I’m very excited that I just received Irving Finkel’s new book, The Ark before Noah, a study of the history of the Flood myth in the Near East and its transmission to the Hebrews. I’m interested to learn Finkel’s new conclusions about when and how the Flood myth entered into Hebraic lore. The book’s centerpiece is the new cuneiform tablet describing the construction of a round ark, a detail hitherto unknown from other extant Mesopotamian cuneiform texts such as the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Atrahasis Epic. It’s going to take me a while to read the book, but after I finish it I’ll report back on what I thought of his conclusions.
I’m not sure, however, what to make of the news that HBO has commissioned a new series about ancient aliens in Egypt. Fortunately for all of us, the new program, called Pharaoh, will be presented as fiction. However, because the show will air on HBO, it’s sure to catapult the ancient astronaut theory still higher in the public consciousness when, inevitably, every TV critic in America and around the world compares the show to Ancient Aliens and discusses the possibility of actual extraterrestrial contact in ancient times.
The series was created by David Schulner, who previously bastardized The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as NBC’s failed series Do No Harm and had a hand in turning Count Dracula’s trip to London into the world’s most boring business meeting in NBC’s failed series Dracula. He’s developing Pharaoh through Universal TV, an arm of NBC Universal, which apparently hates the past. The new show will be executive produced by Ridley Scott, who went to the ancient astronaut well in 2012 with Prometheus and has previously expressed his desire to use his projects to promote the ancient astronaut theory: “NASA and the Vatican agree that is almost mathematically impossible that we can be where we are today without there being a little help along the way,” he told Variety in 2011. “That’s what we’re looking at (in Prometheus), at some of Eric von Däniken’s ideas of how did we humans come about.” Even though NASA and the Vatican have never agreed that ancient aliens were necessary for assisting humankind, Scott shows no signs of backing away from his desire to promote the ancient astronaut theory through art.
Scott is also producing a TV miniseries version of Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus alongside Prometheus 2.
Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with the idea of using ancient astronauts in fiction. H. P. Lovecraft raised the theme to art, and they have shown up in The X-Files, the Showtime revival of The Outer Limits, were hinted at in The Twilight Zone (“Third from the Sun,” among others), and most famously took center stage in Stargate and its spinoffs. Few readers will fail to notice the similarity in scenario between Stargate and Pharaoh.
But we are living in different times now, when Ancient Aliens is a television mainstay and conspiracy culture has seeped into the American mainstream in large measure due to the unholy alliance of UFO culture and right-wing anti-government conspiracy culture in the 1990s. We are living in an era when fringe historians like Philip Gardner can’t tell the difference between fact and fiction and believe that the Necronomicon was a real book of alien lore, and when American attitudes about public policy are shaped as much by NCIS and Zero Dark Thirty than by the actual events dramatized under those banners. The debate over torture a decade ago seemed to reference 24 as often as the Geneva Conventions.
Frankly, though, I wouldn’t have given the existence of a show like Pharaoh a second thought if it were on Syfy or BBC America or some other channel where such programming is expected (I mean, did you see the travesty that is WGN’s Salem? No? Neither did anyone else.), but under the imprimatur of a cable channel that holds itself out as the arbiter of quality, I worry that the concept of the show is going to get more discussion and more publicity than the subject matter warrants. Just as Game of Thrones spawned a cottage industry of discussions of medieval England and fantasy literature, it’s more than possible that Pharaoh could have the not-unintentional effect of doing what Prometheus could not and making ancient astronauts the subject of mainstream discourse. I mean, just think of how much ink has been spilled over AMC’s Walking Dead zombies to the point where many people genuinely believe in a coming zombie apocalypse; surely, ancient astronauts will earn the same treatment on a channel even more beloved of the media elite.
If nothing else, the news of the HBO show virtually guarantees more renewals for Ancient Aliens, and probably at least one special episode devoted to “Aliens and Pharaohs.”
4/24/2014 06:36:10 am
4/24/2014 09:22:55 am
Thanks for posting this link!
4/24/2014 07:13:31 am
Whether these fringe ideas have crept into the mainstream really depends on your perspective, and if your definition of mainstream is really just American pop culture. Most Americans have never heard of AA or the AAT, don't watch History, HBO, or AU, and don't pay any attention to either the left or right wings. And most people don't live in the U.S. Overall, a tiny fraction of people spend time thinking about this stuff.
