I keep coming back to the concept that ideas have consequences, and it seems to be a key concept that many “fans” of conspiratorial history theories don’t acknowledge or care about. Five times in the last two days, I’ve received messages telling me to stop analyzing America Unearthed because it’s “entertainment” that isn’t meant to be taken seriously. If it were true that TV were a consequence-free medium, we would all be in a happier place. But it isn’t. Consider the following four news stories from the past few weeks:
On November 15, the Society for American Archaeology, an organization representing archaeologists, sent a letter to the National Geographic Society demanding the cancellation of the National Geographic Channel program Diggers, which they claim is giving viewers wrong ideas about how and where they are able to dig up historic artifacts without a permit. Society president Jeffery Altschul explained that the program failed to meet expected standards for archaeological ethics. Without this information, viewers could cause serious damage to archaeological sites with careless, uncontrolled digging.
On November 21, a group of ghost hunters became enraged that their ghost hunt at a historic (but decrepit) Louisiana mansion failed to turn out like the televised version on Syfy’s Ghost Hunters and its imitators. Therefore, they did the only logical thing: They set a fire in the mansion in the hope of provoking the spirits. The Greek-revival style mansion burned to the ground, which, to be fair, probably wouldn’t have happened had the owners (past and present) not left it to rot for decades, like far too many of America’s historic homes, for want of money.
Currently, the state of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) is investigating the History channel’s reality series American Jungle for violation of state hunting laws. The show depicts Native Hawaiians hunting a cow with spears, for which the show did not have a permit. Just as America Unearthed depicted show host Scott Wolter apparently asking Pennsylvania residents to trespass on land the show was banned from filming on (though the actual trespassing occurred months earlier), the DLNR claims that the American Jungle program uses on-screen graphics to depict the show’s stars hunting animals at night on public land, activities explicitly banned under Hawaiian law, and for which the show had its request for a permit denied:
Activities such as night hunting both on public and private land, are illegal under Hawaii Revised Statues §183D-27 and Hawaii Administrative Rules §13-123-6. The Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW), which oversees DLNR’s hunting program, denied a permit request last spring for the production to film on state forest lands.
The show may have filmed (again illegally) on private land, but if so, they were lying to viewers about the location of events, according to the DLNR.
Hawaii’s DLNR reported that after the American Jungle episode aired, they immediately began receiving comments from mainland viewers that “have already made it clear that the program gives a warped interpretation of Hawaii’s hunting program.” Translation: People started asking if they could come hunt in the jungle, too, because they saw it on “entertainment” TV. The program, the DLNR said, also is culturally insensitive, depicting types of hunting that did not occur in prehistoric or historic times, again giving viewers the wrong impression about Hawaii.
Hawaiian Gov. Neil Abercrombie released the following statement:
Portraying our local hunters as primitives demeans our people and their contributions to subsistence and wildlife conservation. This appears to be a fictional ‘reality’ production with no connection to actual hunters in Hawaii. If we discover any laws or regulations have been broken we will vigorously pursue legal and/or criminal charges.
The History channel declined comment when media sources contacted them, probably because the choice between admitting to crimes and admitting to lying was not particularly appealing.
I wonder what the governor will think when America Unearthed airs its Hawaiian-themed episode in a few weeks. In that episode, the show will go in search of mythical little people called the Menehune who steal bananas, but who do not exist in Hawaiian folklore before the Contact period.
Finally, just to show this is not a uniquely American phenomenon, two amateur German archaeologists allegedly scraped off a portion of the painted cartouche of Khufu from the relieving chambers above the Great Pyramid’s King’s Chamber in an effort to determine whether the paint had added to the pyramid after the Old Kingdom, thus lending support to their claim that the pyramid is 20,000 years old. As a technical matter, proving the paint recent wouldn’t really do anything toward extending the pyramid’s construction back 15,000 years. If, on the other hand, results showed the paint were significantly older than the conventional date for the pyramid, this would be more interesting, though hard to reconcile with development of hieroglyphics, which did not exist 20,000 years ago.
The paint in the relieving chambers is the only occurrence of Khufu’s name in the otherwise unmarked pyramid, though Herodotus reported the existence of scenes from Khufu’s life in the complex surrounding the pyramid. Some believe the paint was faked in the nineteenth century to cover up the true age of the pyramid, a conspiracy theory popular with fringe historians, particularly followers of Zecharia Sitchin, Erich von Däniken, Colin Wilson, and Graham Hancock, all of whom prominently accused Col. Richard William Howard Vyse of faking the paint. Hancock later reversed course in his famous 1998 “Position Statement” and accepted conventional dates for the pyramid’s construction, though maintaining that an unspecified lost culture had “planned” the pyramid around 10,500 BCE. Sitchin was the first to make the claim in service of claims that the pyramids were extraterrestrial “ground markers” for incoming space flights.
