Did you ever wonder who built the pyramids; who helped evolve humanity; who taught us to use fire; who left that surprise for you on your front lawn this morning? Well look no further because all the answers can be found in the stars… or at least we here at The NYRD have been led to believe. Lately, our staff has been watching a lot of Ancient Aliens on the History Channel. “Why?” you might ask. The short answer is boredom, but the longer answer is a combination of the fact that we lost the office remote, and we couldn’t find even one episode of Law and Order on any single channel. Now that is a paranormal occurrence. Also, since the show is beginning it’s 8th season tonight, we thought it was a good time to examine what is passing for history on cable TV these days.
Godwin’s Law of the History Channel
At the very least, watching Ancient Aliens can be entertaining and sometimes even a thought-provoking experience. We’re not saying we believe even a tenth of what is being purported by the show and their so-called “experts,” but there are enough times where the evidence presented seems almost impressive. Even if it does not always prove aliens, it is usually enough to prove that maybe our science and our understanding of history are not as complete as we would like to sometimes believe. It is very good at presenting questions and challenging our standard views on the past. After all, approaching situations and even history from different angles of critical thinking can be a useful tool for learning about ourselves and our world.
Unfortunately, there is always that inevitable moment in every show where the claims just seem to go to eleven. That is usually when the show jumps the shark harder than the Fonz on a rocket-powered pogo stick, and they start talking about how NASA is keeping secrets about extraterrestrials, or that the Mayans and Egyptians were Skyping with creatures from another world, and then something about time traveling Nazis. It always comes back to the Nazis. A member of our staff has described the show as trash reality for history nerds, and it’s hard to argue with that assessment, especially when you look at the cast of characters the show trots out as their “experts.”
The History Channel, bless their little heart, does its best to find actual history and science experts to appear on the program, but usually when you see respectable names with titles like “doctor” and “professor” in front of them they will only ever appear on screen for a few moments to describe something technical or historical in a clearly unrelated way. In fact, it is almost a certainty that nobody even told them what program they were appearing on. Hey, when the History Channel calls who among us would turn down the chance to be a talking head in a documentary.
The crazy of the show usually does not kick up till you hear from people like Erich von Däniken, C. Scott Littleton, George Noory, and the king alien of them all, Giorgio A. Tsoukalos, who is better known from his meme and as that alien guy with the hair. Tsoukalos’ dialogue in particular can usually follow a pretty predictable pattern: “When I hear of [Blank] experienced by our ancestors, I have to wonder, now, is this just a story made up by prehistoric men, or were they in fact describing something they had seen. The answer has to be aliens.”
History Channel, the Drinking Game
Another entertaining bit of dialogue can be found by paying attention to the narrator of the program. You could make a drinking game for every time he is forced to utter the phrase “In the opinion of ancient astronaut theorists… etc.” Apparently, History Channel believes that this often uttered disclaimer by a deep voiced and faceless man is enough to separate them from the show’s sometimes wild theories that are expounded upon in detail and often stated like hard and cold facts. It is almost as if they are still trying to maintain a reputation as a respectable channel of learning.
In actuality, shows like Ancient Aliens are coming to define the History Channel as part of a well established and drunken trend in their programming schedule. Thus, the History Channel has tried to treat shows like Ancient Aliens the same way that communist China tried to treat the more capitalistic Hong Kong. Yes, allowing it to exist has proved profitable, but in both cases the thinking and reputation of the smaller entity has influenced the attitudes and trends of the larger one. In fact, the more you look at the 8 season run of this show, the more you realize how far the History Channel has been allowed the to stray from the beaten path in all that time. In fact, the channel once so dedicated to historical accuracy and documentaries, seem to have left what trail they had been following many years ago and are now deep in the woods digging for sasquatch bones with hillbilly prospectors.
Even the show itself has gone progressively further off the deep end. Where as, earlier episodes tackled the sort of standard subject matter you might expect, (the pyramids, Bermuda Triangle, mythology, etc) later episodes seem to take pleasure in making correlations between aliens and almost anything you can think of, including -and we are not kidding- the old west, zombies, the Revolutionary War, dinosaurs, bigfoot, superheroes, and Da Vinci. In fact, it is sometimes hard to wonder if the writers just have a dart board with random words on it that they use to decide episodes. “Let’s see, today we will make it on Aliens and… *thunk*… the Colonel’s secret recipe.”
All of this really only serves to drag the name of the History Channel further through the mud that in the opinion of ancient astronaut theorists, was probably created when water from Mars mixed with meteor fragments left behind on the boots of visitors from the Orion’s belt. Hey, as long as it turns a profit. Yet, our biggest qualm with the show is not really about the defacing of the History Channel name, as they have been doing that to themselves for years with shows like Doomsday Prophecies, Nostradamus Decoded, and Nostradamus Decodes the Doomsday Prophecies.
We’re Not Saying It’s Bad…
But what really irritates us here at The NYRD is that the show basically gives all the credit for almost any historical human accomplishment to visitors from outer space. By claiming all our history’s marvels, mythology, and technological innovations are a direct result of alien contact we believe that you devalue the human race as a whole. In order to take the show at face value, we are forced to approach it with the understanding that humanity has accomplished nothing on its own except maybe the invention of Facebook, but for all we know there may be an episode on aliens and social media coming out this season. We might, and that’s a big might, be able to entertain that maybe humans had some kind of help -whether it be alien, divine, or otherwise- along the way. However, we need to start giving ourselves a little more credit. Humanity is capable of so much beauty, courage, wonder, and innovation. We have an unlimited potential and that should never be undervalued, especially by a TV channel who is supposed to be teaching us about our past and the tragedies and triumphs that lay within in it.
Yet, with that said, there are a lot of times where we find ourselves taking at least a little inspiration in some of the things presented in the show, if only for its fantastical take on events. As writers and artists, the program should be used as a jumping off point. It is a way to thinking about how history could have unfolded differently. There are a lot of unsolved mysteries out there and it is always good to think outside the box and look at the world from different view points. There is nothing wrong with thinking critically about established dogma. It was Aristotle who said that, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
Not to be outdone, it was Gorgio A. Tsoukalos who probably said, “When I think of Aristotle as this really smart guy I have to wonder if that’s because he learned a lot or because maybe he was enhanced by beinga from another world. I’m not saying it was aliens… but…”