The show opens with this past June’s Alien Con, the three-day convention the History channel put on to promote Ancient Aliens as a fringe science and science fiction lifestyle brand. The first scene shows the stars of Ancient Aliens asking the audience how many felt that they had been abducted by aliens, and a disturbingly large number of people raised their hands, though of course there is no way to know how honest they are being. We listen to a number of audience members share their abduction stories, which reflect the same pattern seen in other so-called abduction narratives, patterns that reflect the sort of waking dreams people experience near sleep. Linda Moulton Howe provides a description of a typical abduction, including sleep paralysis, the sensation of floating away from one’s bed, and waking up after the dream ends. Nick Pope says that there are only two possibilities: that alien abductions are real or a mass delusion. I don’t really know how to take this as seriously as the show wants me to since I have had had the same experience, and recognized it as a dream. I woke up and the dream ended without me actually having ever left my bed.
Giorgio Tsoukalos claims that Abrahamic accounts of patriarchs meeting with fiery chariots and flying godly thrones are in fact extraterrestrial encounters. The show illustrates this with an image of Muhammad riding his heavenly horse Buraq to Jerusalem during his Night Journey, and I am not sure if the show recognizes that this is what they are showing, or if it means to say that Islam’s prophet was abducted by aliens or rode what I guess must be the UFO version of a motorcycle.
The second segment features Mike Barra interviewing a self-described abduction experiencer in Massachusetts who claimed to have been abducted in September 1969. It’s difficult to say anything about this since the story is fifty years old and made of a number of different parts that may or may not be related. Two hundred and fifty people claimed to see a UFO that day, but seeing a light in the sky doesn’t necessarily mean that Thom Reed was abducted by space aliens. The governor of Massachusetts issued a proclamation to recognize the supposed importance of the incident. Cool story, bro, but the pieces don’t add up to proof.
The third segment returns to Alien Con to hear more stories of abductions, this time focusing on the phenomenon of missing time, and Caroline Cory endorses the long-debunked idea that hypnotic regression can “recover” suppressed memories of alien abduction. Modern research has found that this kind of hypnotic regression can create false memories when the therapist and the subject unconsciously work together to generate false narratives, as happened in the satanic ritual abuse panic of the 1980s. We then watch a session where Cory helps a client to use hypnosis to describe his decade-old abduction event. To be totally honest, the subject doesn’t seem terribly hypnotized, and he speaks rather fluidly, gesturing, and holding on conversation where it seems in the brief clips we see as though he is creating the narrative on the fly. It’s a story, but without proof, it is just a story.
The fourth segment has Nick Pope take an experiencer to have his brain waves measured. The idea is supposed to be that the EEG would prove whether the experiencer’s memories of his abduction are consistent with genuine memories rather than imagined stories. But this does not, as the narrator suggests, prove that the memories reflect actual alien abduction events. Instead, at best, they prove that the experiencer believes he was abducted by aliens and has processed whatever happened as an alien abduction. But I have very deep memories of dreams that I have had, and in recalling these dreams, they would almost certainly appear as memories since I would be accessing my memories of the dream, not speculating about the fantasy that created them. Unless we can distinguish somehow between memories of mental events that someone genuinely believes are true and memories of events that happened in the real world, this is another useless pseudoscientific attempt to give the cover of science to the unproven.
The fifth segment recounts the infamous Betty and Barney Hill abduction, which I mentioned above as the product of the couple’s exposure to science fiction programs including The Outer Limits, whose episodes in the weeks before their hypnosis sessions contained all of the elements that Barney Hill alleged under hypnosis had occurred not on television but to him. Betty Hill was quite the fantasist, often creating new claims seemingly at will. We hear that Betty’s sister and other family members also imagined themselves alien abductees. The show suggests that this proves that aliens are monitoring human bloodlines, though more likely it suggests that the fantasy-prone personality trait has a genetic basis.
The show then suggests that aliens are the same as demons and therefore incubi and succubi are really aliens. Somehow this spirals into the conspiracy theory that “Rh-negative” blood is a marker of alien hybridization. The show covered this a few times in season 11, with only indifferent attention to detail, and here Tsoukalos claims that “Darwinian” evolution can’t account for the transition from Homo sapiens to Homo sapiens sapiens, and he adds a third “sapiens” to describe the alien hybrids he feels are coming soon. The show never bothers to explain its ideas, and it seems to assume that its viewers are already believes in the alien nature of Rh-negative blood.
The final segment takes us back to Alien Con to hear from another self-described abductee, who sadly describes his family as all being abductees and his childhood as full of missing time and frightening events. There is clearly something going on there, but I don’t think it was alien abduction, and it seems cruel to expose these people on television. Another abductee speaks of the relief he felt in sharing his story. Tsoukalos says that it is “a very difficult thing” to admit to abduction publicly, and I can’t help but feel sad that so many people stood up to confess to alien abductions and felt relief at talking about their beliefs. It’s hard not to think that a country with a more robust mental health system and more readily available services would ease their burden more than a for-profit convention of celebrity alien enthusiasts.
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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