This Friday, Ancient Aliens presents a two-hour special in which The UnXplained host William Shatner meets with the various talking heads from Ancient Aliens and interviews them about space aliens, science, and futurism. The crossover between Ancient Aliens and sister program The UnXplained is made possible by the two shows’ shared production company. The special runs more than two hours, and it continues well past how late I can stay up as the father of an energetic three-year-old. As a result, I won’t review it until sometime Saturday, when I have had a chance to watch it.
But in the runup to the program, Shatner did a promotional interview with The Debrief in which he discussed the upcoming special. Interviewer M.J. Banias threw some softballs at Shatner and failed to raise with him the issue of the dark side of the ancient astronaut theory, including its racist origins and its popularity among extremist groups such as QAnon and white nationalists. As we saw last month, some of the Capitol insurrectionists expressed views about secret space programs and space aliens directly paralleling those broadcasted on Ancient Aliens, and at least one showed up to the riot wearing a sweatshirt bearing the image of Ancient Aliens star Giorgio Tsoukalos.
Instead, Banias let Shatner ramble about how fun it is to speculate dangerously about alien conspiracies. And it’s pretty clear that Shatner, now 89, still has some very midcentury ideas about human evolution and development:
This coming Friday from 9:00 until 11:00 [Eastern] on the History Channel, it is all about Ancient Aliens. Did aliens come here? Are they here? What’s the explanation behind some of these almost impossible engineering feats that are part of mankind’s legacy? How did they lift these enormous objects and transport them, where our engineering experts can’t do it today? What’s the explanation behind that? How did we achieve these giant jumps in intelligence? And suddenly, we went from coming out of a tree to these inventions that propel mankind. Some people attribute it to aliens interfering or guiding human beings. And some people look askance, like myself, which is what this two-hour thing is on Friday. I want to know why people believe ancient aliens existed and why they think that aliens exist today. I mean, it’s a fascinating subject of which we know very little.
His view of human evolution is straight out of the 1960s, which, I guess, stands to reason, given that all of his other attitudes are locked in that era, too. But a lot of work has been done since then, and we know much more than to claim hominins went from living in trees to building pyramids “suddenly.”
Shatner three times referred to moving heavy stones as an impossibility that is beyond human comprehension. That, too, is a strange argument considering that the construction methods of ancient structures have been studied for centuries and we know in many cases exactly how rocks were moved, or have numerous plausible methods that could have been used. But Shatner, who claims to be agnostic about ancient astronaut theories, doubts: “Or that they came down and they said, ‘Look, guy, here’s how you lift this stone and place it over here.’ I mean, if they talked to us, if that was the explanation, what are the ramifications of that? So out there possibly lies a mystery that is so foreign to us human beings that not knowing is driving us crazy.”
Those are the words of someone seeking transcendence, not someone looking for a mechanical explanation for how simple machines and massive labor pools can move heavy objects. Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto, Terrence once wrote. For William Shatner, everything human could possibly be alien, and anything he doesn’t understand must be unknowable to anyone.
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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