Happy New Year! As we start the new year, it’s time to take stock of a few odds and ends left over from the month that just passed by. First, I will share my unalloyed joy that the offensively incompetent Unexplained + Unexplored on the Science Channel hit a series low of just 299,000 viewers on Sunday for its painfully awful effort to find the Fountain of Youth. The show has steadily lost viewers for the majority of its eight weeks, according to the Nielsen ratings, which is typically the kiss of death for a cable show. It lost 10% from its lead-in and barely squeaked by the ratings for mid-afternoon reruns of Dr. Pohl on NatGeo and the middle of the night reruns of Married to Medicine on Bravo. Of course, it’s also a show about history conspiracy theories, and cable networks love to renew those because they are considered “evergreens” that can be rerun, repackaged, and resold around the world for years to come. And it did manage to outdraw original shows on other cable channels in its 10 PM timeslot, including Oxygen’s lineup.
Meanwhile, during the holiday break, religious scholar D. W. Pasulka, the author of last year’s Oxford University Press release America Cosmic, about UFO culture, said on Twitter that prior to the book’s publication an unidentified person approached her and asked how much it would be worth to her “not” to have her book published. She implied in her tweet that this was an effort to suppress the release of the book, but she said that she wouldn’t provide any further details. Drama! Men in Black! When pressed to respond, she deleted the tweet and instead posted about her joy at the book’s sales figures, about having taken the “red pill,” and about her love of Friedrich Nietzsche. She finished the year by praising Leslie Kean and Ralph Blumenthal, the biased UFO advocates who masquerade as fair-minded journalists to head up the New York Times’ UFO coverage, because one of Kean and Blumenthal’s UFO propaganda stories made the Times’ top ten most-read stories of 2019.
Now, on to today’s topic.
I’ll put the main news first: The Travel Channel has canceled America Unearthed! Hooray! As part of the network’s retooling as a paranormal destination, the channel canceled America Unearthed, host Scott F. Wolter said in an interview broadcast this week. Wolter added that the Science Channel is considering a pickup of the canceled series, but no decision has been made. Given the performance of Science’s Unexplored + Unexplained, I’m not sure they could do worse with America Unearthed.
Wolter made the comments alongside his son Grant on The Zilosophy Podcast, the audio component of “Zilosophy,” which seems to be some weird golf-based self-help platform run by a man going under the moniker “Z” (i.e. Michael A. Zildjian), a “a guy you want to have a beer with in hopes you might get some needed perspective on life.” Just try to draw something solid out of his self-help babble. Honestly, if you can’t really explain your philosophy clearly on your own website, I’m not sure I have an interest in trying to figure it out. The interview, though, does mark an expansion of Wolter’s propagandizing beyond the usual archeo-fringe media where he usually resides. Wolter was on the show because he and Zildjian are friends (both are also friends with novelist and conspiracy theorist David Brody) and Zildjian is a Freemason, like Wolter, and taken by the made-up myths of Freemasonry and its alleged antiquity, a major theme in Wolter’s work. They both believe that Freemasonry, an eighteenth-century practice, is rooted in ancient Egypt and that Jesus was an initiate.
The interview was recorded the week before Christmas.
In listening to Wolter’s spiel in this platform, I have to wonder what Z’s self-help audience made of Wolter, who had to be reminded to explain what in the world he was talking about. Do self-help enthusiasts have any idea who the Knights Templar were, or the Kensington Rune Stone? Wolter describes it as the “most famous” mysterious object in the world, but I don’t think that’s the case anywhere outside of Minnesota.
Zildjian poses as a philosopher and deep thinker, but I am surprised that he is so taken by Wolter’s false narratives. He quotes Sartre and claims that we should not dismiss Wolter’s claims or fringe history as “hoaxes” but instead embrace the possibility of “what if’ and the potential consequences of taking the hard path of rewriting the truth. He says that people just want “their answer” in which evidence supports a “preconceived results.” But Zildjian seems to assume that the general public is the same as experts in the field and that all of them don’t want to “rebuild their whole mental position” about reality. Here’s the thing: The general public doesn’t do deep research into original sources, so, yes, to an extent they do indeed pick positions based on the trust that they place in perceived experts. But experts don’t follow the same path but instead actually do real work. Even interested laymen do the same. For example, I have worked with hundreds of ancient and medieval texts that Wolter has never read, but Zildjian would lump all of my work into the box of bias while imagining Wolter as the only fair-minded researcher simply because he says things that are contrary to all other research as he ran around the country. Sartre, I suppose, stands behind Zildjian’s mindless rejection of collective knowledge, since Sartre favored personal experience over knowledge as the key to an “authentic” life.
