Many decades ago, Ridley Scott made the first Alien (1979) film using concepts and imagery reminiscent of H. P. Lovecraft. This was no coincidence, of course, for H. R. Geiger, the designer of the alien beings, was also the creator of his own artistic Necronomicon (1977) and an aficionado of all things Lovecraft (though some critics question the degree of influence). Nevertheless, the concept of utterly incomprehensible creatures who care nothing for humanity and its pretentions is quite Lovecraftian in theme.
And, of course, as I have shown elsewhere, notably in The Cult of Alien Gods (2009) and the eBook The Origin of the Space Gods (2011), the ancient astronaut theory in all its ridiculous permutations takes its origin from the French UFO culture, in turn influenced by H. P. Lovecraft’s tales of ancient cults serving extraterrestrials they mistake for deities.
Therefore, it is with some irony that I note that Scott, along with screenwriter Damon Lindelof (late of Lost and Star Trek), has announced that the plot of the new Alien prequel, Prometheus, will take the form of an homage to the ancient astronaut theory, derived explicitly from Eric von Daniken’s silly little books that tried and failed to prove that aliens came to earth to stack up piles of rocks and paint pictures of themselves.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, Scott said:
"NASA and the Vatican agree that is almost mathematically impossible that we can be where we are today without there being a little help along the way. [...] That's what we're looking at (in the film), at some of Eric van Daniken's ideas of how did we humans come about."
Funny, I don’t recall NASA being in favor of creationism (at least in this election cycle), and I’m pretty sure aliens aren’t quite what the Vatican had in mind.
Obviously, as a fan of Lovecraft I have no problem with using ancient aliens as a fictional plot device. The problem is that Scott seems to thinks this fictional premise is actually true, and I rue next summer if Scott and the film’s cast and crew do the interview circuit pretending that ancient aliens really happened and giving spurious respectability to a theory that should have died decades ago.
As Lovecraft himself explained to William Frederick Anger (August 14, 1934), the Lovecraft circle never meant for their tales of ancient aliens to be taken as truth:
“We never, however, try to put it across as an actual hoax; but always carefully explain to enquirers that it is 100% fiction.”
I hope that Ridley Scott, David Lindelof, et al. will have the courage and the good sense to do the same.
P.S. Press reports say the film refers to its creatures as the "Alien Gods." Now, where have I heard that before?
Last week MTV launched Teen Wolf, its effort to capitalize on the supernatural soap opera frenzy led by the Twilight movie series and the CW’s Vampire Diaries. Now three episodes in, it seems increasingly obvious that Teen Wolf is less in competition with Twilight or the Vampire Diaries than with Degrassi: The Next Generation and some of the lesser efforts of ABC Family (which is launching its own were-creature soap, about a cat-girl).
I assume if you are reading this you are familiar with the concept: Teen boy is bitten by a werewolf, gains supernatural power, and finds himself involved in a simmering stew of small town resentment and possessed of unwanted body hair.
First, let me damn Teen Wolf with faint praise. Many critics complained about the concept, arguing that the old Michael J. Fox movie (itself based on the still older I Was a Teenage Werewolf) had no reason to transition to television. I have no problem with the concept, and there seems to be many good elements swirling around under the surface. The rudimentary idea (never quite developed in the show) of equating lycanthropy with steroids is at least a half-step above the obvious equation of werewolves and puberty. And a high school soap opera ought to be a paint-by-the-numbers no-brainer, even if so far this one is dramatically inert.
Tyler Posey, as the “teen wolf,” creates an appealing character and is believably awkward as someone newly possessed of superhuman abilities moored to an unwavering moral compass. Dylan O’Brien as his best friend hits all of the notes of the familiar teen-oriented best friend/comic relief role, adding a few hints of depth atop the mostly superficial writing he’s been given. Unfortunately, Crystal Reed and Holland Roden have less to do as the female characters (and so far they exist only as “the female characters”), playing the archetypical idealized maiden and scheming slut, respectively. If every character on the show were not some type of stereotype familiar from high school movies dating back thirty years, one might wonder whether Teen Wolf’s writers have difficulty developing rounded female characters.
The bigger problem, however, is that the Twilight-inspired atmospherics—all shadows and clouds of dry ice fog and muted color palettes—fail to match the content of the show. Teen Wolf is simply too earnest and too gentle for that. Despite the occasional flashes of (I presume network-mandated) gore and one crude reference to oral sex, Teen Wolf is a program that is warm and fuzzy instead of sharp with teeth and claws—more puppy-dog than wolf.
