I’ve written too much this week, and I had planned to take today off, but I couldn’t resist capping off this week of superheroes and extraterrestrials with a brief discussion of a Christopher Loring Knowles’s reaction to Friday’s “Aliens and Superheroes” episode of Ancient Aliens. It collapses the whole rickety house of alien superheroes in on itself and gives us the bizarre spectacle of a man who is obsessed with hidden Theosophical currents in pop culture attacking an ancient astronaut program for being too literal, too materialist, and too disrespectful of Jack Kirby and comic book aliens.
And since I’ve damned Knowles enough this week, let me offer him faint praise: His reaction to this episode of Ancient Aliens is for the most part spot-on, citing the almost purposeful omission of Jack Kirby, a man who had a lifelong interest in ancient astronauts and intentionally introduced them into the comic book universe: “This was a golden opportunity--a major architect of today’s pop culture who was also obsessed with ancient astronauts—and they blew it. Just blew it.” Ah, but that’s the whole point: In the world of Ancient Aliens it is never individuals who introduce concepts, for to acknowledge the role of the individual is to call into question the very foundations of ancient astronautics. If a single person could influence a genre, then surely ancient astronautics, too, must originate from individuals’ work, thus opening it to criticism and shattering the illusion of a unified mutual appreciation society of ancient astronaut theorists pursuing a prima facie correct worldview.
Now that I have praised Knowles, it is my duty to report that he also seems to imply that to understand his more complex view of the zeitgeist, Theosophy, and aliens one must take hallucinogenic drugs:
I could be wrong, but Ancient Aliens comes across as a show for people who’ve never had an alien experience, for people who’ve never tripped balls and ripped at the coffin lid of infinity, or for people who’ve never had such an experience forced upon them.
He is critical of Ancient Aliens for its “materialism,” which goes to show that he wasn’t kidding in his blog post about letting the episodes pile up on his DVR. Ancient Aliens went full-on Theosophical years ago and is constantly spewing claims about meeting trans-dimensional geniuses who will rapture us to the planets of heaven in their UFOs.
Let me conclude with one more on Knowles’s howlers:
Go back and watch all the AAT documentaries from the 70s, with Rod Serling and William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy and so on and so forth. Even if you don't believe a word of it, that stuff still holds up and still kicks ass. And you definitely get the feeling that those motherfuckers were experienced.
Knowles seems to react to style over substance, to Serling’s dramatic intonation and Nimoy’s monotone imitation of a midcentury science documentary narrator. What “experience” does he credit to either man? It certainly wasn’t deep experience with ancient astronauts. Rod Serling talked about this in his forward to Alan and Sally Landsburg’s In Search of Ancient Mysteries (1974), where he wrote that he had no idea what ancient astronauts were until Alan Landsburg, his producer, asked him to narrate In Search of Ancient Astronauts, the documentary Knowles references above:
More than a year ago Alan called me and said he wanted to see me about something new that he was getting into, something about visitors from outer space. Frankly, it sounded like something injected through a needle into a major vein. I have always looked to Alan for new and fresh ideas but here I found him vaguely alluding to a “Twilight Zone” type of program, a well-plowed field in the demi-world of fantasy, which seemed to me stale and overdone. It was only out of a sense of friendship that I sat down to discuss Alan’s “outer space” idea.
Serling here alludes to the ancient aliens of H. P. Lovecraft and his circle, whose stories Serling knew and loved, as did his fractious partner on Night Gallery, Jack Laird. But note that Serling says he had no exposure to nonfiction ancient astronauts until his producer introduced the concept just before adapting the German Chariots of the Gods documentary for American TV in 1973. Serling claimed Landsburg converted him to ancient astronautics (“I now think that it is highly possible that man had his genesis somewhere in outer space.”)—though how much of this was puffery, it’s hard to say (Serling only agreed to narrate because NBC was about to cancel Night Gallery and Serling needed a new project and a quick paycheck)—but the point remains: The sense of experience and authority Knowles reads into these old documentaries comes more from the old “voice of God” style of narration than from the actual content, from style rather than substance.
Speaking of style, you’ll get a kick out of the back cover of In Search of Ancient Mysteries, which has the kind of bombast that you don’t get as much today. It sums up what Ancient Aliens and its stars think of themselves when it calls the book “the most explosive inquiry into man’s beginnings since Darwin challenged the Bible!”
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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