I have two topics to discuss today, which are not really related closely enough for me to try to make something coherent out of it. So, instead, I’m going to just discuss them separately. First up, I want to briefly comment on an interesting point that arose during my discussion of Discovery’s fake documentary, Megalodon: namely, why did the media care so much about this instance of fakery? The reason is simple, and I won’t sugarcoat it: The media think people who watched this were smart and rich like them, and they are outraged on their behalf. If you watched fake stuff on the History channel or H2, then you are old and poor and deserve to be fooled, you economically unworthy scum of the earth.
The numbers don’t lie. Let’s start by establishing that 4.8 million Americans watched Megalodon, which represents 4% of America’s 114 million TV households (assuming 1 person per TV, which would overestimate by quite a bit), and 1.5% of Americans in total. By contrast, at its height Ancient Aliens attracted roughly 2-3 million viewers, 2% of TV households and just under 1% of Americans in total. This is a rounding error in a country of 314 million people. But Megalodon attracted almost 3 million young people, under the age of 50, making it much more appealing than Ancient Aliens to critics, who need to produce material attractive to advertiser-friendly 18-54-year-old demographics.
By contrast, Pawn Stars outdraws both programs (averaging 5 million viewers) yet garners no media coverage. Its audience is older. Therefore, raw Nielsen ratings were not the driver behind the outrage, which stemmed largely from the intense social media discussion of Megalodon on Twitter, reaching the coveted one-million tweet mark during its broadcast and becoming the “most social” broadcast ever. The media love “social media” phenomena (such as Sharknado from earlier this summer) because it plays into their bias toward technologies favored by the young and the upper class.
Megalodon became a perfect storm of media coverage because the social media component played into the media’s bias toward the interests of the wealthy in another way. The channel it was on is perceived as being associated with the young and the wealthy.
Discovery’s audience is young, with a median age of just 44.7 and more than 70% under the age of 55. Of these viewers, 36% attended college, 73% own a home, and almost half make more than $75,000 per year, with a median income of $66,300 per year. (U.S. median household income is currently $53,000 per year.) This is the media’s own demographic, matching the social and economic class of the people who write about television for a living. (Full disclosure: My household falls into this class as well.)
By contrast, the History networks have viewers who are on average older and poorer. Nearly 40% of the H2 network’s audience is over 55, though slightly more attended college (43%). Just about half of H2 viewers live in households making more than $50,000 per year (median income $51,000), while the wealthy (above $75,000) make up less than a third of viewers (30%). At the parent History channel, things aren’t much rosier. The same number of viewers are over 55, though slightly more attended college (45%). Median household income is only slightly higher ($58,500), with slightly more wealthy viewers (above $75,000), making up 38% of the audience.
As far as the media are concerned, Discovery is important because its audience is the people they value: young, wealthy, and upper class. H2 and History are not important because old and poor people watch those channels. Since the old and the poor have less disposable income, no one cares whether they are being fed lies, so long as those lies are good enough to convince them to part with cash. As you will recall, the new head of H2 has complained about his network’s demographics and is trying hard to lower the median age and raise the median household income of the channel’s viewers by appealing to young, rich men.
I’m pretty sure this is why the media are angry about Discovery’s lies but did not care in the least about America Unearthed or Ancient Aliens. In short, Discovery betrayed its social class by lying to the people advertisers want to reach, while History tells untruths to people only infomercials reach out to, people whom advertisers hope and pray are not critical thinkers and will just do what the TV tells them to do, sending in their $9.99 plus shipping and handling for genuine gold-colored commemorative coins from Liberia.
Now to my second point: Yesterday I wrote about my shock that Ancient Aliens consulting producer Giorgio A. Tsoukalos could proclaim the aliens beings from Orion in January and then tell a reporter this week that he neither knew nor cared to know where the aliens came from because it was a “turn off.” Hmm. I guess I lied. There is a connection to the preceding discussion. Tsoukalos talked about how important younger demographics are to his untrue claims, so I guess he, too, is in the same business of chasing youth.
Anyway, Tsoukalos made his comments in advance of Contact in the Desert, a major ancient alien and UFO conference to be held in two days’ time. Now George Noory, the host of Coast to Coast AM and a frequent talking head on Ancient Aliens has similarly weird comments tied to this same conference.
Speaking to the online edition of the Palm Springs Life “Desert Guide,” Noory told the publication:
I hope to come away from this convention with possibilities that we are not alone, hearing it first hand from heavy hitters devoted to careers trying to answer that question. It will be fun and entertaining, but give a lot of information.
As with Tsoukalos, I’m hoping that this is a typo and not a Freudian slip. Did Noory really mean to imply that the ancient alien theory’s “heavy hitters” are devoted to their careers, not that they have devoted their careers to ancient aliens? This mistake, intentional or not, implies that financial rather than scholarly aims stand behind the business of ancient astronautics.
The paper quotes someone or something (either Noory or event literature; it isn’t clear and Google doesn’t find a match for it) as saying that the Contact event will “explore the scientific approach to the mythology of ancient aliens.” Again, I wonder how much of this is an unintentional acknowledgement that the ancient alien idea is nothing but modern mythology rather than science, and how much is sloppy wording from people who don’t really understand the finer points of the words they use.
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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