Conflicting Accounts of Whether Producers, History Channel Capitalized on Dan Brown for "Holy Grail" Documentary
I’ve talked quite a bit about responsibility, both the responsibility of the media to avoid intentionally misrepresenting history, archaeology, and anthropology to their audiences, and the responsibility of those who claim to speak for those disciplines to play fair with the facts. I will remind everyone once again that this is not a legal requirement: No law prevents you from lying through your teeth about history, so long as you don’t libel those you discuss—and one cannot libel the dead.
Take a look at this interesting piece about Steven Pinker and the misuse of anthropology. I’m not sure what I think yet; I’m still digesting it. Perhaps tomorrow I will have more thoughts on it.
I know I’ve harped on America Unearthed quite a bit in regard to responsibility and truth (though not nearly so much as I have Ancient Aliens or the ancient astronaut theorists in general). It’s easy to do since so many people who have appeared on the show have complained about being lied to (Scott Dawson), misrepresented (Joe Rose), or taken out of context (Dennis Parada). Still others have agreed that the show did one of those things to them, but they’re OK with it because it’s “just entertainment.”
Does it surprise you that Andrew and Maria Awes, the production team behind the show, have had the same complaints made against them for years? Listen to what Alice Kehoe, of Marquette University, said about her appearance in the Aweses’ 2009 documentary Holy Grail in America, starring Scott Wolter. The documentary proposed the first version of Wolter’s idea that the Templars and Cisetercians were in a conspiracy to colonize medieval America in the name of the Holy Bloodline of Jesus. This is what she told Archaeology magazine in the May/June 2010 edition:
Maria Awes assured me the Templar stuff would be minor. But that’s not what happened. It’s clear the whole thing turned into an effort to get on the Dan Brown bandwagon. … We were all told they were going to make an hour-long documentary on the rune-stone, and that we would all have a chance to explain our views. But it was dominated by the same group of reenactors dressed up as Templars.
After purchasing the film, the History Channel doubled its run time to two hours and poured more money in to expand the film.
In 2010, executive producer Mike Stiller of the History Channel denied to Archaeology that the program, which aired at the same time as the release of Dan Brown’s Lost Symbol, had any relationship to Brown’s books, citing perpetual interest in the Templars at every time of the year. (Disclosure: As EP in charge of the Ancient Aliens pilot and MonsterQuest Stiller oversaw the decisions that led to the former show implying I was evil, though I believe he was not EP when MonsterQuest dropped me from their episode on flying monsters of Mexico.)
Compare Stiller’s denial to the production documents History received from the Aweses as part of their presentation trying to sell the film to his network several months earlier, when the program was still only an hour long and called “The Secret History of North America.” I obtained these documents from Minnesota Film and Television: “Its release could be timed perfectly to capitalize on the anticipated hype for the movie ‘Angels and Demons,’ the prequel to [Dan Brown’s] ‘The Da Vinci Code,’ which focuses in part on the Templars.”
Just as History claimed to me to have no knowledge that America Unearthed came from the same team that delivered Holy Grail in America, the network also claimed to have had no knowledge that the project was designed to capitalize on Dan Brown’s popularity, despite documentary evidence to the contrary. Sure, it’s possible that History simply “forgot” about the documents, or never read them, and that the timing was a coincidence. (In the late 2000s almost any time was reasonably close to some Dan Brown related event.) But despite History’s denials, we know that Scott Wolter and the Aweses set out to ride Dan Brown’s coattails.
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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