Welcome to 2014! As we start the New Year, I’d like to take a few minutes to reflect on what we’ve learned over the past twelve months. I think that this question and answer posted on Yahoo! Answers Canada mere hours before the end of the year last night just about sums up everything we learned about fringe history in 2013:
Jeff: Bros, how did the ancient space aliens teach Africans how to build pyramids and algebra?
Ridiculous, ignorant, and more than a little racist: Yes, this was the year that was.
(Note: A few of the events described below may have begun a bit earlier than 2013 but attained prominence this past year.)
The year in fringe history opened inauspiciously with the announcement in January that America Unearthed had surpassed Ancient Aliens as the top-rated fringe history show on H2, and on television in general, topping out with more than one million weekly viewers before ratings began to decline. Over the course of its first season, America Unearthed proposed a baroque conspiracy of Europeans who repeatedly sailed to America before Columbus in order to establish failed colonies devoted to heretical Christianity and to lay the groundwork for the future United States, under the protection of God, the Knights Templar, and the Freemasons. H2 declined to release ratings for the second season, probably because fewer people watch the show in its new Saturday night time slot.
Ancient Aliens proposed an increasingly fanciful worldview where inter-dimensional, godlike beings served in fact as gods and shepherded the souls of true believers to an inter-dimensional paradise of eternal life. This year the show gave up the pretense of being about extraterrestrials, leaving “consulting producer” Giorgio Tsoukalos the odd man out among a cast who preferred to talk about spirituality and religion rather than aliens.
The success of both programs led Destination America to pick up knock-off show Unsealed: Alien Files, which differentiated itself from the H2 programs by implying that aliens are scary and viewers should be really, really afraid. Both the History Channel and Discovery’s Military Channel aired pseudo-scholarly programs exploring Bible secrets: Bible Secrets Revealed and Bible’s Greatest Secrets, respectively. The former relied on the “expert” opinion of a woman who married an ancient astronaut theorist and believes herself to be a direct descendant of Jesus. The latter attempted to use military experts to “prove” biblical legends were possible under the laws of physics. Discovery’s Animal Planet fooled America with a second (!) fake documentary about the history of mermaids, while Discovery itself hoaxed America with a fake documentary about the continued existence of prehistoric sharks.
On the literary front, Erich von Däniken released a new book, and after nearly twenty years of repeating almost verbatim his older works, for the first time he acknowledged that his new book was in fact repetitive and derivative. This time, though, he said that the copying was intentional, a grand synthesis of his earlier work. He then promptly forgot to include aliens.
Fingerprints of the Gods author Graham Hancock admitted that he had been high on marijuana “continuously” when he was writing his books about a lost white super-civilization that ruled the Ice Age earth. He said he was a heavy marijuana user from 1987 to 2011 before switching to ayahuasca, a powerful hallucinogen. Hancock claimed that marijuana made him paranoid and this may have affected his judgment about academic and government conspiracies to suppress the truth. By contrast, he announced that ayahuasca has let him communicate with supernatural entities from another dimension. He also announced plans for a new sequel to Fingerprints, which would be written in light of his ayahuasca revelations rather than those of marijuana.
America Unearthed host Scott F. Wolter released a book intended as a companion volume to America Unearthed. However, thanks to Wolter’s own machinations against me (see below), A+E Networks, parent of H2, required his publisher to run a disclaimer stating that the book was not affiliated with the program and did not represent A+E Networks’ views. H2 allowed Committee Films, the producers of America Unearthed, to promote Wolter’s book on screen in each episode of the second season of America Unearthed anyway. In the book, Wolter expanded on his elaborate Knights Templar conspiracy theory, tying it to the history of ancient Egypt, which he admitted to not having studied in any great depth, and the Bible, which he admitted to not having read except in secondhand summaries from other fringe writers. He concluded by asserting that Oreo cookies were hiding the truth about the real history of Jesus, whom he believes was once the king of Syria and the founder of royal dynasty that rightfully owns America thanks to a land claim made by the Knights Templar. He implied that the new pope, Francis, was part of the conspiracy to hide the truth about the semi-divine descendants of Jesus.
Historian Graham Robb got a hearing for his uncredited rewrite of Xavier Guichard’s ideas about the solar alignments of ancient sites. Robb tried to argue that the Celts had done advanced mapping of Western Europe, aligning settlements along continent-wide meridians, but archaeologists who reviewed Robb’s claims in The Discovery of Middle Earth concluded that Robb’s imagination far outpaced the evidence.
