CBS News "Sunday Morning" Broadcasts Puff Piece on So-Called "White City," Fails to Note "White City" Myth Is a Modern Invention
It was a strange weekend. On Saturday, a fringe blog alleged that H. P. Lovecraft had “secret knowledge’ of that lost city in Antarctica that David Wilcock claimed existed last year. Rather than concluding that Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness influenced fringe proponents’ Antarctica claims, the blogger assumes that Wilcock is telling the truth and Lovecraft was secretly disclosing hidden alien facts. It’s a small-scale version of Helena Blavatsky’s old claim that science-fiction authors get secret truth-beams from the spirit world, and a bit of a depressing one.
Yesterday morning viewers of the CBS News program Sunday Morning were treated to a puff piece celebrating the release of Douglas Preston’s new book The Lost City of the Monkey God. The CBS story, while offering some token counterpoints from archaeologist Rosemary Joyce, took at face value a series of claims from Preston and his colleagues that are, at best, partially true and quite misleading.
Lost City of the Monkey God is a nonfiction account of Preston’s two-decade-long involvement in the search for the so-called “lost” White City of Honduras, also known by the Spanish moniker Ciudad Blanca, and in modern times identified with the quasi-historical Lost City of the Monkey God invented in the 1940s. I reviewed the book a few weeks ago in advance of its release.
Journalist Lee Cowan interviewed Preston, who related what he alleged is the legend of the White City: “The legend is there was a great city in the mountains that was struck by a series of catastrophes, and the inhabitants thought the gods were angry at them, and [they] left, leaving all their belongings behind,” Preston told CBS, paraphrasing his own book. This story does not exist in any academic literature prior to the middle twentieth century. The oldest recorded form of the story, presented by Eduard Conzemius in 1927 as a secondhand remembrance of a treasure-hunter’s tale from c. 1905, spoke only of “the ruins of a very important city with white buildings of a stone similar to marble, surrounded by a large wall of the same material” (my trans.). The legend as known in those days was that the Devil guarded the city and did harm to those who entered, though there was a clear difference of opinion on the matter. Conzemius said, “All the Indians say that they do not know of it and that it is all a myth, but the other residents of the coast affirm that they do not want to show these ruins to others for fear that then they would die.”
Cowan also followed Preston in alleging that the lost city had “tantalized” explorers since the 1500s. This is untrue. It has tantalized since the 1940s, before which no one much cared. In the 1500s, Hernan Cortes wrote about cities in the area, but they were neither abandoned nor lost and decidedly not white. It isn’t the same thing.
CBS also failed to question whether the site that Preston and his team found was in fact the White City of modern myth.
The opposing point of view from Joyce focused primarily on the difference between archaeology and pulp-fiction Indiana Jones adventure. Questions of whether the White City has an independent reality were swept under the carpet, leaving viewers with the impression that the city truly is the reality behind the myth, a claim that Preston was never able to satisfactorily establish.
Overall, the CBS story was mostly fawning, with no real criticism and no detailed evaluation of his claims. This has been the case with most of the media coverage of the rollout of Preston’s book, which was released this week. Nevertheless, the praise and obeisance paid him haven’t quelled his disappointment that archaeologists have not been as universally impressed by his work as the media.
Preston has been quite vocal in his deep upset that several archaeologists—including some who gave interviews to him for his book—disagreed with the expedition’s conclusions about the site, particularly questions about its size and about whether it is truly the White City. On Reddit, Preston posted a most remarkable statement in which he sounded very much like Graham Hancock or Scott Wolter:
I have never in my life encountered a more irresponsible and unfounded response to a discovery as has occurred from a small group of American archaeologists who have been working in Honduras. I cover this crazy controversy thoroughly in my book, but it has been personally disappointing to me to see these particular academics behave the way they have done. The team that explored this site included six eminent degreed archaeologists (Honduran and American) as well as a dozen other PhD researchers, and academic papers have already come out. There were indigenous Tawahka, Miskito, and Garifuna people as part of the expedition. The problem is that these particular academics were not included, and they feel aggrieved about that.
Ah, the classic “you’re just jealous” gambit!
In response, John Hoopes, one of the archaeologists who both criticized the claims made about the site and spoke to Preston for his book posted a response:
If professional archaeologists were aggrieved, it was not about not being included as it was because they saw the project for what it was: an exploitation of century-old pulp-fiction fantasy narratives about finding a lost civilization (the example of Shangri-La from James Hilton's 1930 novel "Lost Horizon is a recurring theme) in a remote, unknown valley. The "Lost City of the Monkey God" concept was introduced in a sensational story for a 1940 tabloid insert in Sunday newspapers, edited by A. Merritt (the author of classic pulp fiction short stories and novels) and illustrated by Virgil Finlay (a classic pulp fiction cover artist). The narrative may draw elements from 21st century science, but it draws heavily upon the Victorian era "lost world", pulp fiction genre. Think of one of the original "monkey god" lost cities, featured in the 1933 blockbuster "King Kong" and reproduced in subsequent King Kong sequels--also about a filmmaker heading into a dangerous jungle in search of mysteries. This is good entertainment that thrills and fires the imagination, but it is not science.
