On Wednesday night, the Discovery Channel’s Expedition Unknown did an hour on Tiwanaku, which is in and of itself of no particular interest. But what was interesting is that Discovery and host Josh Gates seemed to be at odds over how to frame the story. The network’s promotions for the show, and even the show title, spoke of Tiwanaku as “Atlantis in the Andes,” referencing a midcentury fringe hypothesis that the Andean city was 10,000 years old and the capital of Atlantis. But the episode itself clearly labeled both this idea and the ancient astronaut theory as “conspiracy theories” and instead referred to the architectural remains now below Lake Titicaca’s waters as “an” Atlantis, meaning it in the figurative sense—underwater ruins. It was an odd juxtaposition between a factual presentation and a sensational marketing effort, and it probably says something about what Discovery thinks of its audience. Incidentally, Gates’s full-throated rejection of the ancient astronaut theory here on the Discovery Channel is quite the contrast from his Travel Channel days when he openly speculated about space aliens being responsible for Easter Island and other ancient sites. Discovery is very good about sequestering fringe content on specific channels dedicated to lunatic ideas. That’s why America Unearthed is coming to the Travel Channel and not the main Discovery Channel.
On Sunday, CBS’s 60 Minutes ran a piece on Easter Island reported by CNN’s Anderson Cooper. To promote the piece, CBS tweeted questions about whether aliens built the statues. In the filmed piece, Cooper asked whether space aliens put the statues in place. It was a depressing confirmation that the media has a low opinion of its audience and that the ancient astronaut theory is now so mainstream that it even shows up in news reports on the highest-rated news broadcast in America.
According to once and future TV host Scott Wolter, the new season of America Unearthed will debut on May 28 on the Travel Channel. The History Channel announced that the new season of Ancient Aliens will debut three days later, on May 31. The two shows used to air together on the H2 network back in 2012, so it’s almost like we’ve gone back in time and it’s 2012 all over again.
My birthday is this week, so I am going to be taking the Thursday and Friday off. I will return on Saturday for a weekend post. In the meantime, you might have seen the story in the Chicago Tribune that Scott Wolter and the crew of America Unearthed visited Chicago two weeks ago to shoot an episode about the Haymarket Riot of 1886. According to the Tribune, the episode will attempt to discover who threw a bomb at police during a peaceful labor protest in favor of an 8-hour workday, sparking the riot that took lives of seven police officers and four civilians.
Yesterday, we all watched the horrible images of Notre Dame de Paris burning, and it is a terrible loss to history that will take years to undo, if at all. The cathedral had survived the French Revolution, the Franco-Prussian War, and two World Wars, but saw its worst damage from renovation work. It was another sad event in what seems to have been an endless cycle of bizarre and unprecedented events. If history is any judge, every generation feels that way.
Starz’s Now Apocalypse is a strange mixture of quarterlifer angst, sex farce, and space aliens. Going into the series, I had no idea it would involve History Channel-style conspiracy theories about Reptilians, government cover-ups, and cattle mutilation. I’m not sure that the aliens added anything to the series, but the show certainly helps to continue mainstreaming conspiracy theories, albeit under the guise of fiction.
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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