Normally I don’t like to talk about fringe historians’ outside business dealings since it isn’t really relevant to the allegations they make about history. Sometimes, though, it becomes impossible not to take notice of what they do outside their work in zaniness. Jason Martell, for example, spent many years trying to pander to Christian conservatives as a tech mogul while simultaneously ridiculing their faith with his ancient astronaut theories. Erich von Däniken’s repeated efforts to enter the entertainment industry with a theme park and mall-based branded entertainment locations were hilarious both as failed businesses and for their connections to his ancient astronaut theories.
Magazine: German Pornographer Faked "Jesus' Wife Gospel" Fragment to Live Out "Da Vinci Code" Fantasy
I know I had said that I’d be devoting Fridays this summer to discussing the good work that others are doing, but this Friday I ran a bit short on time to catch up on my reading. So let me make up for it today by discussing an article equal parts fascinating and devastating about the apparent forgery of the so-called “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” papyrus fragment that made headlines in 2012. According to Ariel Sabar, writing in the new edition of The Atlantic, the entire affair was inspired by the toxic stew of fringe history, with special appearances by ancient astronaut theorist Erich von Däniken, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, and that perennial favorite, hatred of academics who are allegedly conspiring against an unsung genius to protect pseudoscientific paradigms.
Tonight is a real treat when it comes to Ancient Aliens. Instead of recycling from an earlier episode of the show, tonight they are recycling from an episode of their spinoff series, In Search of Aliens. Granted, they’ve already reused this material in an Ancient Aliens episode from 2014, which in turn built on other similar claims from another 2014 episode. So when S11E06 “Decoding the Cosmic Egg” tries for something new, it’s really just recycling material it’s already covered before, but with a few extra eggs thrown in for good measure.
In the current edition of Skeptical Inquirer I was pleased to find that I received a mention from Robert Sheaffer in his regular UFO column, citing my discussion of the many failures of Jacques Vallée and Chris Aubeck’s Wonders in the Sky (2009) in advance of the new edition that the wealthy Vallée asked his readers to fund for him. The same edition (July/August 2016) also contains the results of a reader survey that the magazine sent out to a random selection of its readership. Skeptical Inquirer’s statement of ownership and circulation late last year listed a total circulation of 24,672. The magazine sent out 3,000 surveys and received 549 responses. There is, of course, a good chance that the survey over-represented older readers based on who took the time to fill out the lengthy 39-question survey, but the results seem to be generally in line with what I already knew about the audience for science-oriented material of any kind.
Hanks Fumbles Grand Canyon Hoax; Plus: Hancock Claims Cacti Are the Physical Form of Cosmic Intelligence
For those of you who are interested and keeping score at home, last Friday Ancient Aliens brought in 1.14 million viewers, down several hundred thousand from its previous outing. Its lead-out, Time Beings: Extreme Time Travel Conspiracies, clocked in with an even 1 million viewers. According to ratings data, the loss of viewers came almost entirely from younger viewers under the age of 49, especially among female viewers, the largest segment to tune out.
In an article published this morning on Mysterious Universe, fringe history’s leading purveyor of logorrhea, Micah Hanks, offered some poorly reasoned speculation on whether ancient texts can be used to determine the reality of prehistoric cataclysms. Not, mind you, your run of the mill cataclysms like volcanic eruptions or earthquakes. He’s talking about nuclear explosions, cometary collisions, and other events that range from the unusual to the unlikely. And to do so, he relies on (sigh) another fabricated ancient text concocted by a Soviet fringe writer.
The headline was tantalizing—claiming that a historian found a shocking medieval carving that would rewrite the history of the New World. The article in the Sun was sensational—a Viking map of Vinland found under Rosslyn Chapel. The claim was supported by two experts—TV historian Ashley Cowie and a university professor. And yet everything in the story seems to be wishful thinking by Sinclair family super-fans—and recycled wishful thinking to boot!
This week Graham Hancock posted video of a reading he gave at a local TEDx event about what he sees as epistemological problems with the “house of history.” TEDx events use the format of the well-known TED Talks but are organized by local groups and are not officially endorsed by the TED organization. In the video, Hancock reads from a prepared text because, he wrote on his blog, “my concern, with this one, was above all in getting the content right.” Hancock asked his fans to watch the video quickly, before the TED organization removes it as they did his last TEDx Talk, which was found to violate the organization’s standards for scientific accuracy.
Can you make an inexpensive knockoff of Ancient Aliens entirely out of recycled content, stock footage, interviews with deluded lunatics, and internet rumors? If you answered “yes,” then you are a History Channel executive.
The History Channel aired a new special Friday night after their flagship pseudohistory program Ancient Aliens. Time Beings: Extreme Time Travel Conspiracies attempts to ape Ancient Aliens in a number of ways, most notably the use of a sound-alike narrator who resembles Robert Clothworthy, the voice of Ancient Aliens, not just in tenor but also in intonation and pacing. The show also makes use of talking heads and rhetorical questions to speculate on the possibility of time travel just as that other show discusses aliens. The opening credits are modeled on those of Ancient Aliens, with a very similar typeface, albeit less polished and apparently quite cheaply assembled. As with Ancient Aliens, the program is composed almost entirely of stock footage, though this show is cheaper and relies on still photographs where Ancient Aliens either buys or commissions video.
I’m struggling a bit to come up with new things to say about Ancient Aliens because, unlike the show itself, I have a basic respect for my audience and don’t think that recycling old content over and over again is an appropriate method of filling time. Tonight’s episode of Ancient Aliens, S11E05 “The Visionaries,” is extremely similar to earlier episodes that alleged alien contact with geniuses, including S05E05 “The Einstein Factor,” S08E06 “The Tesla Experiment,” S09E04 “The Genius Factor,” and various segments from their episodes on NASA that touched on Robert Oppenheimer and their episodes on Leonardo da Vinci and others. It’s so tiresome to see the same material recycled.
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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