Not long after celebrating Leif Erikson as the first European to “discover” America, the White House issued another proclamation marking the Columbus Day holiday with a dark message mixing effusive praise for the violent explorer with angry ranting about ideologues who are trying to destroy traditionally heroic historical narratives. The proclamation began on an odd note, praising Italian-Americans in stereotypical terms straight out of a 1950s Hollywood movie, writing of immigrants being inspired by Columbus to journey to the United States to bring to these shores their “rich Italian heritage,” “warmth and generosity,” and “love of family.” It was not Columbus that drove Italians to America, but the rampant poverty of southern Italy and the indifference of the Piedmont ruling class to the plight of the conquered peoples of the south they had recently added to the new Kingdom of Italy. But, sure, whatever. Then the proclamation got weird.
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.
As we continue to wade through a fallow period due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, I am consequently cutting back the length of my blog posts until there is something more substantive to write about. As a reminder, the finale of Rob Riggle: Global Investigator is scheduled to run overnight tonight, so my review will run later on Friday than my usual posting time, after I have had a chance to watch it.
Dark Fleet: The Secret Nazi Space Program and the Battle for the Solar System
Len Kasten | Bear & Co. | March 2020 | 240 pages | ISBN: 9781591433446 | $16.00
I hate to say it, but I think that the great cultural pause created by the COVID-19 lockdown has finally ground much of the fake history industry to a halt. Sure, there are social media posts from people claiming that random rocks are world-changing artifacts, and somehow the History Channel is broadcasting, but otherwise we don’t have much left. I can’t get into The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch. I just don’t have the patience to sit through an hour of people who admit to not knowing anything wandering about to deliver about 30 seconds worth of information, most of which will be disproved the next week anyway. So what does that leave us with? I am barely able to tolerate Rob Riggle: Global Investigator despite its subject matter’s tangential relevance to my interests, and only because it’s like watching a train wreck of bad choices. The Science Channel’s resurrected Forbidden History (formerly of the Travel Channel, formerly of AHC) has been a disappointment. (Apparently, even though it is not part of my cable package, I still have online access.) The first episode involved a failed hunt for a World War II load of Japanese gold. The second revisited the Shroud of Turin just in time for Easter. It’s all so … boring.
Perhaps more than any year in recent memory, 2019 was the year in which fringe history stopped being fringe and went completely mainstream. This year, we saw pseudohistory and conspiracy theories top the literary bestseller lists, multiply across cable channels like mushrooms on a rotten log, and attract record crowds to traveling carnivals masquerading as pseudohistory “fan” conventions. It perfectly captures the tenor of the times for the post-truth era that the very notions of fact and fiction ceased to have meaning. This was a long, hard year, both for the world and also for me personally. After dealing with family health problems, buying and selling a house (and still not being able to close on selling the old one until early 2020, nearly half a year after the sale), writing two books, and a knot of lawyers for many different developments, I am ready for this unpleasant year to end. Let’s look back in anger:
I am indexing again today, but I wanted to share with you this post from the Ancient Artifact Preservation Society annual meeting in Michigan this week. In the picture, you’ll see the former head of the American Nazi Party, Frank Joseph, posing with a fake crystal skull that he and his friends believe dates back to the Atlantean age. For all the Indiana Jones cosplaying that you see in the world of pseudoarchaeology, it’s rare to see a real-life Indiana Jones villain. I think, though, that the movies got a bit mixed up. I’m pretty sure the communists were the villains in the Crystal Skull movie.
Originally, I planned to spend today’s blog post discussing Tom DeLonge’s recent interview in the British music magazine NME, in which he claimed to have secret knowledge that he has adjudged too dangerous for public consumption: “Believe it or not, we have very long conversations about what we’re going to talk about publicly, not because we don’t have the facts – but because people aren’t ready for the facts,” he said. This seems transparently false. If an aging rock star whose sum total of knowledge of UFOs, ancient history, and the occult is derived, by his own admission, from reading old paperback ufology books has experienced “the facts” and emerged unscathed, surely we mere mortals can hear whatever it is DeLonge thinks he knows (but probably doesn’t). I also thought it worth mentioning that Luis Elizondo, who two Pentagon spokespeople have denied served as the head of the Pentagon’s UFO tracking program, declined to provide evidence that he did head it when asked. “I don’t want to make anyone look foolish,” he said. Sure, that’s the reason.
Yesterday, we all watched the horrible images of Notre Dame de Paris burning, and it is a terrible loss to history that will take years to undo, if at all. The cathedral had survived the French Revolution, the Franco-Prussian War, and two World Wars, but saw its worst damage from renovation work. It was another sad event in what seems to have been an endless cycle of bizarre and unprecedented events. If history is any judge, every generation feels that way.
On Wednesday, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee sent the Lucas Brothers to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to examine why the Alt-Right is obsessed with Greco-Roman statues. The brothers and their team of experts concluded that the white marble of the statues has falsely created a culture of white supremacy around the sculptures which the Alt-Right is exploiting for political gain. This is stupid, and as much as I like Samantha Bee and her show, this segment was flawed, predicated on the facile conflation of the color white with the social construction of Whiteness.
An Australian white supremacist carried out the deadliest mass shooting in New Zealand history this week when he murdered 49 people in two mosques in Christchurch. Australian media identified the attacker as personal trainer Brenton Tarrant, who broadcast his rampage live on social media, and police confirmed that he left behind a 74-page manifesto in which he wrote about his hatred of immigrants and non-white peoples, using the language of Neo-Nazism and white supremacy. He spoke of “white genocide,” a common theme among the far right, and one we have seen invoked repeatedly in the racist embrace of the Solutrean Hypothesis among white nationalists.
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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