The Germans told reporters that they believe the world governments are hiding the “truth” about a lost advanced civilization that flourished during the Ice Age, a conspiracy theory advocated by such luminaries as Ignatius Donnelly, R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz, Graham Hancock, John Anthony West, and others. Obviously, they derived their ideas from fringe history claims and then decided to act on it.
The two Germans’ work was allegedly sponsored by the Dresden University of Technology, where they are students, according to the Egyptian government; however, I can find no proof of this assertion. The Egyptian government apparently was referring to the two unnamed Germans’ use of university lab resources to test the paint. The two students do not appear to be the traditional age for college students. Photographs show two much older men.
The German government condemned the students’ actions, but the resulting publicity yielded a flurry of internet speculation about the “true” age of the Great Pyramid, led by the Daily Grail, which eschewed elementary logic to suggest intimations of conspiracy. (Full disclosure: Daily Grail Publishing’s Dark Lore series reprinted one of my essays on ancient astronauts.) It bears repeating: Even if the paint were faked in the Middle Kingdom or the nineteenth century, this implies nothing about the actual construction of the Great Pyramid. (But the paint is not fake.)
Ideas have consequences, and fringe ideas are no exception.
12/3/2013 03:23:28 am
I find the seemingly willful ignorance of the people who support these sorts of claims to be disturbing. Their ideas certainly have significant consequences. However, I am also happy that every so often when I mention these theories in every day conversations, most people have no idea about ancient aliens or silly fringe history.
12/3/2013 03:52:01 am
Consequences on like-minded people
Rev. Phil Gotsch
12/3/2013 04:13:27 am
I agree …
12/3/2013 04:13:40 am
Yes, I think I see what you are saying. In the present case, though, a multitude of obviously illogical connections have rendered the show to be primarily entertainment...yet, I'm puzzled by the seriousness and tone. What is the intent? Will any good be realized, and how would it balance with potential harm? These questions cannot be very well addressed, because logic seems to be missing in the equation.
12/3/2013 04:16:52 am
I noticed some version of the Pyramids story were saying that the "students" had gotten results that proved the conspiracy. I wonder what those were? And what would Vyse's motive be to fake the paint?
12/3/2013 07:22:16 am
Vyse's motive in reality? He wouldn't have one.
12/3/2013 09:02:28 am
I guess I'm wondering why Sitchin et al. think Vyse would fake a cartouche from Khufu, and not a much later pharaoh. So much British archeology in the 19th century was focused on proving the Bible true, and Khufu lived more than a millennia before the traditional time of Moses. If a British archeologist was going to fake anything you'd think it would be Ramses II or one of the other traditional candidates for the pharaoh of the Exodus.
12/3/2013 10:40:43 am
Fakes justify belief
12/3/2013 12:02:23 pm
Hm. One person (Canadian, apparently) who doesn't accept the authenticity of the cartouches in the Great Pyramid and wanted to analyze them with a microscope with his "team" commented (and ranted) on my blog. Take what you will from his comments.
12/3/2013 04:24:05 pm
I got the impression he is from the same school of thought as guys just like Scott Wolter. No research into his sources, false claims levied against previous archaeological efforts, a resident "expert" that supports his mission statement and the attitude of, if I may be so blunt, "Fuck it! Imma gonna do what I gotta do!"
12/4/2013 12:44:04 am
They can't understand what they're doing wrong, they haven't bothered to train their process of reasoning, and once they become committed, there's no turning back
12/4/2013 01:00:48 am
One thing you could do (if you so want to), is notify the Egyptian Council of Antiquities and give the posters name and IP address. They could easily find out enough information about the poster to put his name on a watch list and prevent him from entering the country.
12/3/2013 04:04:44 pm
Having done a search, I agree the two Germans don't look 18, but that doesn't make them not students at Dresden University, particularly with the world economy having been what it has been over the past decade. And if they ARE Dresden University students, I sort of hope they're expelled on the basis of having caused an international incident and dragged the university's name in the mud.
12/3/2013 10:28:54 pm
I didn't meant to suggest they weren't students, only that they weren't kids and shouldn't have their actions excused as the folly of youth. Many people go to school (for various degrees--it didn't say what program they were in) after the "traditional" college years.
