Welcome to the twelfth (!) season of Ancient Aliens, which at this point is less a TV show and more of a thought experiment in how a TV production crew of cockroaches might survive a nuclear holocaust that destroyed all facts, evidence, and reason. There isn’t much to say about this episode, “The Alien Hunters,” by way of preface, as it is as much as possible just more of the same. This episode hews away from the show’s title adjective in favor of its recent devolution into freshman dorm room bullshitting about anything vaguely related to space aliens.
The first segment discusses plans by scientists to survey the cosmos for signs of civilizations around other stars. Scientists have long believed it likely that life exists in other star systems, but that implies absolutely nothing about whether beings from those worlds came here, the claim that is the bread and butter of Ancient Aliens. Without any real connection to this opening, the show rehearses the early history of UFOs, starting in 1947 with Kenneth Arnold’s sighting, and from there they moved into other government investigations of flying saucers. While the show claims to rely on government documents to show that the government was involved in investigating Arnold’s sightings, but they tactfully refuse to acknowledge the results of the FBI’s investigation, namely that the flying saucer phenomenon was the result of mass hysteria born of science fiction publisher Ray Palmer’s efforts to link lights in the sky to Richard Shaver’s underground and spacefaring civilization. Those details I collected and published.
The show devotes a large amount of time to Air Force investigations and suggests a conspiracy and a coverup, but they omit the rather clear evidence that the FBI recorded that the Air Force encouraged the UFO mystery in order to obscure tests of secret aircraft and possibly Soviet spy missions. This explanation, which is the only plausible reading of the FBI’s files, neatly explains the entire “conspiracy” that Ancient Aliens suggests is located in the heart of the Air Force, but it goes unmentioned.
The second segment talks about ancient astronomical abilities, particularly the advanced mathematics that the Babylonians used to trace the movements of Jupiter. The narrator scoffs at the idea that the Babylonians could understand math, particularly a precursor to calculus. However, the show is more interested in why ancient peoples cared about the movements of the sun, moon, stars, and planets. Giorgio Tsoukalos expresses wonder that there are “at least 10” ancient observatories that use stones to track the heavens. Why? he asks. The sky was the ancient world’s clock and calendar, but that answer isn’t enough for Tsoukalos, who says that building observatories is “innate in our soul” because it recalls our prehistoric connection to “the same” group of “extraterrestrials.”
A change in perspective will make clear the folly of the claim: Why are modern people so obsessed with tracking time, adding leap seconds and calculating minutes down to fractions of a second? Could it be because they were trying to reconnect with ancient time travelers? Of course not. Your wristwatch is not evidence of a cult worshiping time travelers, and their calendrical observatories imply nothing about visitors from the stars. The argument the show makes is illogical—or, rather, it is pathos masquerading as ethos, using the artistic elements of TV to gloss over failures of argumentation.
Same old, same old.
The third segment describes an alleged flying saucer sighting in Wisconsin in the 1930s, though it was not recorded until decades later. This was the sighting UFO researcher Coral Lorenzen had as a girl, and this alleged sighting inspired her to start an amateur UFO investigation group, APRO. It inspired later imitators like NICAP, MUFON, etc. NICAP’s founder was a former director of the CIA, and he advocated for scientific investigation of the phenomenon. The show makes much of the idea that the government refused to acknowledge that UFOs were alien spacecraft, but this is not the same as saying that there is no “UFO phenomenon,” strictly speaking. For example, Karl Shuker’s fanciful speculation in the 1990s that some UFOs were aerial jellyfish-like animals would offer an explanation that is both bizarre and beyond our current knowledge, but without recourse to space aliens. In other words, there are many ways to think about the issue beyond the false dichotomy of “alien” / nonexistent. Only by collapsing the question into a false dichotomy can Ancient Aliens spin a dark conspiracy out of midcentury Americans’ genuine curiosity about things they did not understand. The segment concludes by asking if space aliens buzzed the founders of UFO societies with their flying saucers in order to inspire them to found UFO societies decades later. Apparently they can plan decades ahead for useless trivialities but can’t be bothered to actually do anything useful by, say, beaming their genius-making rays into the minds of future presidential candidates.
The fourth segment looks at instances where scientists briefly thought that anomalous radio signals might have come from space aliens. While this is an interesting subject in its own right, it has nothing to do with ancient astronauts. Seth Shostak of the SETI institute appeared on the show with Giorgio Tsoukalos, giving him a tour of radio telescopes. There is some rich irony here since Shostak, whom I met briefly years ago, disapproves of the ancient astronaut theory. In fact, he appeared before Congress in 2014 to blast Ancient Aliens, yet somehow the siren song of cable TV lured him back to the show once again (after appearances from 2012 to 2014), and in an enhanced role talking to Tsoukalos himself, whose ideas he once laughed at in front of Congress. What would possess him to lend himself to enhance the credibility of a man who embodies everything he claims to disapprove of when it comes to the search for aliens? We can only speculate.
After this, the show discusses the star whose light dimmed, prompting suggestions that an alien megastructure surrounded it. The show stops its research in 2015, apparently because in 2016 further research proposed that the actual reason for the dimming wasn’t aliens but the collision of the star with a planet. I talked about this the other day.
The fifth segment discusses the elderly Paul Hellyer, the former Canadian defense minister who believes that Earth has been visited by many different species of space alien. The show has featured him before, and it declines once again to reveal the fact that Hellyer developed this conviction four decades after leaving office, when he became obsessed with a Peter Jennings UFO special on TV. The whole story is very sad, but the fact that his belief comes directly from a TV show—by his own admission!—is enough to discount the claim that he has any special knowledge of space aliens.
Following this, the show reviews military plans for Project Horizon, a fanciful 1959 blueprint for a military base on the moon. The military never went further than a report on whether such a base might be possible, but the show instead spins a myth that such a base might really exist and that all of the plans were designed to guard against space aliens. Jason Martell suggests that the Cold War was a sham and that the U.S. and Russia have long worked together to create planetary defenses against aggressive UFOs. This sort of revisionist history would be laughable if (a) it didn’t involve waiving aside all of the deaths of the men and women who gave their lives in America’s proxy wars against Russia and in espionage against the same, and (b) it didn’t have unwelcome echoes of the Russian propaganda that keeps bubbling up in ancient astronaut claims, from 1950s and 1960s Soviet attempts to create support for the ancient astronaut theory to more recent Russian government support for a panoply of ancient astronaut and fringe history claims, all in the interest of delegitimizing Western cultural narratives.
The final segment rhapsodizes about the scientific search for life on other planets and how you, too, can use your computer to help look for planets around other stars. But there remains a very difficult gulf to bridge between life on far distant worlds and the claim that such life visited our planet. The show doesn’t care to engage with this question but simply lets us assume that they must be able to do so, though no evidence or even calculations in support of such a claim were presented. Once again elision and emotion take the place of evidence. It is, in the end, just another episode of Ancient Aliens, but with 90% fewer ancient alien, and a lot more nebulous modern UFOs.
Finally, a reminder: My new blog schedule runs Tuesday to Saturday. This review counts as my Saturday post, and I will post again on Tuesday.
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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