… that’s Transformers.
This segment begins by discussing self-replicating robots and how they can be used to explore the universe by reproducing as they venture to new worlds. David Wilcock speculates that an alien civilization might already have done this, using the robots as sentinels and scouts, kind of like the Silver Surfer (metallic, but technically not a robot) heralding Galacticus. But even the show isn’t terribly invested in this hypothesis, offering a lot more use of the conditional tense, since to endorse such claims would eliminate the rapturous transcendence viewers have been conditioned to expect when they encounter the robots’ flesh and blood masters. Instead, the talking heads seem more comfortable thinking of robots as Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still, standing alongside their living overlords rather than as mindless scientific probes taking boring measurements.
Having run out of ancient robots—though without really even trying to look at some of the ancient discussions of automatons beyond the most basic—we move on to modern material. Nick Redfern claims that the U.S. government’s Project Moon Dust sought to recover alien spacecraft (in reality they used reports of UFOs to hunt for Soviet air and spacecraft), while David Wilcock tells us that the Grey aliens are robots on the authority of Sgt. Clifford Stone, and in discussing it they elide the fact that the Disclosure Project hearing was not an official congressional hearing and the “members of Congress” in attendance were retired—and paid. Never mind, by the way, that calling the Greys robots undermines the earlier Ancient Aliens episode S04E03 “The Greys,” as well as claims from various abductees that the Greys engaged in sexual activity with them. The writer of this hour seems to understand this is a problem, so as the show goes to a break the narrator asks whether the Greys are not true robots but are instead bionic cyborgs, like the Six Million Dollar Man—part human, part robot.
I’ve noticed that I’ve made a lot of comparison to midcentury science fiction, and I imagine there’s a good reason for that; this whole episode seems to be trying to make old science fiction movies and TV shows come to life.
This segment talks about using technology to 3D print living organs and possibly organisms, leading to a discussion of transhumanism and its claims for immortal cyborgs wandering around with intelligence uploaded into the cloud and working forever through a series of 3D printed bodies. Immortality, they say, could be possibly by 2050, so aliens are likely already immortal and living in bioengineered and/or mechanical robot bodies. This waste of a segment could have been summarized in a sentence for all the original content in it. If you Google the phrase alien robot you will see that everything in this segment, and most of this episode, can be found in newspaper and web articles from the past couple of years like this one and this one and this one.
Since History has extended the Ancient Aliens episodes’ run time to 63 minutes to give a boost to its stupid show about Alaskan mysteries, the last commercial break feels interminable at nearly five full minutes since they stick more ads in to push the show past 10:00 PM ET. Anyway, when we return, the show ponders whether we will be able to upload our minds to sophisticated computers in the future. The narrator asks if aliens created people as biological entities to limit our lifespans until we’re sophisticated enough to become transhuman. Wilcock asks whether the human body was modeled on machines since it is so much like one. (Hint: We built machines and modeled them on what we know.)
The sad part of an episode like this is that while it had the potential to be old school crazy, the producers have minimized the talking heads (except, weirdly, for Wilcock)— Tsoukalos only had a few words—in favor of more narration and more mainstream views. This makes for a more balanced show, but a less entertaining one. It also makes the show seem more legitimate, and that’s a dangerous thing. When it was just goofballs spouting crazy and/or racist things about ancient history, it was a show that all but the fringe laughed at. As a show that’s 60% mainstream and 40% ignorant conspiracies it’s more effective at giving false standing to the ancient astronaut theory by setting it side by side with serious science as though they were on an equal theoretical basis. This is not a welcome development.
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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