Can you make an inexpensive knockoff of Ancient Aliens entirely out of recycled content, stock footage, interviews with deluded lunatics, and internet rumors? If you answered “yes,” then you are a History Channel executive.
The History Channel aired a new special Friday night after their flagship pseudohistory program Ancient Aliens. Time Beings: Extreme Time Travel Conspiracies attempts to ape Ancient Aliens in a number of ways, most notably the use of a sound-alike narrator who resembles Robert Clothworthy, the voice of Ancient Aliens, not just in tenor but also in intonation and pacing. The show also makes use of talking heads and rhetorical questions to speculate on the possibility of time travel just as that other show discusses aliens. The opening credits are modeled on those of Ancient Aliens, with a very similar typeface, albeit less polished and apparently quite cheaply assembled. As with Ancient Aliens, the program is composed almost entirely of stock footage, though this show is cheaper and relies on still photographs where Ancient Aliens either buys or commissions video.
The talking heads for the show include conspiracy theorists and fringe figures, such as Jimmy Church, alongside self-described futurists, just like on Ancient Aliens. Also present is Ben McGee from NatGeo’s Chasing UFOs, now providing one of only skeptical perspectives in the show (despite heavy editing). The show never goes into the epistemological and philosophical issues surrounding time travel (though MGee discussed them, some of which leaks through in truncated and edited form) and instead signals its plan to ask whether space aliens and UFOs are “really” time travelers.
According to Larry Flaxman, a paranormal researcher who appears on the show, the one-off special was intended as the pilot for a future time travel series but has been sitting on the shelf for almost a year, likely due to the closure of the H2 channel, where such programming once aired.
The program’s “evidence” for time travel is essentially a bunch of internet rumors, punctuated with “believers say yes” and references to “time travel theory.” The first time traveler is the alleged “hipster” from the 1940s, and the show at least acknowledges that the “hipster” isn’t a time traveler. The second time traveler is the woman from a Charlie Chaplin movie who is holding a portable hearing aid, but which Church alleges is a cell phone. Later, they will ask whether photographs of long dead people who resemble modern celebrities prove that people like Jay-Z are time travelers.
As with Ancient Aliens, the show focuses in on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, and here we are treated to its possibility for creating a “time phone” that would allow people to make phone calls to the past or future. The show then uses the exact same argument from the preceding hour of Ancient Aliens in which they argue that smartphones, being more powerful than the NASA computers used for the moon landing, therefore imply that future technology will advance to the level of time travel. Jimmy Church alleges that the U.S. government is in a conspiracy to hide their own use of time travel, centered in the Pentagon’s DARPA.
Having brought government conspiracies into play, naturally the show moves toward UFOs and government cover-ups of the same. This program speculates that the Roswell “UFO” crash was not, as the military maintains, a weather balloon but rather a time ship something like Rip Hunter’s Waverider on Legends of Tomorrow. “If UFOs exist,” talking head Alex Lightman says, “it is much more likely they are time travelers.” His qualifications for pontificating on time travel are remarkably light, given that his experience and interests are in running minor tech companies and promoting “social innovation.” I can’t see that he has ever done any significant research into the field the show presents him as an expert on. The more he talks, the nuttier he gets, until he is ranting about time travelers manipulating the “timeline” and providing us with computer technology as a “gift” in the 1940s. (Did he not know it was all aliens? That, after all, is what Ancient Aliens just finished telling us!)
In his PR material, Lightman claims that he produced a “national innovation plan” for the Obama Administration’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. What is wrong with our government? Can’t they keep the complete lunatics out? (In 2011, he merely claimed that Obama’s OSTP director requested a document from him, not that it was an official U.S. government action. At any rate, the resulting paper does not seem to have been published, and it turned out to be a celebration of the imaginative power of science fiction, if the white paper that shares the same name is identical with it.) He also claims to have presented to the OMB, the Defense Department, the UN, and NATO. While I can’t find any proof that he actually worked with the White House (the Office’s website is silent on him and his book), I did find that he has been delivering speculative quack-ish presentations to various official and semiofficial bodies, like this one to the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine discussing “Science Fiction as Natural Resource.” People actually pay to hear low-information bullshit?
Lightman claims that his greatest honor, and the most important one on his resume and on his homepage, is that he “won [the] first Economist magazine Reader’s Award.” In more detail, he claims that he received the Economist magazine’s 2010 Reader’s Choice Award for “The Innovation that will Most Radically Change the World over the Decade 2010 to 2020.” I figured that was as good a moment as any to actually check one of his claims. I inquired of the Economist and discovered that Lightman is a lying liar. Lightman was on hand at the Economist Innovation Summit in December 2010, where he delivered the acceptance speech for the Reader’s Award on behalf of the actual winner: “4G networking,” selected by an online poll of Economist readers “as the innovation with the greatest potential to change society in the coming decade.” The award was not given to him personally, or even in a general sense. He just gave the speech on behalf of 4G networking—at the Economist’s request before the ceremony—because he had written a 2002 book on 4G technology. (Each nominated technology had a speaker arranged to talk about it, should it have won.) Here’s video of 4G networks winning. “Accepting the award on behalf of the technology of 4G networks,” the event host says, “is Alex Lightman … probably the longest-standing advocate of 4G’s potential in the world. He wrote a book saying how great it would be eight years ago.”