Preston did not reply to this (at least not as of this writing), but in the CBS story, his team member Steve Elkins did nothing to dispel the aura of pulp fantasy-adventure hanging over the whole project.
“Who doesn’t like a story that has some mystery in it?” Elkins told Cowan. “So let’s go and see what happens!”
And there you have it, folks, straight from the horse’s mouth: This adventure is a “story” full of romance and “mystery” first and foremost.
1/9/2017 11:29:37 am
What's truly depressing about the first story is how the only conclusion was Wilcock was right because Lovecraft. Seriously? How stupid do you have to be to conclude a work of fiction written 80 years before Wilcock's claim must be "foreknowledge" of said claim?
1/9/2017 11:48:37 am
The only place I ever knew as truly being labeled the "White City" was the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. The main gallery was painted all white and lit with lightbulbs, which was a major showing for what electricity was capable of. The organizers and attendees started calling it the white city because it glowed white during the night
1/9/2017 12:17:42 pm
The White City you're referring to was amazing in its day, and it inspired a beloved children's story: the Wizard of Oz. In the original story the Emerald City was actually painted entirely white but everyone in the city was required to where goggles with green lenses so that the whole place looked like it was green.
1/9/2017 12:39:05 pm
Give it some time, eventually someone will make the claim that Baum patterned Oz after factual information he obtained relating to Atlantis and Alien interventions on Earth. Since Baum knew nobody would believe him, he hid the facts in cleverly disguised books that most people view as nothing more then children's stories. You see, the wicked witch is the evil reptilian alien bent on subjugating and then destroying our species. The white witch is based on the alien greys who want to work with us and help us transcend our destructive ways so we may attain universal enlightenment. The Emerald City is Atlantis where the people have learned to live in harmony with each other, the world, and the universe. The reason they never need to work is because of their advanced technologies. In the so called stories Dorothy wears Silver shoes because silver is deadly toxic to reptilians. This fact was changed to Ruby Slippers because the studio heads were, and still are, in league with the reptilians and could not chance this information being made public on the screen.
1/9/2017 02:22:54 pm
Baum's story was an allegory against paper currency and in favor of the gold standard. In the original the shoes were silver, not ruby.
1/9/2017 02:12:37 pm
The concept was copied for the 1908 Franco-British Exhibition in west London; hence the existence of a London Underground station called White City.
1/9/2017 02:30:16 pm
The Devil was in its' details or at least in a nearby rooming house.
1/9/2017 12:04:13 pm
I make it a point not to watch any news program not shown on PBS. The others seem to be filled with puff pieces, or the talking heads on the program spouting canned phrases while pretending to look concerned before going to commercial. Then returning from commercial and attempting to be Jay Leno or David Letterman by being funny.
1/9/2017 12:40:16 pm
I never found Jay Leno or David Letterman funny. Can't say I ever laughed once when I watched either show.
1/10/2017 03:50:58 am
Sell borderline suicidal curmudgeon someplace else.
1/11/2017 10:37:21 am
1/9/2017 12:04:44 pm
You really can't expect too much from a show which had it finest moments showing how Peeps were made.
1/9/2017 05:41:01 pm
How Peeps were made. I mean, that is real news, not something silly like what Congress is doing or if it's going to rain or snow.
1/9/2017 10:14:33 pm
Now the Peeps story, that was the real puff piece...
1/9/2017 12:06:02 pm
We need to get CBS onto the Oak Island story so they can tell us what's REALLY going on.
1/9/2017 12:07:00 pm
Also there might be an ayran racial component calling it ther 'white city', if it's tied into Loveccraft, but it more reminds me of Casablanca (the white house, in Africa in that other movie) crossed with Allan Quartemaine, the precursor to Indiana Jones and Duck Tales, the cartoon. This whole 'myth' is almost too modern to be a myth, if it comes from the 1930s.
1/9/2017 02:01:53 pm
I note that none of the 6 eminent degreed(?) archaeologists or the dozen PHD's or the published papers nor the indigenous people are quoted as agreeing it is also the Lost White City. There is only a quote of Preston asserting this.
1/9/2017 03:58:22 pm
In his Reddit response, Dr John Hoopes addresses when the archaeologists were brought on board and the roles of the indigenous Tawahka, Miskito, and Garifuna people as part of the expedition.
1/9/2017 07:39:11 pm
White City....good album by Pete Townsend in 1986 if I remember right...
1/9/2017 09:05:26 pm
I love it... Secret Truth Beams.
1/10/2017 12:24:30 pm
This is tangental to your piece, but the part about "Helena Blavatsky’s old claim that science-fiction authors get secret truth-beams from the spirit world" reminded me of UFOlogist Grant Cameron's new focus on ETs giving humans "downloads" to enrich our science and culture:
1/11/2017 01:38:47 am
Here's the Virgil Finlay illustration, which is freakin' awesome!
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