History Channel Releases Official "Ancient Aliens" Guide for Children, Teaches Kids Aliens Are Behind Everything
I don’t always get outraged by the terrible choices that cable TV makes. Cable channels have always done terrible things in the name of profit, but yesterday I learned of a horrible new product that flew under the radar when it was released a few months ago. Just seeing it made my blood boil, and I hope you’ll agree that it symbolizes pretty much everything wrong with American education and popular history in the twenty-first century.
That product? The Young Investigator’s Guide to Ancient Aliens: Based on the Hit Television Series, a book tie-in to the Ancient Aliens TV series, which carries the History Channel’s official endorsement and authorship and was released by Roaring Brook Press, a division of Macmillan, one of America’s largest book publishers. The volume is aimed at readers aged 8 to 12, though after skimming the book I’d think it’s perhaps a bit too ambitious for an 8 year old. (I wonder if grades 8-12 was what was meant instead.)
I regret to inform you that after I posted my review of the first half of Alan Butler’s and Janet Wolter’s America: Nation of the Goddess, the publisher, Destiny Books (an imprint of Inner Traditions), deleted the galley proofs from their online review copy page on Scribd. As a result, I lost access to the text before I had a chance to finish writing my review of the book. (The text was only accessible online and could not be copied or saved, as per the publisher’s security settings.) However unlikely a coincidence it is that review copy access was revoked the moment a bad review was posted, the galleys may have been taken down because the book was about to go on sale. Unfortunately, that means that I am not able to go back to the book for specifics in reviewing the sections I had previously skimmed in preparation for writing about the book in sections.
The following discussion is based on some notes I made and my skimming of the chapters. If it should happen that I get access to a copy of the book sometime in the near future I may revisit this with additional details, if any of the claims deserve further discussion.
Yesterday I began my review of America: Nation of the Goddess, the new book by Alan Butler and Janet Wolter that accuses the Grange of being a pagan cult dedicated to suppressing the truth about Jesus and worshiping the Earth Goddess. I must admit that I am having difficulty reviewing this book because it contains no source notes, and the bibliography contains virtually no sources, meaning that the book is simply a series of opinion-based assertions predicated on the reader’s familiarity with and acceptance of Alan Butler’s earlier books and Scott Wolter’s TV show. As I continue my review, I’m going to need to be a bit more selective in my coverage since I realized that the book has 21 chapters, and yesterday 2,000 words covered only three.
America: Nation of the Goddess is the new book from Alan Butler, with whom I have history, and Janet Wolter, the wife of Scott Wolter, with whom I also have history. This makes the book somewhat interesting in that Butler’s onetime writing partner, Christopher Knight, once threatened legal action against me for reviewing one of their joint books without permission, and Wolter’s husband’s TV network once threatened legal action against me for publishing a book criticizing his TV show without their permission. Anyway, the lesser halves of these teams have teamed up to explore what Scott Wolter, in his introduction to the volume, calls the “greatest coup d’état” in history, in which the descendants of Jesus—the “Venus Families”—took over the world. And they did it, the authors claim, with the help of the Grange. Yes, the farming organization. They came to this conclusion, as they say in the acknowledgements, with the help of Committee Films, whose writers shared their research for America Unearthed with the authors.
Ancient Aliens in Bulgaria! Plus: A German Interview with Jens Notroff on Pseudohistory at Gobekli Tepe
Earlier today the website of the Daily Express carried a disturbing article about yet another attempt to pass off a child mummy as an alien. According to writer Jon Austin, who made an unusual number of typos, indicating the seriousness with which the Express took he story, several UFO “experts” at a conference in Sofia, Bulgaria displayed the body of what skeptics say was a human child. They identified the 50-inch mummy as an alien being stolen from a Mayan tomb in Mexico. (Note: The linked article does not have photo of the actual mummy.) After admitting to what would, if true, seem to be several violations of Mexican and international law, the so-called UFO experts claimed that the lack of ears on the mummy proved it was a Grey alien. Bulgaria has been a hotbed of alien activity for years, with Bulgarian government scientists claiming to be in contact with aliens via crop circle Q-and-A sessions, Bulgarians capturing Greys on camera, and Bulgarians seeing aliens in the woods.
