I’m not sure whether it’s a good thing or a bad one that it’s been such a slow month in the world of fringe history, but it leaves me with rather little to write about from time to time. Today is one of those days when I seem to have run out of material to discuss. (But be sure to check out the recent post from Carl Feagans explaining why a claim that Atlantis had been found in Spain was really the discovery of experimental ponds dug in 2004!) I suppose I could comment on the fact that only 415,000 viewers tuned in to Monday’s Travel Channel rebroadcast of H2’s America Unearthed, or that this number is roughly on par with the rerun of Family Feud airing opposite it on GSN. But all there is to say about it is that the numbers are so small—just 0.13% of the U.S. population—that we might just as well ignore the whole debacle unless and until Travel commissions new episodes.
I am a little more concerned about History’s Project Blue Book, which every day is looking more like an awkward propaganda effort rather than an entertainment series. This week, 1.9 million people watched, and that might have been a respectable number, except that its lead-in, The Curse of Oak Island scored 3.6 million viewers against stiffer network and cable competition. Just to be clear--Oak Island has more viewers than network time slot competitors Blackish on ABC (3.4 million), The Gifted on Fox (1.8 million), and new space alien drama Roswell, New Mexico on the CW (1.2 million). Blue Book is losing nearly half of the Oak Island audience in a time slot where two major networks—Fox and the CW—don’t compete.
The numbers, however, don’t begin to tell the full story. If you’ve been on social media recently, you’ve undoubtedly seen the propagandistic advertisements that History is running to promote Blue Book. In the ads, they tease each new episode by flatly asserting that they are exposing a real-life cover-up and telling the true story that the government doesn’t want you to know. The ads are fairly blunt about presenting the series as the “truth” about UFOs, and not in the wink-and-nod way of the X-Files’s “The Truth Is Out There” slogan.
What makes this worse is that everyone involved in the production is blunt about admitting that the series is designed first as propaganda, not as entertainment. In a Reddit ask-me-anything discussion this week, Blue Book creator David O’Leary discussed his own longstanding belief that the UFO phenomenon has an unearthly origin, and he described the heavily fictionalized Blue Book series as “educational”:
We are trying to educate and entertain people to the reality that UFOs exist and that the government has studied them and continues to study them to this day. A hope of mine with a show like ours is that it spurs the government to be more transparent with this issue. […] Nothing I've written prior to this meant as much to me as this project did, I think not only because it's about a passionate issue of mine (UFOs), in a time-period I love (the 1950s), but also because it tells this remarkable true historical story and is helping move the needle forward on this important real-life issue. The fact that we were recently featured on the cover of the Arts Section of the New York Times in an article about the reality of UFOs and our government's interest in them, blew my mind.
O’Leary’s strident beliefs and his show’s didactic and somewhat turgid tone reminded me of Christian entertainment. Have you ever tried watching a Christian movie? They are, to a number, bad. I reviewed one a couple of years ago when I got duped into watching a screener. The problem is that they have a polemical purpose first and try to hang a story around an expression of faith. Working backward from evangelical message to drama inevitably saps the story of creativity and energy. Blue Book is the New Age mirror of a Christian movie, but with a bigger budget and slightly better talent and production values.
Incidentally, A+E Networks, the parent of the History channel, also recently trademarked the name Project Blue Book for a video game should the series prove successful.
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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