It looks like our old friend Giorgio Tsoukalos has gone on tour again, racking up cash payments to spout predigested catchphrases from Ancient Aliens and perhaps also deliver his standard PowerPoint presentation. Tsoukalos is set to appear tonight at the Hamburg Music Festival in Buffalo, New York, where audiences will pay $35 apiece to listen to him discuss ambiguous evidence for space aliens in what is billed as “a mind-bending, brain busting evening of deep space mystery and Ancient Astronaut exploration.” I’m sure that the promotional team didn’t mean the accidental honesty of admitting that listening to Tsoukalos will cause one’s brain to break down, but we’ll spot them the gaffe.
In anticipation of tonight’s performance, Tsoukalos gave an interview to Buffalo’s Artvoice newspaper in which he discussed the ancient astronaut theory, in almost exactly the same words he always uses. He uses so many of them, in fact, that it’s kind of boring to read Tsoukalos’s interviews. It’s also bizarre that Tsoukalos still describes himself as the editor and publisher of Legendary Times, a magazine that isn’t publicly available and whose website lists no current issue, with the back issues ending in 2008. I had looked into this in 2011, when the latest issue I could find was from 2009. That one disappeared now, too. That’s not to say that Tsoukalos’s fan club members don’t still get their Legendary Times newsletter (I have no way of knowing), but that it’s hardly the credential he pretends it to be.
There were a few new tidbits that were interesting, particularly given Tsoukalos’s propensity to pretend to be things he is not. Listen to Tsoukalos describe his research methods: “I am referencing the works of highly intelligent, knowledgeable academics,” he said. How might that be? Tsoukalos has written no books, produced virtually no articles aside from the forewords to a handful of ancient astronaut tomes, and has virtually no web presence. His entire intellectual output is largely confined to pronouncements on Ancient Aliens, which he has admitted in past interviews come from research provided to him by the show’s producers and Google searches. It’s also obvious from his pattern of repeating Erich von Däniken’s errors that a not-insignificant number of his claims are repeated almost verbatim from his mentor von Däniken’s many books.
Here’s how Artvoice tried to explain the ancient astronaut theory, from a suggestion by Tsoukalos: “Think about how you would explain the internet to someone from the 1800s. An all omniscient entity that is everywhere and nowhere and the same time? Sound familiar? That’s because it sounds like a god or some sort of magic.” Leave aside the redundancy of “all omniscient.” I’m pretty sure a Victorian, possessed of telegraph and telephone, could understand the concept of sending a message electronically. The fax machine was invented in 1843. This failure of research speaks to a larger problem: Fringe writers routinely imagine people of the past, even the recent past, as being extraordinarily stupid. Frankly, the idea that people of the past could not imagine the idea of going to a screen to get any information in the world is just silly. Here is the Akhbar al-zaman from around 1000 CE imagining just such a science-fiction device as the iPad with Wi-Fi: “He (Surid) built a mirror of a compound substance in which he saw the climates of the world with their inhabited parts and deserted parts and everything that happened in them” (2.2, my trans.). Allowing for translation differences in the editions used to render it into English, the tale is given from the same source in Murtada ibn al-‘Afif’s History of Egypt: “He caused to be made a Mirrour of all sorts of Minerals, wherein they saw all the Climats, where there was abundance of Provisions or Sterility, and what new accident happen’d in any of the Coasts of Egypt” (trans. John Davies). The same story is repeated nearly verbatim in Al-Maqrizi’s Al-Khitat: “He made wonderful things; among which was a mirror of mixed metal, in which he would observe the countries, and know in it the occurrences that happened, and what was abundant in them, and what was scarce” (trans. In the Quarterly Review, 1859). Given that such texts have been circulating for a thousand years, it’s hard to imagine that the ancients, medievals, or moderns were incapable of imagining the internet. To think otherwise suggests a bias that informs much of the ancient astronaut “research.”
Anyway, the most interesting thing in the interview was the final discussion in which Tsoukalos more or less conceded that his investigation into aliens isn’t really about finding space creatures. After all, if he were really on the trail of aliens—the greatest discovery in human history—wouldn’t you think he and his fellow “ancient astronaut theorists” would be doing more than merely visiting tourist destinations and spouting nonsense into cameras? Wouldn’t they be trying to do more if they thought that they really knew how to reach out to benevolent space gods? No matter. The real purpose is political, to create a myth that will serve human ends:
I think it allows you to view yourself as a citizen of this planet instead of just one particular country or culture. In the end, what we as a global society seem to have forgotten is that we’re on this blue dot together. For the moment, there is nowhere else to go. I think exploring the extraterrestrial question can lead to many positive changes and ideas to many of the problems and issues we presently face. It’s cooperation, not competition.
Far be it from me to point out that his vision directly mirrors his own experience, specifically as a Greek man raised in Switzerland and educated in the United States, and as a self-described political liberal who makes money from American, Latin American, and Asian marketing of his kumbaya prescription for alien-induced globalism. I might also point out that his mentor, Erich von Däniken, did not benefit as much from globalization in the 1970s, when the international media attacked him as a fraud and convicted embezzler, and the restrictive organs of commerce of the time robbed him of massive royalty payments (which went instead to his German publisher. Von Däniken instead saw the ancient astronaut theory as a political weapon to promote a specific political philosophy, his own arch-conservatism, in order to oppose socialism and forestall cooperation with conservatives’ socialist enemies.
We see, in other words, that the pseudoscience is just another vehicle for the individual’s ideology and agenda, largely divorced from the notion of facts.
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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