Let’s consider the History Channel’s ‘Ancient Aliens’ series. I’ve read Erik von Daniken’s ‘Chariots of the Gods’, and although its thesis is poorly thought out, it raises the interesting question: was Earth ever visited by extraterrestrials in the past? This cannot be proven or disproven, and must lie within the realm of pure speculation. ‘Ancient Aliens’ treats this hypothesis as fact and gives the usual rundown: all ancient large structures were constructed with the aid of aliens; every odd humanoid rock carving represents an alien in a spacesuit, religious texts mentioning flaming chariots are actually referencing UFOs, etc. We’ve heard all of this before. But why is this being shown on the History Channel? Nothing about this is historical or is supported by the merest slip of evidence.
I forget the channel it’s shown on, but the ‘MonsterQuest’ show is utterly ridiculous. Cryptozoology has always intrigued me (Bigfoot, Chupacabras, Loch Ness Monster) but with no evidence, this again becomes speculation. Little more than amusing tales told around a campfire. The viewer of ‘MonsterQuest’ is treated to people running about in the dark, seen through night vision goggles, and gets to watch these very poor actors react to mysterious noises. I thought the ‘Blair Witch’ fad died out years ago? One of the lamest (funniest?) moments is when a guy claims the Sasquatch recognize him because he’s been tracking them for years. Oh, and he’s never ran into one. Arrgh! Leave this tripe in student films, not on channels people used to actually learn things from.
One of my favorite subjects—the Knights Templar—has been caricatured since ‘The Da Vinci Code’ left the mouths of the ignorant agape several years ago. Even a recent National Geographic Channel documentary focused more on silly conspiracy myths than the Order’s actual history—which is far more interesting than whether or not these knights possessed the Holy Grail. Infinitely more stirring is the accounts of the battles of Hattin, La Forbie, and the Fall of Acre—not to mention their extremely unfair trial in 1307. Instead we’re given reenactments of mailed knights standing around a demonic idol—the ‘Baphomet’. And then this idol’s based on Eliphas Levi’s Baphomet, drawn in the late 19th century? How could Templars have worshipped this before it was invented? I never expected such a sloppy production from National Geographic, whose magazines and films inspired me years ago to learn more about the world. Not so this time.
Part of the reasons for this is that people want to be entertained, not educated. Tits and explosions, to quote a David Bowie song. Everything from the annoying, high-tension background music to having ‘experts’ discuss their theories without producing evidence mars this new breed of television documentary. To distract from everyday life rather than inform seems to be their purpose. Why would people watch them, then?
Because people that are too lazy to think for themselves will believe anything. Show it on television, and guess what? It’s taken as fact. The mental work has already been done for them. Also, people want a juicy story, not ‘boring’ accounts. Saying that aliens built the pyramids is more exciting than admitting no one really knows how they were constructed. Claiming that Templars guarded some great secret is more palatable than their zealous, blood-soaked history.
The absolute worst was a Discovery Channel show on the 2012 phenomena and one man’s idea that a large rock was actually a Mayan statue. He claimed this object would reveal secrets about 2012. Two hours later not a single secret is told, and the ‘statue’ is nothing more than a lump of stone overlooking a Pacific (!) beach. The ‘researcher’ even climbs all over it—an ‘archaeological artifact’ treated this way? Try climbing up the Parthenon like that. And they paid people to film this? I could do a better job in my backyard.
I’d never have thought that an old, outdated show like Leonard Nimoy’s ‘In Search Of’ could be so much better than current fare. Why? Mr. Nimoy talks the entire episode, constantly revealing new information to the viewer. No time wasted on scripted scenes or fake people we don’t care about (Mythbusters? Ugh.) Michael Wood’s ‘In Search of the Trojan War’ is still the best televised source of information on that subject, and it was filmed in 1985! It makes no wild claims and leaves the viewers free to make their own interpretation. Was Greece the ‘Ahhiyawa’ referred to by the Hittites? Was Agamemnon the ‘Wanax’ mentioned in Hittite clay documents? We don’t really know, but bogus content isn’t added in place of this information gap, either.
Just like grade school textbooks, the raw knowledge content of these shows has dropped over the last few years. Those who really want to research a subject will read the literature on it, but for many people, the television documentary is their only source. They now seem more like a gossip/propaganda forum than an educational aid. This gives people like Eric von Daniken and Richard Hoagland (known for postulating about the ‘Face on Mars’ and ‘glass domes on the Moon’) a credibility they don’t deserve. Heroes of the sofa, boob-tube intelligentsia. Even Stanton Friedman, a UFO researcher/physicist I respect, should not be on the History Channel extolling his views about flying saucers. This material belongs on another channel.
I have nothing against alternative views, but to present them as fact or history without evidence is damaging to a culture already inundated with falsehood and ignorance. I get a kick out of people who quote these programs as if they have become an authority on the subject from a single viewing. I guess an hour playing couch potato stimulates more brain cells than I thought. I’m not an expert either, but it’s irritating when someone wants to discuss Alexander the Great and yet can’t name any of his key battles, his wives, the Diadochoi, or even knows what a satrap is. All they know is that he thought he was the son of a god (Zeus Ammon). Oh, and that he never lost a fight. Wow, what a guy!
So what’s next? A George Washington program that spends fifteen minutes on the myth of the cherry tree (George never cut down his father’s cherry tree; that was posthumous propaganda)? A Christopher Columbus documentary focusing on his ‘vision’ but ignoring his brutal treatment of the Tainos? Or a Hurricane Katrina show that claims FEMA cleaned it all up? The more myth and misrepresentation enters the public psyche, the easier it will be to censor/rewrite history. I say we demand solid knowledge and not settle for anything less. Today it’s just UFOs, maybe a few Templars founding the Masons or the Illuminati. Tomorrow it might be a Vietnam with no My Lai Massacre, an Operation Iraqi Freedom with no Abu Ghraib prisoner photos. Leaving out pertinent details while focusing on the fluff is tantamount to formulating lies.