This week, Vice and The Atlantic published two important articles outlining the growing religious fervor behind Q-Anon conspiracy theories. They make interesting comparison reading. In The Atlantic, Adrienne LaFrance traces the origins of the Q-Anon conspiracy theory and explains why faith in the unreason behind its patently false claims has the makings of an incipient religion. Leading figures in the Q movement openly declare that the conspiracy has divine sanction. One of the Q movement’s biggest names, David Hayes (a.k.a. PrayingMedic on Q forums), alleges that God has personally called him to Q-Anon. the Q-Anon conspiracy imagines an apocalyptic End Times when the blood of liberals will run in the streets and Donald Trump will usher in a new Great Awakening as the angels sing choruses of Kid Rock songs and clouds of sanctifying soot rain from a million coal-burning factories.
During the nineteenth century, a craze emerged for claiming the medieval Norse as the first Europeans to visit the Americas, long before Columbus. The core of the claim turned out to be true. Vikings reached eastern Canada around 1000 CE, though the Victorians had no real physical evidence of this, only a few medieval texts and some hoaxed stones. But advocates soon expanded the claim beyond the evidence and beyond logic, turning the Vikings into an early version of European imperialists, imagining them colonizing both North and South America and bequeathing European culture to the natives. The French writer Eugène Beauvois was perhaps the most extreme advocate, imagining the entire civilization of ancient Mexico the work of the Norse. In South America, the twentieth century Nazi sympathizer and Peronist collaborator Jacques de Mahieu pushed a narrative that Vikings were the first Aryan colonizers of South America, and their early efforts paved the way for the Knights Templar.
Pop culture is suffused with attempts to escape from reality. I’ve lost count of how many TV shows and movies play around with questions of parallel worlds, virtual simulations, supernatural false realities, and artificial intelligence—not to mention the so-called “nonfiction” cable shows hunting for parallel worlds, interdimensional portals, and star gates to heaven. Just as the Victorians kept searching in vain for proof of an afterlife to justify their moral rigidity, our current culture seems to want nothing more than proof that this world is a fiction to justify amoral indifference and egoism. Seriously, if one more TV show goes down the road of parallel universes or false realities, I think I will stop watching altogether.
For much of the past decade—has it really been that long?—I have explored the many vicissitudes of the medieval Islamic legend that the Giza Pyramids were the work of an antediluvian leader, either Surid or Hermes. I’ve traced the story from its origins in the Thousands of Abu Ma‘shar through its classic form in the Akhbar al-zaman and its copyists to its introduction into modern pyramid mythology thanks, in no small measure, to contemporary writers’ uncritical reliance on old books like those of John Greaves and Col. William Howard Vyse, who brought the story to the West. In fact, I wrote a whole book about it that is currently sitting with the publisher. Now I have to see if I can reedit it to add in a new incident that took place at the end of last month when Egypt’s former Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa resurrected the medieval story for a national Egyptian TV audience.
With so much happening in the world this year, and all of the work I had been putting into getting two books ready for publication at the same time, I let pass an important milestone. This year is the tenth anniversary of my blog and this website. I started it in the winter of 2010, and I have published most days ever since. It has been a long decade, but one that paradoxically seems to have flown by far too fast.
Due to the lack of new material to write about this week, I don’t have much to share today. I should talk about former Sen. Harry Reid claiming to now believe aliens exist, but, really, who is surprised by that? He was impressed by the commonplace “mysteries” of Skinwalker Ranch. Instead, I wanted to briefly take note of the ratings for this week’s History Channel pseudohistory shows. Now that Curse of Oak Island has gone back down into whatever muddy hole it crawled out of, Lost Gold of World War II and Secret of Skinwalker Ranch have to stand on their own. As almost anyone could predict, without Oak Island’s 3.6 million weekly viewers to bolster it, Skinwalker fell back down to Earth, attracting 1.6 million live plus same day viewers, the same as Lost Gold. Previously, when airing after Oak Island, Skinwalker had more than 2 million viewers. This week’s numbers are closer in line to the historic average for pseudohistory and paranormal programming airing on the network’s weekday primetime schedule, and about even with ten-year average for Ancient Aliens. When you take the anomaly of Oak Island out of the equation, the ceiling for these kinds of shows remains stubbornly around 1.5 million viewers no matter the specific subject matter, the day of the week, or the stars of the show.
I feel like it says something about Graham Hancock that he has devoted a growing percentage of the guest articles on his website to UFO and ancient astronaut claims, even though he himself purports not to believe in the ancient astronaut theory. How much of that is the case is debatable, since his rejection of ancient astronautics in Magicians of the Gods contrasts rather heavily with his frequent appearances on Ancient Aliens and the ancient astronaut book he coauthored, The Mars Mystery. At any rate, it was rather surprising to see Hancock follow up publishing a guest article about Hopi ancient astronaut encounters with one from infamous UFO abductee Whitley Strieber excerpting his new book about ancient “visitors” and their “human allies.”
When Netflix schedules its releases for a given week, it’s never entirely clear how much thought they put into how their new releases will play against one another. But I often find it interesting how contrasting the big-ticket prestige series against the smaller ones released alongside them tend to highlight themes and ideas that might otherwise pass beneath the sheen of TV glamour. Such thoughts crossed my mind when I found myself comparing and contrasting the superficially very different Hollywood and Summertime after both premiered last week. Fair warning: My review contains some mild spoilers.
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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