I’ll be honest with you: The quality of fringe history claims has declined markedly over the last couple of years as the great fringe history boom of 2009-2014 finishes fizzling out. Some days, I don’t really have anything left to talk about. The clickbait websites have reduced themselves to cheating their own audiences. I can’t tell you how many times a Google News alert has keyed me to some “new” fringe posting about ancient aliens, Atlantis, or whatever, and when I click through, I find that it’s actually a reposting of a video (and it’s always a video!) from two, three, five, or more years ago. The amount of actually new content being produced is shockingly low.
Consider, for a moment, that there are thousands of websites that produce fringe history content, generating, in theory, hundreds of articles a day. Yet almost none of that content offers anything new, or even an original take on previous material. Not that this is unexpected; recycling claims is their bread and butter, but it’s the quality of the recycling that’s lacking. In the past, newly published articles would have more substance to them, but now the clickbait trash outweighs everything.
I thought about, for example, writing about the recent claim that a Mayan sculpture is a carving of a Grey, but I couldn't gin up the enthusiasm for a fantasy that lacked evidence and substance. It looks like a fake from the picture provided.
It is getting difficult to find 365 new things to write about each year.
I think there are a few factors at work. First, the crescendo of interest in crazy claims about ancient history that grew up in the wake of the success of Ancient Aliens was unsustainable. One by one, the imitation and emulation programs have faded away. In Search of the Lost Giants, America Unearthed, In Search of Aliens, Unsealed: Alien Files, and countless more have gone to that glowing UFO in the sky, whether officially canceled or lying in wait for the next fringe history boom. As I noted a few years ago, when we hit peak fringe history, there were entire days when interested viewers could follow programs like these from channel to channel around the clock, never watching anything else. That much of a glut of similar programming couldn’t help but cause a rating crash.
Only the strongest of these shows—mostly Ancient Aliens and Curse of Oak Island—survived. Their audiences, though, are rapidly aging. The Ancient Aliens spinoff on Viceland in which rapper Action Bronson watches the show while high on marijuana has a small following, a but a new study this week finds that its target audience, teens, find the Vice brand “uncool.”
The second factor, though, is that much of what started as the goofball claims of cable TV shows has been politicized in our partisan environment, and it is now an ideological article of faith rather than a pretended scientific mystery. That means that it is less something to write about to “investigate” questions and more a faith-based identity statement to be included in a polemic. To that end, much of the energy in fringe history has moved to conservative fantasies about gay Nephilim, creationism, and white supremacy. But discussions of such topics are often restricted to true believers, who aren’t looking for evidence but rather for affirmation.
The third factor, related to the preceding, is that modern political discourse is so riven with conspiracy theories and fantasies that there isn’t much mental space left for additional conspiracies. The current White House is riven with conspiracy theories about practically everything. Its media supporters have coopted so much of the energy behind fringe history that we actually see bizarre events like last week’s claim on televangelist Jim Bakker’s show that Donald Trump is God’s anointed and that God will curse the children and grandchildren of his critics. Here’s Mary Colbert speaking to Bakker after identifying Trump as God’s chosen vessel: “And if you come against the chosen one of God, you are bringing upon you and your children and your children’s children curses like you have never seen.”
How do you compete with crazy claims like that?
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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