4/24/2014 07:17:01 am
You might think that's true, but a Kelton Research survey for National Geographic Channel, May 21-May 29, 2012, found that three-quarters of Americans thought ancient civilizations might have been influenced by aliens. While this survey is probably somewhat flawed, even if the number were just a third of what the survey found, it indicates that this is not a moot point.
Franken New York
4/29/2014 11:00:16 pm
More confusion is generated because pr for movies and television shows often takes the form of Video News Releases (VNRs) video segments supplied to news programs free of charge that get used as if they were produced by the news staff without mentioning their actual source and talk show appearances by "experts" that never mention the film or show they are ultimately promoting. I remember being very much aware of the concept of Close Encounters 1-3 because of talk show appearances by an expert in the field and being awestruck when there was a major motion picture about this actual phenomenon (I was young) about to be released. Of course I was devastated to find out in my 30s that those talk show appearances were arranged by Close Encounters of the Third producers to generate buzz for their upcoming film. This is mentioned in "You'll Never Eat Lunch in this Town Again" written by Julia Phillips one of the films producers.
4/24/2014 07:23:43 am
"(I mean, did you see the travesty that is WGN’s Salem? No? Neither did anyone else.)"
4/24/2014 01:15:35 pm
No offense, but many of the girls involved in the Salem witch trials WERE manipulative and vengeful. Part of the reason those trials were such a travesty is--much as in the Inquisitions--the number of people who used them to get revenge or take things they weren't entitled to. This was established historical fact before TV even existed.
4/24/2014 01:21:05 pm
The trouble is that "Salem" (at least in the pilot episode) asks us to see the Puritans as more or less right about witches and to identify with the male effort to see female sexuality and independence as Satanic and evil. It complicates this slightly by making Cotton Mather into a horny hypocrite, but the bottom line is more or less that men wouldn't be driven from the spiritual path if women weren't such demonic sluts.
5/3/2014 03:46:58 pm
Brannon Braga is a producer on the Cosmos relaunch as well.
4/24/2014 07:47:12 am
HBO also has shows like Veep which is very funny but hasn't spawned a bunch of political comedies on other channels. Plus after making Prometheus I not sure Ridley Scott can make anything coherent anymore.
4/24/2014 07:49:06 am
But boy do people talk about Veep! Julia Louis-Dreyfus is everywhere!
4/24/2014 08:51:16 am
I guess some people will want to take this subject more seriously just because its on HBO, but this is also the channel that broadcast Tales of the Crypt and other fanciful programming.
4/24/2014 08:58:06 am
That was 25 years ago! HBO remade itself after the Sopranos and commands much more critical attention.
4/24/2014 11:07:14 am
Hey! I love Tales From the Crypt.
4/24/2014 12:23:08 pm
From the earth to the moon was very good as was band of brothers.
4/24/2014 11:56:47 am
You know, last year someone brought up the Jonny Quest episode "Secret of the Moai", and that got me thinking about ancient astronaut theory in pop culture. I hadn't even noticed until just recently, but I ran into it a lot in '90s fiction.
4/26/2014 05:01:14 am
Oh yeah I completely forgot about the Prometheus and Bob shorts. Man this stuff really did seep into pop culture.
lil ole moi
4/24/2014 12:01:04 pm
We've had more than a half century where an intense nuclear
4/24/2014 12:44:07 pm
Throw them all to the Loch Ness Monster, he's mighty hungry because there's no food in that Scottish lake
4/24/2014 12:26:53 pm
Prometheus had too many plot holes. Aliens came to earth to show us where their bio weapons lab was? That made no sense. Music was good as was the cinematography, acting not bad, I wanted to like the movie but the lack of character development and plot issues were too much. Besides it is hard to have an original sci if movie after 2001. Everything else just rips it off.
4/24/2014 12:31:58 pm
I don't know how anyone is letting Ridley make this show. Especially since Prometheus both failed as a film and on telling a simple AAT sci-fi story.
4/24/2014 01:49:24 pm
I might find the idea of creating a TV series around the fanciful assumption that there were real, Satan worshipping witches in Salem intriging if it wasn't for the fact that during the 1980's and into the early 90's there were a whole slew of Satanic conspiracy panics many resulting in convictions and many people believing they had been abused by non-existent Satanic cults. The similarity of this recent hysteria with the old Witchcraze nonsense are quite striking.
4/25/2014 05:20:52 am
Winter is coming.
7/5/2014 07:54:12 pm
I love your hypocrisy, mocking Conservatives for fearing the adverse effects of Horror fiction. But basically take the exact same approach to Ancient Alien and Conspiracy fiction.
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