A little more than a week from now Jon Stewart will broadcast his last Daily Show, and the media are eulogizing his tenure on the program the way they would a departing head of state. Amid all of the rhapsodizing about the comedian, it’s easy to forget that his show rarely attracted more than 1.3 million viewers, and a typical episode was closer to 1.1 million. What made the show so influential wasn’t the number of viewers but who they were, largely young adults and media and political insiders who liked watching a show about themselves. Almost half of viewers have a college degree, and most of the rest are in pursuit of one. The average Daily Show viewer is well off, with more than 40% earning more than $75,000 per year. The show’s combination of demographically desirable youths and upper class elites helped it punch above its weight. I mention this because Ancient Aliens attracted 1.392 million viewers last Friday, of which 300 thousand were in the adults 18-49. The difference is that Ancient Aliens has the wrong kind of viewers: older, poorer, less educated, and non-elite, indeed even anti-elite. In real terms, though, Ancient Aliens has a broader reach across a wider range of people than the more homogenous Daily Show audience. It’s sad, but true.
I would also be remiss if, while on the subject of ancient astronauts, I did not mention that Richard Hoagland has made some truly bizarre claims about the dwarf planet Pluto. Hoagland, who now has a radio program on Art Bell’s radio network called The Other Side of Midnight, is claiming that NASA is covering up the existence of structures on Pluto, which he claimed on Steve Warmer’s Dark City radio program (also on the Bell network) are likely to be a 65-million-year-old cosmic library of wisdom containing the “true” history of humanity. Hoagland’s space library seems to have some echoes of the ancient myth of the Pillars of Wisdom, but I’m intrigued by the unintentional (I hope) reflection of H. P. Lovecraft’s Yuggoth, which Lovecraft identified with Pluto. “There are mighty cities on Yuggoth—great tiers of terraced towers built of black stone…” he wrote in the “Whisperer in Darkness.” And indeed the Old Ones, in their role as the equivalent of the Watchers, brought a kind of cosmic Panopticon, the Shining Trapezohedron, with them from Yuggoth, where presumably other artifacts of universal wisdom and knowledge could also be found. On the plus side, there is talk of naming a feature on Pluto after Cthulhu in honor of Lovecraft’s early use of Pluto in the “Whisperer in Darkness” just months after the dwarf planet’s discovery.
But relocating Pillars of Wisdom to Pluto isn’t the only weird claim made for the dwarf planet. Terry Hurlbut, a conservative young earth creationist, claims that Pluto formed from chunks of the earth during Noah’s Flood! This is especially shocking considering that the new consensus on the non-creationist fringe is that Noah’s Flood occurred not because of a planet escaping earth but because of a different heavenly body crashing into it. Graham Hancock has been on the forefront of writers arguing that the alleged Younger Dryas Boundary event was actually a comet or meteor that crashed into the earth, causing the events known to myth as the sinking of Atlantis, the Flood of Noah, etc., just as Ignatius Donnelly and Edmund Halley had concluded ages ago. A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences claims that a new analysis of samples from four continents demonstrates a 95 percent probability that a comet or meteor did hit the Earth around 10,800 BCE (specifically 12,835–12,735 Cal B.P.), triggering a period of global cooling.
This study is perhaps the strongest evidence yet for such an impact, but there is still not a consensus that the impact event actually occurred since archaeology has not yet found evidence of the probable consequences of such an impact, such as large population declines among Paleoindians, while paleontology has yet to confirm a simultaneous extinction of megafauna.
It’s a bit beyond my pay grade, and certainly not something I have any way of evaluating. But let’s for a moment entertain the possibility that a space rock hit the earth and left at least some mark.
It’s particularly interesting how fringe writers like Hancock, who once argued that the end of the Ice Age and its subsequent rise in sea levels was responsible for drowning a lost civilization and sparking flood myths, now argue with equal conviction that a comet’s impact and the subsequent plunge back into an Ice Age, is responsible for the same phenomenon! In other words, to make their mythology fit with developing science, fringe theorists have moved their lost civilization back from the end of the Younger Dryas, around 9500 BCE—the time Plato alleges Atlantis drowned—to the start of the Younger Dryas, before 10,900 BCE. The shift is subtle, but it allows fringe researchers to give their claims a scientific gloss while claiming that their investigation of myth has somehow allowed them to be consistently right about human prehistory despite the bewildering variety of claims they’ve made for it.
What’s most interesting, though, is that fringe interpretations of myth follow science; they don’t precede it. If fringe research were leading us somewhere useful, it should have been able to identify and predict these scientific discoveries before they occurred. Heck, even Ignatius Donnelly managed that feat with his Ragnarok: The Age of Fire and Gravel, and he was just making wild stabs in the dark based on popular science of his day and accidentally stumbled on a close parallel to the Younger Dryas Boundary Event as read in light of Graham Hancock’s lost civilization. (Note: Edmund Halley came to the same conclusion before Ice Ages were even known, so this isn’t a product of fringe research being right as much as it is the fact that enough wrong guesses will eventually hit upon a right one; witness all the competing ideas!) Somehow, though, most fringe writers tended to ignore Donnelly’s Ragnarok until science seemed to parallel its conclusions. When fringe writers did try to update Donnelly, they got it wrong. D. S. Allan and J. B. Delair tried it in the book When Earth Nearly Died (1995), where they tied a comet impact to Plato’s favored year of 9500 BCE.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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