Next week is the annual Contact in the Desert symposium in which the cast of Ancient Aliens and those who profit from association with them will gather to provide audiences with summaries of past episodes of Ancient Aliens, and more extreme claims that are too offensive to make it past network standards and practices over on the History Channel. This year, however, there is something new. In addition to the regular group of Ancient Aliens talking heads, Tom DeLong’s coauthor, Peter Levenda, will be on hand to promote To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science as a major player in the ancient astronaut field.
A regular reader of this blog did some calculations based on the symposium’s speaker list to see what the demographics of the gathering’s 54 speakers might tell us about ancient astronaut theorists. The speakers are 96% white and 89% male, with a breakdown like this:
To this, let me add the number of people I could identify as talking heads from Ancient Aliens: 19 of 54, or 35%. I’m sure I missed one or two who are obscure enough that I didn’t remember their faces. Add in people who appeared on other History Channel pseudo-documentaries, or similar programs on other networks, and the number approaches 50%. Therefore, it seems that the typical Contact in the Desert speaker is an aging white male who opines about space aliens on cable television.
Speaking of which: Former giant hunter Jim Vieira will be presenting, but it’s rather depressing to see what he has chosen as his next project after having failed to find Bible giants or the lost colony of Roanoke. He now wants to hunt for Atlantis and Lemuria:
He will present his findings based on 30 years of research into the origins of civilization and Homo Sapiens through a comparative analysis of myth, legend, worldwide indigenous oral traditions, religious documents, Freemason, Rosicrucian and Theosophist teachings, the writings of Plato and the wisdom of the great mystics Rudolf Steiner, Madame Blavatsky and Edgar Cayce.
In other words, he’s planning to collect a bunch of lies and pretend that they betray a hidden truth. The fact of the matter is that Cayce stole from Blavatsky, and Steiner stole from Blavatsky, and Blavatsky stole from everybody, but notably Ignatius Donnelly, who borrowed his ideas from a stew of racist and imperialist nonsense published in the 1840s through the 1870s. Specifically, Donnelly accepted the work of Brasseur de Bourbourg, who made up imaginary translations of Mexican codices to “discover” Atlantis in the records of ancient Mexico, and Augustus Le Plongeon, who invented fantastical fictions about a Mexican Atlantis based on de Bourbourg. Le Plongeon came to his interest in these fictions while working for Ephraim Squier, whose belief in a lost race of Mound Builders he found insufficiently extreme. Donnelly came to all these claims through John Thomas Short’s 1880 book The North Americans of Antiquity, from which he cribbed in ways small and large, and not always with citations. Short, for better or worse, bequeathed us this mess, even though he himself doubted the reality of Atlantis.
The so-called psychics happily strip-mined all these books for spare parts, and it is depressing that Vieira cannot see the clear debt that these authors owe to one another. They are not independently confirming a miraculous ancient history; they are repeating one another in close and not particularly careful plagiarisms.
Other speakers are doing their usual schtick. Brien Foerster will be repeating his typical claims about elongated skulls. Erich von Däniken will be—for fuck’s fucking sake—repeating yet again his single-mindedly wrongheaded belief that the “old Arabian historians” recorded the true history of Great Pyramid and Enoch from the time before the Flood. As you know, that is my area of special expertise, and it pains me to see this story recycled yet again. Giorgio Tsoukalos will deliver a lecture on—and I am not making this up—himself. “Giorgio will talk about how he got involved with this field, his early relationship with Erich Von Daniken and the guiding philosophy of his phenomenally successful television show, ‘Ancient Aliens.’” Of course his lecture is about himself. Anything else would require research, and that detracts from the fun of being a celebrity.
Peter Levenda’s lecture is perhaps the more interesting since he seems to be looking to damage control for the claims that To the Stars and Tom DeLonge are being manipulated by the government as part of a disinformation campaign:
This will be a discussion of the current theories in Ufological circles that Tom DeLonge and the To The Stars Academy are agents of a “deep state” that wishes to manipulate Ufology, or expectations concerning UFOs, for the benefit of a secret cabal of government insiders. Recent discussions at MUFON suggesting that the disclosure event of December, 2017 in the New York Times and elsewhere represent a “false flag” operation designed to prepare the United States for martial law will be addressed as well. This will provide the groundwork for a look at the history of modern conspiracy theories and their relationship to Ufology and how Ufological circles are being manipulated by the theories themselves.
It sounds a lot like Levenda finally sees that ufology has become an ouroboros eating its own tail with each new and more extreme conspiracy theory, but I would like to see him thread the needle of arguing against the conspiracy that makes him part of a disinformation campaign while retaining all the elements that allow him to posit that the government is suppressing UFO information and manipulating public perceptions of UFOs.
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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