Compared to years past, this was a rebuilding year for the fringe. Most of the major figures on the fringe sat the year out, preparing for bigger things in 2019 and beyond, and those that were active either failed to produce their promised results, delivered results that failed to meet expectations, or spent their time teasing revelations yet to come in 2019, or whenever they need a cash infusion. There was no major fringe history bestseller this year, and the wannabes in the category came from small presses and consequently received little or no media attention outside dedicated fringe sites. The new fringe pseudo-documentaries that made it to air either muddled through their middling runs or failed outright. The reason for the decline in the fringe was easy enough to see: The fringe had gone mainstream in 2017, and the continued presence of conspiracy theorists and fringe thinkers in the upper ranks of the Republican Party and the Trump Administration lessened the demand for pseudo-history. These sorts of claims tend to be more popular as counterprogramming.
I get a lot of press releases each week, and most of them are either useless, off-topic, or so obscure that they go directly into the trash. But yesterday I received one about a “new” claim that the historical King Arthur had been discovered (yet again), and I felt compelled to follow it up with a bit of investigation because it struck me immediately that there was nothing new about it. To begin, let’s take a look at what the press release has to say:
Friday Roundup: ABC News Endorses Ancient Astronaut Theory, King Arthur Identified (Again), and More!
It’s been a busy week in the world of the weird, so today I thought I’d do one of my periodic news roundups. Let’s begin with ABC News—the U.S. one, not the Australian one—and a horrid clickbait article I came across yesterday. The article was published over the weekend under the byline of Morgan Winsor, one of ABC’s digital breaking news writers. The piece purports to be a report on the many ways that UFOs have captured the human imagination since ancient times. Instead, it’s poorly researched clickbait cobbled together from reruns of Ancient Aliens (a corporate cousin since the History channel’s parent company is partly owned by Disney, the parent of ABC) and Google searches.
When last we left our hero, William F. “Bill” Mann, he had explained that thanks to a childhood obsession with midcentury fringe history books and close friendships with current Holy Bloodline conspiracy theorists, he had convinced himself that he was the last descendant of the Templar Grail Guardians who colonized America under Henry I Sinclair, Earl of Orkney, charged with protecting the descendants of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene from villainous agents of the Catholic Church seeking to suppress the truth about Jesus and the divine. This took up the first chapter of the book, leaving around 300 more pages of largely fact-free speculation, drawn primarily from earlier fringe history books. Along the way, our author reveals more and more about his psychology: At one point, he says that life “has been playing little tricks” on him since birth, and he doesn’t seem to be speaking figuratively.
You will forgive me if I point to a few of the highlights rather than trying to outline a digressive, aggressively nonlinear argument. Due to the book’s extreme length and the density of its claims, I think it will take me two blog posts to complete my review.
It’s hard to believe that the third season of Forbidden History has already come and gone. However, with just six episodes in the season, time really does fly by. It’s not the most interesting show, a sort of knockoff-cum-homage to America Unearthed and Ancient Aliens staffed entirely by junior varsity wannabees, but it’s been a long time since I’ve had a fringe history TV series to review, and I need to keep my reviewing muscles worked out for the upcoming return of Ancient Aliens next month.
Are we running out of fringe ideas? I wonder sometimes since it seems that each new claim is just a boring variation on something written 50, 100, or a 1,000 years ago. It starts to get boring after a while. Over on Graham Hancock’s website, guest writer David Warner Mathisen discusses why he thinks myths and legends are really based on constellations and their movements, but even he freely concedes that he is borrowing the claim from Hamlet’s Mill half a century ago and Robert Taylor 150 years before that. Over at Ancient Origins, Ralph Ellis, inveterate fringe fabricator, makes the same claim in more overwrought format. In both cases, the authors assume that the constellations were known and recognized in their modern forms worldwide and before the Bronze Age, which of course can’t be proved.
When last we left so-called “real-life Indiana Jones” Graham Phillips in his quest for King Arthur, he had devoted the first four chapters of The Lost Tomb of King Arthur to narrowing down his main idea, that the Arthurian romances emerged from a Welsh oral tradition of real life events that took place in western Wales around 500 CE. As his argument progresses, his claims begin to become more fantastic.
Although I’m not particularly interested in modern UFOs, I am interested in the crazy-quilt of conspiracy culture that surrounds them. That’s why it was disheartening to see that Micah Hanks published an article yesterday in which he and ufologist Stanton Friedman commiserated about how they are the only true skeptics, while those who do not agree that there is evidence of flying saucers are “debunkers” whose minds are closed. The thrust of the article, however, was a rant about Wikipedia, which Hanks complained is wrong to reject evidence from unreliable sources. He and Friedman suggest that hoaxes and disinformation are worthy of inclusion because they might contain “a grain of truth” which true skeptics like them can discern. This strikes me as essentially arguing that historical fiction like Ivanhoe should be used as source for medieval history because Sir Walter Scott was just so good at doing research.
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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