Sen. Lindsey Graham warned this week that calling the so-called QAnon Shaman, Jake Angeli (a.k.a. Jacob Chansley), to testify in Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial would be a circus, while last night CNN aired footage from tonight’s QAnon conspiracy special of anchor Anderson Cooper interviewing a former QAnon believer about the extreme delusions that he accepted as true while in the mouth of madness. Just as Angeli posted YouTube videos detailing his belief that he was a psychic space warrior working for a secret U.S. military program to destroy alien spaceships from another dimension, his fellow QAnon believers have some pretty strange—but very familiar—ideas.
Today, Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb’s new book Extraterrestrial was released. It was mostly as I expected it to be, though even I wasn’t quite expecting it to contain so much discussion of the author’s obsession with middle-twentieth-century existentialist philosophy, of the Camus variety, or his apparent inability to understand that this was neither the culmination of all human intellectual achievement, nor an exceptionally influential school of thought in terms of modern intellectual history. I am not reviewing Extraterrestrial as a book because, frankly, its discussion of the evidence that the interstellar object ‘Oumuamua is an extraterrestrial space probe is simply beyond my ability to evaluate, being neither an astronomer nor a physicist. Those with much more training than I have found reason to doubt Loeb’s conclusions, and even Loeb frames his conclusions as a “wager,” like Pascal’s, claiming that it’s better to assume it’s E.T. and be wrong than doubt and be right, since finding aliens will give humanity a philosophical orgasm of sorts. I can do little more than shrug and say that the non-specialist reader will likely see in the arguments a reflection of whatever idea he or she brings to them.
Before I begin, I will briefly note news from Britain, that Blackpool’s council has authorized the use of compulsory purchase (what Americans call “eminent domain”) to use the force of government to acquire land for the long-gestating Chariots of the Gods theme park to be operated by the company that now owns Erich von Däniken’s so-called “intellectual” property. Final permission to build the amusement park hasn’t happened yet, so the immersive Chariots entertainment experience is still years away. And now, on to more… well, I almost said “pleasant” thoughts, but that isn’t quite right.
So, this week the New Yorker interviewed racist author Erich von Däniken, the elderly ancient astronaut theorist who once wrote that the Black race was a “failure” and who has included transphobic and Islamophobic commentary in his most recent books. Why would one of America’s premiere publications give a platform to a man whose claim to fame was arguing that nonwhite people couldn’t stack rocks without help from rapists from outer space? It’s because a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist seems to have relied on her adolescent memories of ancient astronaut rather than researching current controversies—current being anything after, say, the late 1970s.
Recently, UFO propagandist Leslie Kean had her book on the afterlife adapted as a Netflix series. Her writing partner, Ralph Blumenthal, is about to publish his long-gestating biography of alien abduction researcher John Mack, endorsing Mack’s ideas about reaching a transcendent afterlife through aliens. The pair came to renewed national attention in December 2017 when they revealed the existence of a Pentagon UFO office, a report instigated through the offices of To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science, staffed by refugees from both the government office and its major contractor, wealthy UFO believer and hotelier Robert Bigelow’s flying saucer research organization. The relationship between these various data points wasn’t entirely clear until now. Today, the New York Times ran a new piece by Blumenthal rhapsodizing over Bigelow’s newest venture, an effort to prove life continues after death.
On this, the last full day of the Trump Administration, it’s worth spending a moment considering the final insult to history that Donald Trump’s stooges lobbed on their way out the door. Trump’s 1776 Commission released a partisan report on American history that actual historians, journalists, and pundits have rightly excoriated for its propagandistic conservative tone, its excuses for slavery, and its relentless claims that liberalism is anti-American. (James Grossman of the American Historical Association called it a “hack job” designed to foment division, which is going some for a guy who praised the History channel, home to Ancient Aliens, as vital for “stimulating and nourishing” interest in history.) I’m not interested in going through those well-covered problems, but I do want to point out a couple of the less noticed parts of the report, highlighting its mendacity.
After some final discussions with the last people on my team to weigh in on the title for my new book, we have come to an agreement on the working title we will be using:
Yes, it's different than the one I though we would be going with just this morning, but I like it. It recalls the sort of melodramatic titles that 1950s movies had: Rebel without a Cause, All That Heaven Allows, The Day the Earth Stood Still, etc. The next step will be sending the proposal and manuscript to editors, which should take place this week.
Before we begin today, a quick note that one of the men who participated in the failed insurrection at the Capitol rioted and threw a wooden post while wearing a Giorgio Tsoukalos Ancient Aliens sweatshirt. I need not point out exactly how on-brand it is for angry, rioting right-wingers to also be Ancient Aliens fans.
Before we begin, be sure to read this recent academic essay exploring the History Channel as a vector for conspiracy theories and masculinity panic. I’m cited in it, and, well, we all know that this mix of conspiracy culture, toxic masculinity, etc. feeds directly in to the conspiracy culture we are seeing all around us, notably among the Capitol Hill insurrectionists, whose demographics are a close mirror of the History Channel’s own target audience.
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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