How do we know he’s been intentionally lying (or has utterly deluded himself) for six years (most recently in a May radio appearance) about the Economist honoring him? Well, before the award was given out in 2010 he admitted on Facebook to understanding that he was not the recipient while actively seeking reader votes for 4G technology. That said, in his “acceptance” speech, he sounded a lot like he so identified with 4G technology that he seemed to really believe in that moment that he had won the award (which was simply an online poll—not an actual honor) rather than the technology.
I hope this nut never gets another TV appearance. He’s another J. Hutton Pulitzer in the making, and the History Channel should be ashamed to give him a platform to spin lies.
Anyway, back to the show: Church then returns to allege that the U.S. learned about transistors from the Roswell time ship. The show ignores the fact that World War II and the Cold War sparked tremendous research, but Lightman claims that “this democratizing technology was simply dropped into our laps like a gift” in 1947 because of Roswell. Seriously? You don’t see any sort of connection to the vast amounts of money and expertise dumped into science? Lightman of course does not, arguing that “someone is managing the timeline” to ensure that the correct scientific advances occur on schedule.
The program turns then to Nazism, because this is the History Channel. So we get material on the modern myth of the Nazi Bell, with South African bullshit artist Michael Tellinger, the ancient astronaut theorist, chiming in alongside Lightman. The material discussed here is the same as that from Ancient Aliens and In Search of Aliens, and computer animation used in the show is very similar to animation used in Ancient Aliens. While it seems to be independently constructed, the earlier version appears to be the clear inspiration for it. Needless to say, the show provides no evidence of Nazi time travel, instead sourcing their claims only to passive voice “reports” and things that “were said.” This is because the material was developed only in 2000 and has little to no basis in documentary or physical evidence. The only physical evidence is a structure dubbed “the henge,” the remains of a cooling tower that a Polish conspiracy theorist alleged was used as a launch pad for a time machine.
The narrator claims that the evidence remains in “the most closely guarded vaults of the U.S. military.” This is set up for the second half of the show, which focuses on more U.S. government conspiracy theories. The first is the long-debunked “Philadelphia Experiment,” the allegation that the U.S.S. Eldridge teleported for a few minutes in 1943. The story is a fraud, made up mostly from whole cloth by UFO writer Morris K. Jessup’s pseudonymous source “Carlos Allende.” Many believe Carlos Allende was actually Carl Allen, a Pennsylvania man with a documented history of mental illness. The talking heads speculate (or, in many cases, are edited to sound like they speculate) on how the time travel experiment took place, and the narrator ties it to Tesla (but of course). No one on the show is allowed to doubt that the Philadelphia Experiment occurred.
The next segment explores Camp Hero in Montauk, Long Island. This former U.S. government base is the focus for a number of conspiracy theories, ranging from human experimentation to genetic experimentation to time travel. Stewart Swerdlow, who claims to be descended from the first president of the Soviet Union, appears on the show to allege that he participated in time travel experiments in Montauk—and yet somehow lived to tell the tale. In real life, Swerdlow is a self-described psychic who claims to be able to see auras because (and I wish I were making this up) he is the product of genetic engineering from 22 different species of space alien. He says in his book Montauk: The Alien Connection that he is in psychic contact with space aliens and was on board the U.S.S. Eldridge while in the body of a German during the Philadelphia Experiment. He also runs a New Age and conspiracy website.
To give you a flavor of his crazy, consider his views in this interview:
There was literally a program going on where they captured some personalities and placed them in families where they’d never be suspected and believe it. Some are coming to remember who they were. Many Nazis were placed into new bodies. I am meeting some. Not all in Jewish bodies, just a percentage. They’ve had this technology for a very long time and they use it for themselves. The Royal Family of Britain use it for themselves. They feign their deaths and go into their own descendants. They have amazing technology. Rigelians use it a lot. They clone a lot of bodies and capture soul personalities to put in. Any species can use it. This is Sirius A technology.
He also believes his mother had no birth canal and that the U.S. government and space aliens genetically engineered his fetus, resulting in three souls existing within him. He’s an advocate of David Icke’s Reptilian conspiracy as well.
What in the name of all that true is wrong with the History Channel? The only saving grace is that they did not order this show to series—at least not yet.
In the final segment, the show reviews an internet hoax about a “Ming dynasty” miniature Swiss watch, a Photoshopped picture, and speculates that it is somehow real. It then follows Ancient Aliens in believing that Leonardo da Vinci could not possibly have been a true genius because people just can’t think that hard, and therefore he must have received his inspiration from otherworldly beings during his “lost years” of 1476-1478. This segment repeats speculation from the Ancient Aliens episode “The Da Vinci Conspiracy,” but replaces space aliens with time travelers. Jimmy Church alleges that Leonardo “did a drive by” of the future and used what he saw there to create his scientific advances. Lightman agrees that Leonardo could only have developed his scientific breakthroughs via time travel.
Time Beings was a cheap knockoff of Ancient Aliens, and I can only hope that ratings were low enough that History will not be tempted to give it a full series order. It manages to be even less original than Ancient Aliens, recycling the same content with different talking heads and swapping out time travelers for aliens.
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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