Tonight’s episode, “Area 52,” is yet another in a growing string of recent episodes that focus on modern events rather than the show’s titular ancient history. As such, it is a boring episode for me. I have never been terribly interested in modern UFO conspiracies and listening to uninformed fantasists speculate about U.S. government activities is tiresome. The first segment describes the CIA’s acknowledgement of the existence of Area 51 in 2013, which was somewhat anticlimactic since the base has been an obvious U.S. government facility and test site for decades. The CIA did not have anything to say about space aliens, and to my mind the fact that U.S. military tested planes at the site explains much of the so-called “UFO” activity at the site. The show repeats unproven claims by alleged Area 51 workers that the base reverse engineers crashed UFOs, but these are just stories, from people without facts.
Ancient Aliens sent Giorgio Tsoukalos—still described as the “publisher” of the defunct Legendary Times magazine, and still dressing as Indiana Jones on the brown acid—to Nevada to scope out Area 51. His elocution lessons seem to be taking hold, however, since his conversations about flying saucer research at Area 51 are much less accented than when he did similar field pieces for In Search of Aliens four years ago. You can tell how interesting I found this speculation since I paid virtually no attention to the wild claims about whether Area 51 has been superseded by even more secret military installations, and whether Area 51 is now a “decoy” used to lure ufologists to the wrong location.
The second segment sends Tsoukalos to Area 51 on snowy March day to descend into an abandoned mine to look for evidence that the U.S. government has used such mines to create an underground tunnel network and series of subterranean facilities for research into extraterrestrials. The segment mixes fact and fiction. There are certainly some underground U.S. facilities. But the idea that they are all connected through a web of underground train systems (i.e., subways) all across the country is speculative at best and outright fictional at worst. It seems to be a modernization of the earlier claim from ancient astronaut theorists that space aliens built a network of tunnels to connect power centers across the Americas, which in turn was derived from speculative material Helena Blavatsky willed into being in Isis Unveiled, attributing a network of tunnels to people from Atlantis. (It was a heavily exaggerated version of stories that circulated in the Spanish colonial era about tunnels the Inca had used to transport treasure.) Only now the U.S. government has taken the place of Atlantis and the aliens. Anyway, the segment is notably low on content, basically repeating the same single idea—there are underground tunnels!—over and over again.
The third segment discusses Wright Patterson Air Force Base, where Linda Moulton Howe alleges some of the most important experimentation on aliens and their craft occurred. This, of course, demands another discussion of the supposed Roswell crash, which even many ufologists now admit was not an alien spacecraft, since the classic form of the Roswell crash story had the crashed debris brought to Wright Patterson for analysis. You mileage with this segment will vary depending on how much credence you give to the decrepit Roswell story, debunked so many times that it really seems like Ancient Aliens is trying to say something by defiantly refusing to engage with logic and reason at all. Wright Patterson was also the home of the Air Force’s midcentury investigation of UFOs, including Project Blue Book, which determined that there was nothing extraterrestrial about them. We hear from a supposed whistleblower that there are aliens at Wright Patterson, and we hear that their bodies are used for paranormal investigations into psychic phenomena—an indication that the underlying motive behind fabricated stories of aliens isn’t scientific but rather supernatural, to touch, however imperfectly, a power beyond the earthly.
I do want to mention, though, that in these segments Ancient Aliens mixed genuine footage, recreations, and computer-generated images promiscuously, without clearly identifying which pieces of footage are real and which are artistic impressions. This is deceptive and should have been better clarified.
The fourth segment recycles material about the Montauk, Long Island military facility that once existed there before being decommissioned in 1981. According to conspiracy theorists, there are secret underground facilities beneath the rotting superstructure of the former base. I can’t recall offhand if Ancient Aliens has covered this before (though they must have), but it did appear in the History Channel’s Time Beings time travel conspiracy theory show two years ago. Since no one on the show bothers to provide evidence that any facility exists beneath the Montauk base, much less that alien technology being researched there can be used to create psychic phenomena, there is really nothing to say other than the fact that Ancient Aliens talking heads are willing to accept whatever anybody says, so long as it promises to be a secret that some vague they don’t want you to know.
At this point, 42 minutes into the hour, the producers remembered that they need to connect this to ancient history in some way, so they suggest that the experiments in Montauk resemble the flying feathered throne of Ptah, upon which Ptah created reality with the power of his mind. I am not familiar with any myth that said Ptah’s throne flew, or had feathers, but I am not familiar enough with all of the literature to know for certain. The standard sources don’t make immediate mention of it in the limited research I could do in the few minutes after the segment aired. Ptah was a demiurge, so he did indeed think reality into existence in the Memphite theology.
The fifth segment reaches back (again) to the first episode of this season to review the Pentagon’s UFO investigation with Bigelow Aerospace, and we get a shorter version of what the series took two hours to discuss back in S13E01. They add a new spin this time, a new layer of conspiracy. According to the show, Bigelow wasn’t the recipient of government largess because of the influence of a powerful friend. Sen. Harry Reid; instead, Bigelow was “cleverly” assigned UFO research to avoid the Freedom of Information Act, since private companies are not subject to FOIA. But FOIA also has exemptions for national security, which, if there really were aliens invading us, would certainly apply. This seems like a post hoc rationalization. We get some references to the supposed alien alloys Bigelow is investigating, mixing together claims made by Jacques Vallée for a supposedly different set of space rocks having unexpected isotopic ratios with claims made by DeLonge’s group about their fantastical or propulsive properties that have never been confirmed. It’s all mixed together and attributed to no source, presented instead as obvious and plain fact.
The final segment talks about private space exploration, and it suggests that these companies are secretly operating at the behest of the American government. According to the show, the government has secret evidence that Mars was once the home of ancient space aliens, and to hide this, they have parceled out the research among these private corporations so that no one has the complete picture or could therefore figure out that aliens are involved. Stop and think about what that means—the best scientists in the private and public sectors can’t figure out what the motley crew of ancient astronaut theorists are able to see instantly. Ancient astronaut theorists think a lot of themselves.
… And that’s a wrap on the first half of season 13. Ancient Aliens is taking a good chunk of the summer off and will return on July 20. That means I will get some time off, too. Enjoy your Friday nights.
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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