In the world outside of the media, Erich von Däniken’s plans for a global franchise of Chariots of the Gods theme parks appeared to go bust after the holding company charged with exploiting his “intellectual” property failed to find investors.
The “Contact in the Desert” conference and the Paradigm Symposium brought together fringe figures of various stripes for several days of for-profit lectures on fringe history topics. The first, devoted to ancient astronauts, resulted in accusations from Ancient Aliens pundit William Henry and unnamed witnesses quoted by skeptic Robert Schaeffer that ufologist Steven Greer unlawfully imprisoned Henry's wife and the rest of the audience during a talk by Greer when Greer’s security detail locked the doors and refused to let her out. (Note: The preceding sentence has been edited to reflect William Henry's version of events after Henry contacted me and requested a correction.) At the Paradigm Symposium, Scott Wolter presented his Oreo cookie theories to a shocked audience, which included an outraged PZ Myers, while fringe creationist L. A. Marzulli delivered a rambling speech about fallen angels that led to Marzulli’s defenders taking me to task for not believing that sin is genetically transmitted on the Y-chromosome, or that Jesus was specially conceived by a hand-crafted sperm carried to Mary by the Holy Spirit.
That kerfuffle paled in comparison to two attempts by H2 figures to sue me for criticizing them. In April, millionaire ancient astronaut theorist Jason Martell threatened me with a lawsuit for accidentally leaving a zero off the number of years Martell believes that it takes the non-existent planet Nibiru to swing through the universe. He expanded his discontent to include all criticisms of his work that I had ever made. Martell backed down after we exchanged hostile emails, but this culminated in Martell’s followers engaging in a coordinated campaign to bombard me with hate mail, spawning a death threat. I learned that Martell had sent out a mass email to his followers requesting they send me hate mail when one of them accidentally forwarded me Martell’s email in his hate message to me.
More serious was the cease and desist order I received from A+E Networks later in the spring ordering me not to publish Unearthing the Truth, my collected reviews of the first season of America Unearthed. The network hired one of the country’s top intellectual property lawyers to pursue the case at the instigation of “talent” from America Unearthed, which the lawyer confirmed was Scott Wolter. A+E Networks tried making the case that my book infringed on Scott Wolter’s ownership of a letter of the alphabet, the letter X, when that letter had a small hook in the corner, a form that had been in uncontested public domain use since the fifteenth century. After a month of legal wrangling, A+E Networks conceded that Wolter did not in fact own the letter X, hooked or otherwise, and they withdrew the cease and desist order after I agreed to a more prominent disclaimer stating that my book was not affiliated with A+E Networks or America Unearthed. Publication of Scott Wolter’s new book was delayed after I asked A+E Networks for an official statement on whether they endorsed Wolter’s book, prompting them to require the publisher to add a disclaimer that they did not.
After I reported early in the year what a source told me about a meeting between Scott Wolter and History officials to discuss America Unearthed and its claims about religion, a History official contacted me to deny the story and request a retraction. I retracted the story on the strength of the History denial only to have Scott Wolter himself inadvertantly confirm the essential truth of what my source told me months later during a radio interview.
For having his employer try to sue me, for hosting the highest-rated fringe history show, and for making the year’s craziest claim (that Oreo cookies encode secret Jesus-Templar truths), Scott F. Wolter is our 2013 fringe history MVP! Really, who else could it have been?
In my own little world, this past year saw my book, Cthulhu in World Mythology, remain unpublished for a second year after the publisher, Atomic Overminded, missed several deadlines. The book is now scheduled for the first quarter of this year, and if it is not out by April, the rights to the book revert back to me. A high profile editor at a large New York publisher requested material from me for a book I’ve been working on, expressed interest in picking up the book, and then told my literary agent he has been too busy to review the material he requested for the past nine months. On a more hopeful note, McFarland picked up my Jason and the Argonauts through the Ages, which should be out by the middle of the year.
This year sales of my self-published JasonColavito.com Books volumes outpaced sales of my traditionally-published books. My self-published books now generate more than ten times the royalties of my traditionally published books. My best-selling volumes have been my essay collection Faking History, my translation of the Orphic Argonautica, and my reprint of James Frazer’s The Great Flood.
2013 was a bizarre year for fringe history, one of the most eventful I can remember. Here’s to a quieter and less litigious 2014!
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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