The British Metro publication had an article today about “Ellis Silver,” the pseudonymous author of a book claiming that human beings were sent to Earth from another planet as punishment for sins on this other world, and the proof is in the fact that people get sunburns, something that he says shouldn’t happen to creatures that evolved on the Earth. I talked about Silver briefly when his ideas formed a segment of Ancient Aliens back in August. They are no sounder now than they were then, and PZ Myers spent significant space bashing Silver’s grasp of evolutionary biology in a post yesterday that formed the basis for the Metro article. Myers looked into Silver’s background but couldn’t find any reality to the man’s claims to credentialed glory.
But what I’d like to talk about today is the second season of TNT’s The Librarians, which debuted last night in a two-hour block. Watching the show, I was struck by how closely it aped the stereotypes about Victorian scholar-adventurers, a Eurocentric narrative in which a predominantly lily-white band of heroes raid other cultures, hoard their artifacts in Neoclassical temples of universal knowledge, and exercise a divine right to adjudicate other people’s conflicts on behalf of a Euro-American culture that assumes itself to be universal. From the costuming to the set design to the plotting, The Librarians is a throwback to the early twentieth century pulp era’s romantic longing for the glories of Victorian empire.
It probably goes without saying that nearly everyone on the show is white, excepting one character who is a culturally assimilated Asian and saddled with the characteristic Yellow Peril traits of shiftiness and duplicity. The head librarian, played by Noah Wylie, reprising his role from the TV movies that preceded the series, has graduated from Indiana Jones-inspired outfits to full-on 1970s-era Doctor Who Victorian drag. And like the Doctor, the Librarians pop in to various times and places, though they go through a magic door in a building bigger on the inside rather than a technologically magical box that’s bigger on the inside, and solve the world’s problems as benign colonial overlords, akin to the British and French “advisors” who used to make decisions for non-Western peoples in the colonial period. Unlike the Doctor, though, the Librarians aren’t terribly conflicted about their actions and are happy to raid other cultures to “secure” powerful artifacts to decorate their Library, sort of like the way the British Museum and Louvre filled up with the spoils of empire. Oh, and they also apparently have God’s own blessing for raising ethnocentrism to a universal good: In the second hour last night, it was revealed that the Library is actually built around the Garden of Eden, which they guard and thus control.
I can’t imagine that the writers or producers of the show gave even a minute’s thought to the message they were sending, especially since the series is very clearly assembled from spare parts of earlier pulp-influenced movies and shows. There’s more than a hint of Warehouse 13, Indiana Jones, Relic Hunter, and any number of others. What’s interesting, though, is that in developing their version of a pulp adventure, they essentially resurrected the imperialist-colonialist narratives of King Solomon’s Mines and pulp fiction and reanimated them in a form that seems almost to consciously celebrate the aesthetics of the Victorian universal museum as the Platonic form of what it means to be educated and erudite. It’s hard to image anyone making a similar series set in the blank white walls and blinking video kiosks of the modern museum.