"Ancient Aliens" Launches New Novelty Product Line; Plus: Travel Channel Visits Kensington Rune Stone
Let’s start today with depressing news from the world of cable fringe history. A+E Networks, the parent company of the History Channel, announced that it’s creating a new line of novelty toys and gifts based off of their hit series Ancient Aliens to be sold in Spencer Gifts. If there is any good news from the announcement, it’s that the merchandise will be sold at Spencer Gifts, a retail store in those weird, abandoned ritual centers known as “malls” that have become archaeological sites since their wholesale abandonment a decade ago.
“As fan enthusiasm for Ancient Aliens continues to move from strength to strength, we are thrilled to partner with a retail trend leader like Spencer’s to develop a product line around the property’s totally unique appeal,” A+E Networks Brand Licensing vice president Jill Tully said in a press statement. “From science fiction to memes, the range of merchandise is a really fun way to extend the brand.”
I’m not sure whether it’s more depressing that the History Channel consider lies to be a “brand,” or that they are happy to mislead viewers as long as it makes money.
To that end, I was somewhat surprised that the PR team for History’s Ancient Aliens fan convention, Alien Con, contacted me three times to ask if I would be willing to talk with the Alien Con team for a potential blog post about the upcoming convention. I called their bluff yesterday and said that I would be delighted to speak with them about the convention. The PR guy told me that he would try to find someone who was “willing” to speak with me about Alien Con by phone, and then I heard nothing the rest of the day. I’ll follow up on Monday, but it seems that my reputation precedes me.
Speaking of cable’s interest in fringe history, last night Mysteries at the Museum on the Travel Channel offered a segment on the Kensington Rune Stone as the lead off segment to its newest episode, “Kensington Runestone, Smile! You’re being Hijacked and Harriet the Spy,” which sounds more like a Chinese spambot than a TV show title. The episode opens with Alexandria’s giant Viking statue, followed by a trip to the Runestone Museum.
I have never been to the museum, so I was, frankly, a bit surprised to see its strip-mall aesthetic, and I’m not sure I would have held up a canoe and a bicycle as prized possessions. The narrator didn’t quite explain what any of those objects have to do with the Kensington Runestone (KRS), but I gather that the museum offers a mix of Minnesota history and Scandinavian history to complement its most famous artifact.
David Krueger, who wrote a book about the stone last year that I greatly enjoyed, appears on the show as the sole talking head to discuss the stone. The narrator calls the KRS “bizarre,” which seems about right, if somewhat inappropriate. Some cheap reenactments tell the familiar (to us) story of how the stone was uncovered in 1898, but it’s clear that Mysteries at the Museum didn’t spend too much time or money on the segment. The Runestone was discovered in the fall of 1898, but the reenactment clearly was filmed in early summer, complete with lush grass and verdant trees. The jaunty music also suggests that the producers didn’t take the story very seriously, either.
The narrator relates the story told on the KRS, namely that it tells of a Norse expedition to America in 1362, and the show explains some of the early controversies over whether the stone was a genuine medieval artifact or a modern hoax. The production relates the early analysis that the KRS contains runes inconsistent with a fourteenth century date, making it a hoax. There is no mention of any geological evaluation, secret codes, Templar land claims, or Jesus’ secret kids.
The segment concludes with a sop to true believers by saying that “no one knows” whether the KRS is genuine, and, having thrown its hands into the air, the show takes off for more pleasant climes in Miami. The impression it gave, however, from the only evidence the producers chose to include, is that the stone is a hoax but that those with “Scandinavian heritage” in Minnesota don’t want to accept this.
All in all, it was a slight, rather superficial segment.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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