Today I’m visiting family, and they get Destination America, the digital-tier cable channel that currently broadcasts a slate of paranormal programming and rural-themed cultural shows aimed at what Sarah Palin famously called “the real America,” non-urban areas. You don’t have to take my word for that. Check out their programming, shows about Alaskan railroads, barbecue, monsters of the South, bars, the bayou, logging, ghosts, bacon, demonic possession, etc.
Or, more offically, Discovery Communications specifically targeted the network at “Middle America” and men, code for conservatives living in places between the East Coast and West Coast liberal elites. “We became convinced there was an opening there to build a channel based on middle America, strong values, behavior and customs,” Discovery CEO David Zaslav told USA Today in 2012, sounding like an anthropologist studying a strange and foreign tribe. The president of the network, Henry Schleiff, said the channel would focus on optimism.
So what does the Silver Spring, Maryland-based Discovery Communications think Middle American conservative men want on the day after Christmas? They want to be scared out of their skulls that evil liberal extraterrestrials are trying to kill them by invading their homes and using the U.S. government to promote a sexually-libertine hybridization agenda that would corrupt our precious bodily fluids... no, wait, our racial purity... no... well, something like that. That’s right: They’re showing a marathon of Unsealed: Alien Files, the dark id to H2’s more fantastical Ancient Aliens. I also had to spend much of Christmas Eve watching Fox News with my grandfather, a huge fan of the channel. In an hour of Gretchen Carlson, I counted at least ten different claims of impending disaster, and it was depressing to see my 97-year-old grandfather expressing concern that he learned “from the Fox News” that every element of civilization is in danger of imminent collapse, that Christmas was going to be banned, and that “we” are in danger of “losing” our country. (Carlson also had on a rabbi to explain why it was patriotic for American Jews to celebrate Christmas.) All TV news relies on fear to draw ratings, but cable news turns fear into an art. Unsealed: Alien Files fits right in to the same fear-oriented programming aimed at conservative audiences, where everything is an impending apocalypse and disaster lurks around every corner unless traditional bedrock American values of independence, thrift, and faith are constantly reaffirmed. Regardless of your political beliefs, the constant focus on fear cannot be healthy, especially for heavy viewers of this programming.
I sat down this morning to watch an episode of Unsealed, and like the last time I caught the show it was a miserable slog through an irresponsible half hour of blatant propaganda designed to create fear and unease in order to keep the audience watching.
Unsealed: Alien Files “Alien Plagues” opens with a discussion of UFOs in Brazil with John Greenewald, Jr., the program’s usual uninformed pundit. In June 2012, 500 penguins (it was really 745) died in Brazil, and Steve Murillo asks whether the penguins’ deaths were related to UFO sightings weeks earlier. Officially, scientists concluded they died of natural causes due to being young and inexperienced in rough waters. Bill Birnes connects the penguin deaths to mass die-outs of birds across the United States, and the narrator asks us if the birds are being killed by UFOs. There is no reason to connect any of the events, and mass die offs are commonplace, but the show leaves out all information that could contradict the narrative of endless fear.
Ancient Aliens pundit Jason Martell shows up on this competing program to suggest that the Black Death was caused by aliens, something that Greenewald assures us was a very serious disease. The narrator tells us that those who were dying of the Black Death saw portents of bronze shields or comets in the sky, and Greenewald tells us that the Black Death came from outer space. The narrator also tells us that images of the black-clad men with scythes from the period of the Black Death were the first invasion of the Men in Black. I’m afraid I can’t find any texts describing bronze shields in connection with the Black Death, though they were standard portents used in Classical sources such as Livy. Boccaccio, in the Decameron, suggested that the plague originated in the heavens, though he meant it astrologically, not biologically.
Greenewald calls the Black Death genocide, “if” aliens really did send it to us. After the commercial, Martell tells us that pandemics are genetically engineered to reduce the human population. I was not aware that aliens were in league with the New World Order. Greenewald likens it to the smallpox blankets distributed to Native Americans, which the show chooses to illustrate with a medieval image of the bubonic plague.
However, the show isn’t really able to keep up this line of speculation, lest we think too hard about it, so instead it tells us about red rain that fell in India in 2001. Birnes tells us that the rain’s color derived from a protein “with a residue of a life form” and that this may have come from a meteorite. The show leaves out the fact that the Government of India refuted the original meteor claim in 2006 and determined that the “life form” was actually the spores of terrestrial algae. To date, the 2006 claim by panspermia theorists Godfrey Louis and Santhosh Kumar that the red raid was of alien origin has not been confirmed by any subsequent research.
In 2007 in Peru, a fireball hit, leaving a large impact crater. Supposedly an “illness” came with the meteorite, which the show suggests may be a biological weapon. However, more likely is that the impact of the meteor released contaminants in the ground that were aerosolized.
After the break, the show drops the pretense of “what-if” and blatantly asserts that the bubonic plague was “linked” to UFO sightings, and then the show tells us that the bubonic plague is a real threat that could overwhelm us again. Birnes suggests that H1N1 and SARS have “mysterious” origins that therefore mean aliens.
We then hear about the “fibers” of Morgellons disease, a psychological delusion that leads sufferers to believe that parasites, bugs, or fibers are crawling or growing beneath the skin. Although the CDC’s multi-year study found no disease agents in any sufferer, the show leaves out this information to create a propaganda claim that aliens created the disease, even though the edited comments by the talking heads make plain despite the editing that they are aware of the lack of evidence and the producers are chopping up the spoken comments to support a specific agenda.
Jason Martell lays out several scenarios for how alien-borne diseases begin, and Greenewald feels that the most likely scenario is that the aliens accidentally infected humans due to unintentional viral transfer during alien abductions (they forgot to wear gloves!), or by plagues escaping UFO laboratories. The show asserts that this is like Lyme Disease, which it falsely reports was released by Long Island’s Plum Island Animal Research Center in 1975, a claim that was made famous on Jesse Ventura’s Conspiracy Theory. The claim was apparently first made by Michael C. Carroll in Lab 257 (2004), an unreliable history of Plum Island. No independent evidence of a connection exists, but the show simply assumes we believe the conspiracy theory.
The show concludes with Bill Birnes telling us that aliens are trying to “hybridize” humanity and are using the plagues to identify people who are immune to the diseases and are therefore the best candidates for hybridization. The narration concludes with the “hopeful” note that as humans, the aliens will soon ennoble us by making us into an “interstellar race” (the ufological version of the Millennium), but only if we “survive” the next alien plague brought by those germ-filled invaders.
Although at no time is an actual declarative sentence used to state that disease is actually brought by extraterrestrials, the repetition of ideas and the downplaying of the conditional tense are clearly designed to leave viewers with the impression that something serious had been said and that viewers are personally in danger unless they keep watching Unsealed: Alien Files.
In the end, that is what I hate most about this show. At every opportunity, the narrator emphasizes risk, danger, and fear and uses the techniques of propaganda, particularly the fear appeal, to induce upset and distress in the audience in order to make the audience want to watch more of the show in a desperate attempt to quell the induced unease through what passes for “information.”
It’s disgusting and mean, and it can only serve to leave low-information viewers fearful that aliens are plotting to kill them.
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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