12/4/2013 03:39:57 pm
Ah, Well, I'm of the opinion that even if they WERE 18 years old, they wouldn't be kids anymore, anyway, and thus should still have to take the consequences.
The Other J.
12/3/2013 06:36:12 pm
If your messengers are to be believed, then obviously the people in the examples you sighted just took their entertainment too seriously. And by that logic, you can't fault the confabulators if people believe their confabulations. Therefore Hawaii has no case.
12/3/2013 09:31:18 pm
sighted should be cited
The Other J.
12/3/2013 10:01:28 pm
Gaaah! I was writing about sight elsewhere -- goddam wires got crossed again.
12/4/2013 07:27:18 am
First, Jason, thank you so much for everything you do documenting America Unearthed and the Ancient Aliens shows. Your blog is very useful in helping people to see what nonsense these shows are.
12/4/2013 07:44:06 am
That's exactly what I've found. The same way most people assume that something labeled "news" has been vetted and checked by journalists, they also assume that something labeled "history" has been vetted and checked by historians. Of course, this has always been a problem: NBC's "In Search of Ancient Astronauts" documentary started this whole mess in the 1970s by presenting, on network TV, the ancient astronaut theory as a legitimate topic of historical inquiry.
12/4/2013 12:34:40 pm
Most journalists are incapable of critical thinking. Remember journalism is now about changing the world and social justice not reporting facts and asking tough questions. Another legacy of the 60s along with group rights, fiat currency, and debt.
12/4/2013 03:50:06 pm
Be fair, Thomas: newspapers have been at least as much about political spin and scandal-mongering since their earliest publications. It's not a legacy of the 60s. ...for that matter, neither is debt; for the entire history of the United States as a nation, there has only been one year (1835-6) where we've been OUT of debt.
The Other J.
12/4/2013 08:15:14 pm
TJ, you're not still bitter about what John Adams said about you in the press, are you?
12/4/2013 12:30:40 pm
While I share the concern of the media selling these theories as fact this is just how society is. Take politics, the media will repeat something from an economist as gospel despite te fact that macroeconomics is not a science but a very political discipline. Most environmentalists are not hard scientists yet get expert treatment from the media. Just go back to the totally unnecessary bailouts of 2008 to see this in action.as Goethe said truth must be repeated often.
12/4/2013 03:53:24 pm
I reject the argument "it's just how it is." It's when people accept "that's just how it is" that injustices prevail on a large scale. Once upon a time "it was just how it was" for slavery to exist. Then "it was just how it was" for segregation to exist. In both cases, it was only when people stood up and said, "Well that's not now it SHOULD be, and we're going to do something about it!" that any changes were made. So if we sit back and apathetically say, "It's just how it is," rather than at least attempting to call the media to task on this, then we're part of the problem, rather than working for a solution.
12/5/2013 03:09:59 am
Interesting points...you had Walter Durant claiming the USSR under Stalin was a worker's paradise while Stalin was killing off 20 million kulaks in the Ukraine. My point is not to let it go but to understand human nature..journalists are like everyone else..they have an agenda...and they push it by the way they report the "news". You misinterpret what I am saying, I"m not proposing to put your head in the ground but to understand this kind of stuff never goes away..look at Al Sharpton for gosh sakes...or most politicians..which is why truth must be repeated again and again..there is no finish line...
12/4/2013 10:34:36 pm
Just personally, when dealing with fringe theorists or conspiracy theorists, I've noticed a thread that usually runs through these sorts of people.
The author of the Nancy Drew series made good money on these fantasies. Also, some fantasies incorporate a considerable amount of truth in them, the percentage shifting from story to story...while others are made up of whole cloth. The question becomes: what can be sold as entertainment? (And, again, the once falsely persuaded can become the enlightened, through Jason's efforts, right?) All is not in vain, if a good enough number turn to history as entertainment...the final goal being truth-in-history, of course.
12/7/2013 07:11:02 pm
It's because people don't want to see or hear the real truth. They only want to believe what their little bibles and school textbooks tell them. If it doesn't say it in those little books of fuzzy comfort than it didn't or couldn't happen any other way.
12/9/2013 06:04:41 pm
Brien Foerster, of Ancient Aliens fame, is taking things a step further. He's proposing to lop a chunk off of Puma Punku, and is conducting a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo to help pay for the testing of his illegally, and probably ineptly, obtained samples. It's absolutely sickening that Indiegogo allows such things. http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/cosmogenic-dating-of-megaliths-at-puma-punku
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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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