Last week, Rolling Stone published a lengthy piece on extraterrestrial pop culture by Stephen Rodrick tracing America’s renewed obsession with space aliens and flying saucers. Although the article’s subhead promised that it would explain “how UFO culture took over America,” it was primarily a description of the incestuous mutual masturbation of the U.S. national security apparatus, the UFO entertainment industry, and To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science—exactly the same combination of crony capitalism, delusion, and self-interest that I have chronicled in these pages for years. As Rodrick noted, the three pillars undergirding UFO culture all share personnel and a dubious ideology. Pentagon UFO researchers become To the Stars employees and become entertainers on TV, and then they cycle around again, using their TV and newspaper access to worm their way into government meetings and lobby for another ride on the merry-go-round of speculative nonsense.
Over the course of the past few weeks, I’ve found that blogging less has made me much more productive as a book writer. I’ve churned out 25,000 words of my new book on midcentury panics in the past five or six weeks, and I am remarkably pleased with the results. However, I can’t let weeks pass without offering at least a few words about the new series Lovecraft Country, currently airing on HBO. The series, based on a 2016 novel I have never read (having a kid really cuts down on reading time), transforms traditional horror tropes by filtering them through the experience of midcentury Black Americans, directly critiquing the racism inherent in classic horror stories, especially H. P. Lovecraft’s.
In the Atlantic on Monday, Kaitlyn Tiffany has an interesting article about the use of aesthetics to spread the Q-Anon conspiracy theory on Instagram. Tiffany typically associates radical, alien-inflected conspiracy theories with bad graphic design, masculine colors, and in-your-face visuals with large, loud typography. However, she was taken aback by the subtle inclusion of Q-Anon conspiracy references in more aesthetically pleasing and more feminine graphics associated with lifestyle influencers who more typically offer homemaking tips and fashion advice:
I am busy this week working on other projects, but I want to call your attention to Britain's The Telegraph newspaper, where I was quoted yesterday in an article about the failed adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness that was to have starred Tom Cruise. Writer Ed Power quotes from my article about Lovecraft and Scientology in order to explain the similarities between the Cthulhu Mythos and L. Ron Hubbard's daffy cosmology and then speculates about whether the similarities might have caused trouble for Scientology:
It’s pure speculation but Cruise would no doubt have been aware of the opprobrium weathered by fellow scientologist John Travolta following his adaptation of Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth in 2000. Even the names HP Lovecraft and L. Ron Hubbard have a similar chime. Throw in extraterrestrials and elaborate creation mythology and it feels certain that – however unfairly or inaccurately – Cruise’s beliefs would be publicly linked to Lovecraft’s cosmology.
I must confess that I have found researching my planned new book about midcentury moral panics to be surprisingly amusing. Typically, when I research a topic, the people involved turn out to be somewhere on the spectrum between unpleasant and evil. Many are wildly racist, and most have all the color and excitement of the sepia-toned photos in which they now exist. For the most part, the people I learn about don’t really do things so much as write about them, and many of the people are known only as names (cough, Annianus and Panodorus, cough), and that makes most of the research an exercise in textual analysis.
On Tuesday, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs asked President Donald Trump about flying saucers, and Trump promised to follow Dobbs’s lead in investigating objects in the sky. During Dobbs’s interview with Trump, the following exchange occurred:
As most of you know, I am doing some preliminary research for a book I am thinking about writing which would revolve around the various moral panics that began in the summer of 1947 and continued through the 1950s. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’m not interested in writing a textbook (nor do I have the ambition for the kind of granular research it would require), so I want to tell the story in a more impressionistic format, using the lives of real people to illustrate broader themes. I settled on making the life and afterlife of James Dean the central thread providing unity to the project. That, of course, involved learning about my subject to see how feasible that plan would be.
Weekend Omnibus: Younger Dryas Volcano, Elon Musk's Ancient Astronaut Tweet, Steve Quayle's Plagiarism, and More!
Yesterday was an extraordinary day for news of interest to my readers. Let’s take a brief survey of just some of the things that happened.
I’ll put the science first. A new study in Science Advances concludes that the global cooling triggered during the Younger Dryas was not the work of a comet or meteor but was instead brought on by volcanic activity. From the press release announcing the study late yesterday:
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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