I haven’t been posting on Mondays, but this weekend I saw a show on the Science Channel that made me mad enough that I thought I should make a brief posting about it. Apparently, the network has a series called Mysteries of the Missing with former Lost actor Terry O’Quinn narrates stories ripped from schlocky “unsolved mystery” paperbacks. The episode I saw originally aired in September, and it featured a search for Atlantis in Morocco. I don’t generally watch random crap on cable anymore since I have much less time for trash TV, so I missed it on its first airing.
My first reaction was astonishment that fringe writer Andrew Gough of Heretic magazine and Forbidden History got hired for yet another TV show, bringing his patented low-information, sub-Ancient Aliens punditry to darken another production. Seriously: He never seems to say anything other than the obvious. This astonishment curdled to outrage when I discovered that Gough got an (or, rather another!) all-expenses-paid vacation to Greece and Morocco as part of the deal for what amounted to three or four minutes of video of him standing in front of rocks and declaring them to be Atlantis.
Once you are part of the fringe history TV ecosystem, you can only fail up. Unless you are someone like Sean David Morton and have actually been convicted of a crime and are currently either in jail or a fugitive from justice, you will constantly be rehired time and again for expensive vacations masquerading as “investigations.” This is because TV producers are lazy. There are 320 million Americans, of whom there are hundreds of thousands who know more about Atlantis than London-based Gough, but TV producers value simplicity and known quantities above all. Therefore, the same 20 fringe history faces keep repeating. Here Gough is described as a “historian” and is said to have spent “years” searching for Atlantis.
The program profiles Gough’s chaperoning of the brother of deceased Atlantis theorist Michael Hübner as they feed Plato’s description from the Timaeus and the Critias into the dead man’s computer program in order to evaluate the geographic location that best matches the “51 clues” Plato supposedly left. This takes them to Sous Massa, Morocco, where they declare a patch of desert six miles from the coast to be the site of Atlantis, despite it failing to meet two very big “clues” from Plato: (a) having a city dating back before 9600 BCE and (b) being under water, where Plato said Atlantis now resides. Somehow this is passed off as a “new” analysis despite the fact that Hübner proposed it in 2008, and the documentary merely repeats his arguments.
I can’t help but think that the show’s producers read Mark Adams’s Meet Me in Atlantis (2015), where Hübner was profiled from an interview shortly before his 2013 death, or, worse, the excerpts and newspaper coverage from 2015 in promotion of that book, and decided to make an uncritical, pointless adaptation.
I can’t fathom why they spend the money to send Gough to exotic locations only to cut off the analysis of the “mystery” with a shrug, giving Gough the last word as he triumphantly declares that Morocco could have been Atlantis, leaving viewers with the false impression that it therefore must have been.
Overall, the half-hour segment was lazy and uncritical but not overtly offensive. I am more amazed that producers keep hiring Gough, who brings nothing to the table other than an unaccented impression of Giorgio Tsoukalos, on show after show after show, and that even a blandly milquetoast show about mysteries feels compelled to lard its punditry with lunatics and conspiracy theorists rather than people who know what they are talking about. I have the feeling that TV producers genuinely do not know the difference and are so in awe of magazines and books that they think anyone who has written something, no matter how stupid, must be a genius.
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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