Late last week Ancient Origins published one of the weirder claims it’s made in recent years. In a members-only article, travel agent Malcolm Hutton (writing as Calumy) claimed that the Ark of the Covenant is actually the pyramidion from atop Khufu’s pyramid and that it is currently hidden inside the Kaaba in Mecca. Aside from the obvious problem that the pyramidion can’t be the Ark if you expect either the Great Pyramid’s shape or the Exodus narrative to have any real meaning—both of them being incompatible with the other—it is at least a little interesting that there is a bit of a connection between the Kaaba and the Ark, albeit not anything like the one Ancient Origins assumes.
Rod Serling has always been a bit of a ghost hovering over my life. I grew up in Central New York, where Serling once lived, amidst the places whose names littered The Twilight Zone. When I was a young teenager, I watched the entire run of the The Twilight Zone in order and then the Night Gallery after that. Although I was born years after Serling died, my parents knew some of his friends, and I heard many stories about his life, particularly times spent boating with him on the Finger Lakes. I went to the college where Serling taught in his final years and took classes in the classroom where he once held court. For many years after I graduated, my picture hung in the hall of the Roy H. Park School of Communications next to Serling’s Emmy awards. Discovering that Serling had helped to shepherd the ancient astronaut theory from the fringes of science to mainstream media success shaped my research and formed one of the lynchpins for my first book.
Note: As we continue to see a lull in material related to pseudo-archaeology due to current events and the widespread shutdown in TV production and the slowdown in publishing, and I continue to be holed up at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ll be treated to more TV reviews. Please note that my posts will be irregular this week as I take some time off to work on book-related projects.
It’s been a disappointing month for returning Netflix shows. First, 13 Reasons Why gave us many more reasons that it was and would always be a trash fire. Then The Order revealed that the true secret of its titular order was a neo-fascist agenda. Now The Politician has returned with a bonkers cartoon of a second season that undercuts any justification the flawed first season offered for the show’s existence. I am especially disappointed that I wasted so much time and effort finding redeeming value in these imperfect shows only to have them betray my optimism and my faith that there is something worth keeping in disposable pop products. The Politician was the show I most expected to collapse into incoherence, but I didn’t expect that it would choose this particular path toward self-annihilation.
The Order was never a good show. It also didn’t try to be one. When the Netflix occult thriller debuted in early 2019, it looked and felt like a throwback to the kind of knockoffs of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that littered the airwaves in the early 2000s. I reviewed the first season of the show, and I kind of liked it despite some problematic narrative choices. Now that the second season has debuted this week on Netflix, I am a little annoyed that I wasted so much time and trouble looking for something redeeming in a pointless garbage fire that seems to see Sharknado as an aspirational high to strive toward. The new season also has a troublingly conservative bent that seems out of step with the subject matter and the times. The Order has gone from entertaining b-movie storytelling to actively awful trash.
This week, a post on James Eldred’s Mostly Retro blog discovered that for the past year onetime Mystery Science Theater 3000 host and current Rifftrax star Mike Nelson had a podcast with cartoonist Doug TenNapel, who has come under fire repeatedly for his offensive comments about LGBTQ+ people and other minorities. Eldred listened to several of the podcasts and chronicled the show’s reliance on vulgar, offensive descriptions to craft “humor” from a strident advocacy of conservative and MAGA positions. For example, Eldred noted that Nelson used vulgar language to describe abortion clinics. The majority of his post, however, outlined TenNapel’s repeated use of anti-gay slurs and TenNapel’s dismissal of concerns over his anti-gay language as politically correct language policing. Nelson did not appear on the podcast episodes where TenNapel used anti-gay slurs, but he also did not take issue with such language over the past year.
Many, many years ago I read Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary and was quite taken with a story Bierce told about an “Arabian” myth of an all-powerful entity that held all the power in the universe on the condition that it never use that power:
RABBLE, n. In a republic, those who exercise a supreme authority tempered by fraudulent elections. The rabble is like the sacred Simurgh, of Arabian fable—omnipotent on condition that it do nothing. (The word is Aristocratese, and has no exact equivalent in our tongue, but means, as nearly as may be, "soaring swine.")
When I wrote my 2008 study of the horror genre, Knowing Fear, I remarked that horror is essentially conservative since it revolves around disruptions to the status quo and efforts, successful or not, to restore that status quo. At a macro level, the inherent conservatism of horror also tends to limit the originality of its stories, with new innovations being few and far between. Two new international Netflix horror series released last week illustrate these two points but do so in ways that vary greatly in their success as they work to add something new to two very familiar stories.
The Two Faces of Columbus: How a Genocidal Tyrant Became an Anti-Discrimination Icon for Italian-Americans
On Thursday, New York governor Andrew Cuomo said that he was not ready to remove a statue of Christopher Columbus from New York City because of what it means to Italian-Americans, specifically the role the figure played in helping to usher Italian-Americans into the America’s social mainstream. His comments, along with the destruction and removal of several Columbus statues across the United States, sparked a discussion about the role of Columbus in American life, but missing from the discussion was an acknowledgement of the role that the flawed symbol of Columbus played in standing against exactly the kind of racism and oppression that the vile real-life figure of Columbus perpetuated. The dual nature of Columbus as evil man and hopeful symbol needs unpacking to fully understand how the same statues can represent completely opposite ideas to different groups with shared antipathy to white supremacy.
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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