“People hang on my words, they believe what I say,” Wolter said humbly in the interview. His son Grant unintentionally undercut this when he added that young’uns today don’t pay any attention to Wolter’s work or to history, and none of his friends are familiar with the show or Wolter’s claims. Wolter added that he has been “approached” several times to run for office, but he feels that he has more power to make a difference as a TV host than a politician.
Wolter, who has never studied archaeology, describes archaeology as a “humanities” discipline and claims that he, with his bachelor’s degree in earth sciences, knows more of the “scientific method” than archaeologists with doctorates in the subject. After attacking archaeologists as unscientific at length, he claims to want to stop the “name-calling.”
Zildjian, who speaks in meaningless platitudes apparently unleavened by deeper engagement with key philosophical schools (to judge only by his babblings in this episode), alleges that archaeologists must work with cable TV hosts because bringing together people from different viewpoints is vital for the “future of humanity.” This is a rather postmodern view, that scientific research and amateur speculation should be considered equal and that it is more important to respect the feelings of those who believe that they possess truth than to actually use science to approach truth. (Zildjian would argue that Wolter possesses scientific truth, but that’s where his own ignorance of science has led him to see false equivalence between real science and Wolter’s play-acting.) Wolter, near the end of the interview, admits explicitly that he does not believe that “science trumps all” and that “everybody’s evidence must be considered.” Zildjian claims that to truly be an American and to support the constitution, archaeologists must “unite” with cable TV hosts in a postmodern kumbaya merging science with speculation.
After a long discussion of the Newport Tower, the windmill Wolter believes to be a Templar church, Wolter alleges that a line drawn from the center of the Newport Tower through a quartz rock in the tower and extended “into space” will hit the ancient mound site of Poverty Point in Louisiana, thus linking the Templars to Graham Hancock’s imagined tradition from America Before of a millennial star cult of prehistoric Atlanteans who taught astronomy and mound-building to ancient Americans. As should be obvious, (a) the irregular rock could support drawing many different lines depending on the part of the rock you choose to use, and (b) a straight line “into space” would run off the curved surface of the Earth, so he must either be talking about a curved line or is using a map projection. In that case, the projection has to be accounted for.
Part of the interview involved Wolter and Zildjian conflating the Templars with the Freemasons (an association only developed retroactively after the French Revolution), accepting the prima facie modern “In Hoc Vinces” stone as a medieval artifact, and alleging that America is a “world of equality” created by Templars and Freemasons in which American ideals are connected to the “true” medieval Christianity unconnected to the Church. Zildjian claims that his “Zilosophy” is grounded in his close study of Wolter’s and David Brody’s imaginings about (fake) equalitarian and democratic Templars. The Templars were not democratic and in fact operated with a strict hierarchy connected to European aristocracy. Wolter asserts that the “divisiveness” of American politics can be cured by acceptance of Freemasonry. Wolter claims that only Masons like him and Zildjian truly understand the real intentions of the Founding Fathers—a dangerous claim to exclusive understanding of reality characteristic of cult leaders and charlatans.
Wolter claims that he received a Native American name—in Hebrew!—meaning “Big Moses.” Zildjian immediately linked this to five-century-old fictitious claims that Native Americans were the Lost Tribes of Israel.
As best I can tell, this interview involved an amateur philosopher with little deep understanding of philosophy talking to a geologist with virtually no understanding of history about building their ignorance into a completely new paradigm of knowledge that must considered coequal with everything that thousands of professionals have painstakingly assembled from actual original research and evidence, all in the postmodern belief that all ideas are equally valid and alternatives hold more validity by virtue of their opposition to convention.
But, hey: America Unearthed is dead again! At least for now!
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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