Were Bible Writers High on Mushrooms? Matt Kaplan Thinks So: My Review of "Science of the Magical" (Pt. 3)
Over the past few days, I’ve been reviewing Economist science writer Matt Kaplan’s new book Science of the Magical (Scribner, 2015), and as I noted yesterday, I’ve been having a hard time describing exactly what it is supposed to be. As I try to make my way through the last part of the book, the best I can say is that it is an attempt to make the audience experience some of the wonder of science that the author feels by paralleling scientific advances of the present to ancient stabs at magic from the past. But even that isn’t quite right since the author freely mixes myth with history and science with euhemerism. The best I can say is that the author wanted to write about subjects of interest to him and visit a bunch of ancient sites in Europe, and he found someone to pay him to do so. That would be the Knight Science Journalism Fellowship at MIT, a nine-month paid residency at MIT and Harvard which he was awarded last year.
The biggest surprise of all came in the acknowledgements: that Harvard University’s faculty and students in Folklore and Mythology assisted the author in developing his ideas. Wow. Just, wow. He literally got paid to study mythology, had an entire Harvard University team helping him, and still produced this. I feel bad about not liking the book, particularly since it really should be the kind of thing I enjoy, but it was just so… thin. When I think about how much money was spent on the research and how many advantages he had in being able to travel anywhere and talk to anyone, I can’t help but think that the book should have been much stronger than it is, and perhaps even more insightful than the Jason and the Argonauts through the Ages investigation I literally assembled on a budget of $99. (That was my big outlay; my other books were done for $50 or less.)
I didn’t talk about this week’s History Channel Bigfoot mockumentary Bigfoot Captured, which aired on Monday, but I should mention that the show, which mixed fact and fiction in the vein of the fabricated Mermaids and Megalodon programs on the Discovery networks, caused a number of viewers to confuse the TV movie for reality. (The program offered only a brief disclaimer.) This, in turn, caused one of the show’s participants, Bigfoot expert Jeffery Meldrum, to object to the program and explain that he had been duped into appearing as an expert on a fake show. Meldrum went on to tell the Idaho State Journal that he considered the program further evidence of the network’s descent into Ancient Aliens-style pseudoscience. “You kind of expect better, especially (considering) the History Channel, ... for a long time, has had a pretty reasonable reputation as being a solid documentarian.” This was particularly rich coming from Meldrum, who happily appeared on both Ancient Aliens and its H2 spinoff, In Search of Aliens.
The History Channel seems to be learning that there is a ceiling for the audience for bullshit. When The Curse of Oak Island returned for a third season on Tuesday, it drew 2.26 million viewers, with just 700,000 viewers in the key 18-49 demographic. This is a fairly steep decline from last season, when 1.1 million of the show’s 2.6 million season premiere viewers were under the age of 49. The show airing after it, Hunting Hitler, must be seen as a mild disappointment. It attracted just 1.71 million viewers, of whom scarcely 500,000 were under the age of 49. That’s right on par with last year’s dud, Search for the Lost Giants. In November 2014, the first episode of Search attracted 1.6 million viewers, and 500,000 in the 18-49 demographic, also while airing after Curse of Oak Island.
This week the TED organization posted a “lesson” on the pharmacological reality behind Homer’s Odyssey from Economist science journalist Matt Kaplan, who wrote a book published two weeks ago called Science of the Magical: From the Holy Grail to Love Potions to Superpowers. The TED-Ed Original lessons are cutely produced videos with animation and narration that give a brief overview of a topic while, totally coincidentally, promoting the narrator’s latest project. Kaplan is currently on a nationwide tour promoting the book at events in places like the Harvard Museum of Science, the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, etc. So far, I have only read the chapter of the book from which the video is directly (and often verbatim) adapted.
The Curse of Oak Island show returned last night, and once again I am not planning to watch the series because I find the show unfathomably boring. I tried to sit through the premiere, but I just don’t care about watching old men dig holes—and this show is all about digging big, wet, dirty holes. But the sonar operator working in the 10X site on the island claims that advanced imaging technology indicates a 90% certainty that 10X contains a human skeleton and a treasure chest. I’d be willing give odds that it contains neither since Canadian law (Criminal Code sec. 182) requires law enforcement and (when relevant) certified anthropologists to investigate, record, and report any human remains found in Canada. If the production actually uncovered human remains while they were filming these episodes earlier this year, there would have been a record of it and we should have heard about the discovery long before the episodes made it to air. Do you think History would waste a promotional opportunity like that?
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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