MTV wanted to position the program as a sexy, dangerous drama. On that count Teen Wolf is a remarkable failure. As a gentle coming-of-age fable, a sort of Twilight for tweens (if that isn’t redundant) or perhaps Kyle XY with fur, it comes much closer to succeeding. I could imagine myself really liking the show when I was twelve, but I think that skews a bit too young even for MTV, which targets ages 12-24. The MTV of Jersey Shore may be the wrong network for a show this, well, sweet (though rising ratings--it's now the top-rated show among women 12-34 in its time slot--say otherwise); Teen Nick or ABC Family might have been a more appropriate fit.
So, the bottom line: The show is a little stiff and still obviously finding its way. It's enjoyable and, sometimes, even fun; but not quite as advertised.
If you’ve followed my Twitter feed, you’ve probably seen at least one of the links I posted to an ongoing series of articles published in the Mormon Times (a division of the Deseret News) attacking mainstream archaeology under the guise of “exploring” the discipline’s findings about ancient America. These articles come from writers ranging from bestselling author Orson Scott Card to Michael R. Ash, who is a professional Mormon apologist. (No, I am not disparaging him. That is his real job title.)
According to Mr. Card, the “Mormon perspective” can help archaeologists envision novel social organization, such as egalitarian societies that lack elite status markers—thus paving the way for an acceptance of the Book of Mormon’s archaeological claims. The first half of that sentence is certainly true. Envisioning alternative social organizations is important for imagining the past. Such social organizations as Mr. Card envisions, however, are novel only if one’s concept of “mainstream archaeology” froze in time around 1965. For example, Gobekli Tepe, the dramatic site of the earliest known religious architecture recently uncovered, has no elite status markers and is believed by "mainstream archaeology" to be the result of egalitarian hunter-gatherer bands working together to create large-scale stoneworks.
According to Mr. Ash, the prehistory of America must be “approached with the best scientific rigor possible and not from a position of naïve misconception.” Unsurprisingly, this scientific rigor takes the form of confirming the Book of Mormon.
(Of course, Mormonism is not alone in this; nearly every religious group from Christianity to ancient Greek polytheism to Scientology has made unprovable or demonstrably false archaeological claims and/or has cited ancient artifacts as confirmation of their religious doctrines.)
The Book of Mormon is one of the sacred scriptures of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, allegedly revealed to the prophet Joseph Smith in 1823 when the angel Moroni helped him to translate writing on a set of prehistoric gold plates he found not far from where I grew up. Conveniently, after publishing his “translation” in 1830, Smith claimed he returned the pages to Moroni, never to be seen again.
The Book of Mormon describes three separate migrations of Hebrew peoples from the Jewish homeland to the ancient United States in 2500 BCE, 600 BCE, and around 300 CE respectively. The Book routinely describes prehistoric use of chariots, brass, plows, cattle, sheep, grapes, and much more for which there is no archaeological evidence prior to European colonization. Such claims, however, do fit in perfectly with eighteenth and nineteenth century claims that early America was home to the Lost Tribes of Israel, a popular notion debunked before 1900, and predicated on the Eurocentric notion that Native Americans were inferior peoples who were unable to mentally or physically build the earthen mounds that dotted the American landscape and must have needed European help. Conveniently, this belief justified attempts to force Native peoples onto reservations. (I am of course not implying that Mr. Ash or the Church of Latter-Day Saints favor such policies.)
None of this is a problem for Mr. Ash, who makes a series of contradictory claims that both praise and attack archaeology simultaneously. First, Mr. Ash admits what cannot be denied:
“I readily acknowledge (and have done so repeatedly in this series) that there is no overwhelming persuasive secular evidence that would convince non-believers that the Book of Mormon is true […] I also readily acknowledge that, thus far, I have not addressed all of the archaeological ‘problems’ that seem to conflict with the belief in a historic Book of Mormon.”
But then he explains how cherry-picked findings from across the discipline of archaeology appear to confirm aspects of the Book of Mormon. This evidence, he implies, is very exciting because it provides secular confirmation of Mormon belief. However, Mr. Ash then undercuts his purported message with the following:
“How sad it would be to reject the restored gospel because of secular finds that could be proven invalid or false in the future.”
I am not sure I understand which it is to be: Is archaeology true or false? Are we to accept the findings of science only when they agree with our pre-existing beliefs and reject them as biased, fraudulent, or wrong when they do not?
In Mr. Ash’s view, archaeology appears to be a shifting sand dune forever being reshaped by the winds of change. The Book of Mormon, by contrast, is forever static, never changing. On this we can both agree. The Book of Mormon was wrong about archaeology in 1830, and it is still wrong today, and will be in the future, too.
I've added some new content to the site, including updates to the Library, with new texts on the Babylonian Creation Myths and additional classic fiction. I also updated my media appearances page with listings for new places I've been featured, including a new book and yet another doctoral dissertation that uses my Knowing Fear as a framework.
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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