Let’s start today with the ratings for Friday’s UFO programming. Ancient Aliens was close to its week-to-week and year-to-year average. The first new episode of the fourteenth season drew 1.3 million people, with a 0.26 rating among the advertiser-covered demographic of adults 18-49. It ranked seventh in the cable ratings for Friday. Unidentified, the To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science UFO series, debuted with 1.286 million viewers and a 0.22 rating among adults 18-49, retaining most of its lead-in’s audience and outperforming most of the other shows that have followed Ancient Aliens over the past ten years in that regard. It ranked eleventh among all cable shows airing on Friday. But don’t despair! Both were outdrawn by HGTV’s My Lottery Dream Home, which had 1.6 million viewers and a 0.29 rating among adults 18-49. So, in the hierarchy of American life, lottery fantasies easily outdraw mind- and soul-shattering “truths” about time, space, and reality.
The ratings for History’s UFO shows dwarf the puny 440,000 who watched the return of Ancient Aliens’ onetime lead-out, America Unearthed, in its return to TV on the Travel Channel last week. But as we wait for America Unearthed to take on Ancient Aliens in an episode devoted to ancient astronautics, it might be amusing to consider how our favorite fringe themes recently showed up in a high-profile monster movie.
In the new movie Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the giant lizard is given a new origin story. According to the film, Godzilla was worshiped as a god by a lost civilization that is obviously meant to parallel Atlantis. In the movie, scientists trace Godzilla back to a sunken civilization. Its ruins are in a Classical style, and the scientists in the film compare them to those of Greece and Egypt. While the underwater city isn’t named, we learn that Godzilla’s movements beneath the waves may have sent the city to the bottom of the ocean, paralleling Plato’s fantasy about Atlantis vanishing in a single day and night. [Update: At least according to an article I read about the movie and Atlantis, since I have not seen a movie in a theater since my son was born; I understand that the article may have taken some liberties with interpretation.]
The movie also plays around with the idea that Godzilla and other giant monsters, known as Titans, were worshiped as humanity’s first gods, a concept that echoes H. P. Lovecraft’s use of monstrous otherworldly creatures as humanity’s earliest gods in the Cthulhu Mythos stories. Indeed, one of the Titans, Ghidorah, hails from outer space, just like Cthulhu. It probably goes without saying that when Godzilla returns to the underwater city where is worshipped as a god in order to hibernate and recover, he is basically acting like Cthulhu in R’lyeh.
As with other high-profile science fiction films like Prometheus, Alien vs. Predator, and 10,000 BC, it seems that when depicting ancient history, we can’t quite break out of the Lovecraftian/fringe history mode when trying to create a suitably epic vision of prehistory. Individually, there is nothing wrong with using this fantasy to create an entertaining story. It is fiction after all. But collectively, the growing number of big movies that allude to ancient astronaut or lost civilization claims becomes a bit worrisome because they have a collective propaganda effect of normalizing extreme ideas.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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