I read an excellent review of my Cult of Alien Gods by Bill Adcock over at TheBloodSprayer.com, and I noticed an interesting way that critical views of my book have changed since its release in 2005. Back then, during the height of the fraudulent housing bubble, many of the critics reviewing it seized upon my citation of Jacques Barzun and his theory (from 2000) that Western civilization was in decline as a major fault in my book, largely for being insufficiently supportive of American exceptionalism and economic power, and the idea of progress.
Today, by contrast, with high unemployment, a sour economy, fractured politics, and a disintegrating European monetary union, more recent critics have all but stopped mentioning anything about my references to the decline of Western Civilization. In fact, today that idea is completely mainstream. Niall Ferguson has made his entire media career talking about it. In just seven years, we've gone from imagining a world of perpetual American (or Western) dominance to one of speculating on how to manage inevitable decline.
Interestingly, the ancient astronaut theory also seems to dovetail with these same forces. Although versions of the theory (hypothesis, really) had been proposed at the height of the postwar Western triumphalism, it only became really popular after 1968, when the European empires had collapsed, Vietnam had curdled, and the postwar economy was sagging into the morass of the 1970s. The theory remained popular until the economic and political revival of the Thatcher and Reagan eras.
During the 1980s and 1990s, when the West was riding high, the ancient astronaut theory was in eclipse, a silly footnote from the era of pyramid power, pet rocks, and EST. Atlantis and lost civilizations--proxies for (white) Western triumphalism--were the order of the day. Even the UFO craze of the era largely reflected a spiritual yearning for perfecting society through peace and love.
When I wrote Cult, I didn't think the ancient astronaut theory would ever come back into vogue. But in 2009, after the economic collapse, the ancient astronaut theory returned like so much else from the 1970s, another case of a subconscious yearning for a higher (non-human) power to rescue us from a civilization we failed to manage well. The same political and economic forces that made ancient astronauts popular in the 1970s did it again in the 2010s.
We can, I suppose, look forward to the ancient astronaut theory fading back into the woodwork when society and the economy improve. Whenever that will be.
7/15/2012 06:22:55 pm
If I'm reading the subtext of your post correctly, and I'm pretty sure I am, then I guess what you are really saying is that Pet Rocks will be making a comeback any time now. This is probably the best news I've heard in a long time as my pet rock ran away in the early eighties and I have been unable to find a replacement. This has left an unrepairable hole in my heart and left me bitter to the world, but all this will soon change when the pet rock makes its triumphant comeback. Of course, I won't be able to verify that I am happy again because I can't remember where I left my damn mood ring...
I read Barzun back in 2000. From Dawn to Decadence 1500 years of Western cultural life. I thought that was a great book. It never occurred to me that he would be criticized as being against American exceptionalism. Is this the same work of his you reference in this article?
9/5/2012 11:10:01 am
Great article, Jason:
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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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