I have three topics today. Two are short, and one is my review of The Curse of Oak Island.
First, if you subscribe to my email newsletter, you’ve already seen this link to an interview I did with Matt Staggs over at RandomHouse’s suvudu.com about Cthulhu in World Mythology. Be sure to check it out! After many, many delays, Atomic Overmind has scheduled the release of the eBook for the beginning of February and the print book at the end of February.
BIBLICAL INERRANCY VS. CABLE TV MYSTERIES
I’d like to direct your attention to a strange conversation happening over on author Karla Akins’s website. Akins is a Christian author of novels about faith published by the Pelican Book Group, a Christian publishing house, and historical biographies distributed by KnowledgeQuest, Inc. for use by homeschooling parents. She is upset KnowledgeQuest won’t let her include fringe history research in her books for children: “I write biographies for middle grades, and it’s frustrating that my research can’t always be included in my work because it’s not substantiated by so-called experts.”
She would like publishers to accept Scott Wolter as a legitimate expert in history.
But here’s where things get interesting.
Akins loves Scott Wolter’s work—and Ancient Aliens!—but is struggling to reconcile her faith with her interest in Wolter’s claims. After “buying everything” Scott Wolter wrote and watching every episode of America Unearthed, she wants to know whether it’s appropriate for Christians to investigate the mysteries of the Hooked X® even though it is associated with Gnostic heresies. (In so doing, she wonders why Columbus used a “Hooked X®” in his signature, while completely missing the Hooked Y just two letters over: It’s a penmanship issue related to starting the ink flowing when using a quill.)
What say you? Does it offend you that I study the Hooked X and its implications? As a Christian should I stay away from such mysteries? Or should Christians be able to discern sound doctrine and be able to argue effectively against false teachings?
In response, most readers told her that there wasn’t anything wrong with investigating this because she tests all claims against scripture. One even said that it was interesting that she has chosen to learn about “the world” and that this can help her see through false secular teachings. One reader said he loves Ancient Aliens even though he is a Christian, and Akins responded: “I like me some ‘Ancient Aliens,’ too, but I’m always yelling at the TV: ‘of course there are aliens! They’re called demons!’”
The comments are fascinating but, to my mind, disturbing in the insularity they reveal.
THE CURSE OF OAK ISLAND
Against my better judgment, I checked out the first episode of The Curse of Oak Island, a History channel series from Prometheus Entertainment, the company that brought you Ancient Aliens and narrated by the same narrator as Ancient Aliens. The documentary opens with video shot last winter as the sizzle reel to get funding for the rest of the show, which was shot months later, in the summer. The episode is atmospheric, if overproduced, full of flying graphics, still shots of magazine articles, and loud horror-movie music.
We follow two brothers, Marty and Rick Lagina, who plan to look for buried treasure on the island, but the show itself doesn’t really go into much detail about the story of Oak Island except for a brief overview at the beginning of the episode in which the brothers give a rather superficial discussion of the many discoveries found on the island. They review several “theories” of what’s buried down there, including the treasure of the Knights Templar, the lost works of Shakespeare, etc., but don’t really spend much time thinking about them. That’s fine as far as I’m concerned because I don’t find the mystery very interesting. I think that Joe Nickell had it right back in 2000 when he explained the mystery by claiming that the island is an abandoned Freemason initiation site in use in the early nineteenth century for enacting the “secret vault” mystery. The supposed “platforms” are probably layers of logs washed periodically into a naturally-occurring (and still growing) sinkhole.
The brothers plan to dig to see if they can find artifacts that predate 1800, for doing so would suggest that there is a genuine mystery in the island. The brothers announce that they have invested millions of dollars investigating the island (they own the corporation that owns most of the island) and hope to recoup it someday—and I guess being paid for a TV show is a good start. The two seem much more grounded than any of the Ancient Aliens stars, or Scott Wolter, and seem to be interested in investigating in an archaeologically sound, or at least somewhat responsible, way. (The island is so full of old excavations that it is a big mess.) Interestingly, the government of Nova Scotia has designated Oak Island a special archaeological zone that allows treasure hunting with a permit, unique in the province.
After an inconclusive winter dig, they return for summer digging, and here the narrative becomes the story of the two brothers’ excavation and more or less lost my interest because I’m not a huge fan of procedural documentaries where we watch people do work. I know a lot of people like watching people work—cable is full of truckers and lumberjacks and fishers—but it’s not my speed. As an example of its genre, it’s as good as I’d expect.
Like other shows in both the ancient mysteries and outdoor work genres, there is an emphasis on masculinity; one senior citizen is described by the narrator as the kind of man “other men call tough as nails.” Everyone on this show is male, and in focusing on the relationship between two brothers and their circle of all-male friends (most of whom have financial investments in the island and its mysteries), there is a sociological undercurrent reflective of the observation that men bond by doing and that this shared activity serves to unite them. All of the men seem to genuinely like one another, and I wonder if finding the “truth” about Oak Island might end up being more disappointing that having a “mystery” that they can keep investigating together.
Unlike on Ancient Aliens, the narrator is not histrionic, dutifully calling any subterranean structures “alleged” structures. (Nickell says they are fallen trees and driftwood.) There are, though, more than a few “Could it be…?” constructions. However, if I had to nitpick, I’d prefer that the narration use “ancient” less casually because calling an “alleged” subterranean beam “ancient” presupposes something genuinely old is located beneath the island.
If you like watching people use machines and dig holes, then you probably had a much better time with this program than I did. It seems to be a decent program documenting what genuinely curious investigators are doing to discover the “truth” about Oak Island. I, though, won’t be following their adventures week to week. I don’t have the time to watch other people have fun digging holes, and there isn’t enough information in the course of an hour to make it worth my time. Had they found anything worth noticing, we’d have heard by now.
Marty Lagina sums up the Oak Island mystery by noting that Oak Island researchers’ common denominator is “obsession,” but Rick Lagina sums up the show by telling Marty that his obsession is entirely because he wants to find the truth “for you, for us.” This isn’t really a show about Oak Island. It’s a show about brotherly love and male bonding. I already have a brother, so I think I’ll leave this one be.
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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