Not So Ancient Aliens
As the popularity of recent films such as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull shows, the reality, or otherwise, of ancient alien visitation to Earth in our distant past is still something of a hot topic among both fringe scientists and the general movie going population alike. However, what was once the domain of Hollywood screenwriters has fast become a discussion point for fantasy based infotainment masquerading as well researched and unbiased documentary, a disquieting trend that must be confronted now to prevent damage to the future of the very real scholarly fields touched upon, and in some cases mutilated, by the proponents of this particular topic.
One such mocumentary is the ‘Ancient Aliens’ series created for the History Channel by Prometheus Entertainment in 2010, and now slated for a third season sometime in 2011. First aired in the USA, and proving to be something of a minor YouTube phenomenon since full episodes were published online by pro-UFO enthusiasts late last year, the show itself is the epitome of slick, substance-less Hollywood science, and is just begging for a four-hour Michael Bay epic of the same name, replete with starry-eyed teenagers, PG-13 peril and alien overlords dressed like Aztec warriors in space suits. Which is a shame, because on the surface, the show is actually very engaging and, dare I admit it, enjoyable to watch.
However, production values and compelling arguments to not a true documentary make, and as you might expect the biggest problem that the show has is one of balance. Or should I say, the lack of it. With an intro that asserts that ‘[m]illions of people around the world believe we have been visited in the past by extraterrestrial beings. What if it were true?’, you know it’s going to be a bumpy ride as far as respect for the good old-fashioned facts go, but you would at least hope that Prometheus Entertainment would attempt out of nothing more than a nod to professional ethics to deliver a counter-point the more outrageous claims made by some of those who consider this supposed lost chapter in our racial history to be the greatest story never told. Instead, we are bombarded with an indistinct jumble of unrelated facts and hypothesis from a variety of disciplines, and almost nothing in the way of reasoned refutation at all.
To illustrate this imbalance all one has to do is take a brief look at a cross-section of those interviewed in the show, as well as what they are known for outside of the documentary. A few, such as author and journalist Nick Pope, are supporters of the UFO hypothesis but not necessarily that of ancient alien visitation. Others, like Robert M. Schoch, Geologist and occasional parapsychical researcher, are pro ancient astronauts, at least as a working hypothesis. The more resolute proponents of the theory, such as David H. Childress, archaeologist and author of numerous works on historical revisionism, have a little more invested in maintaining this continuing juggernaut of bad science and blind faith, comprising as it does the main body of their current literary output. Indeed, Giorgio A. Tsoukalos, one of the most vocal supporters, and some would argue originators, of the current resurgence of interest in the field just so happens to be a consulting producer on the documentary series in question, and also publishes the most widely read magazine on the subject, entitled Legendary Times, which as you would imagine is hardly peer-reviewed.
Finally we have the supposed skeptics, those whose voices should be raised in counterbalance to the group previously outlined. And despite the very real need to have equally numerous and well-informed proponents of reason fulfilling that role, we find only one, Biblical archaeologist and digital pioneer Dr. Robert Raymond Cargill. Cargill, while not perhaps the skeptics first choice, puts up a spirited defence of reason that sadly seems to have lost some of its impact on the cutting room floor. However, Prometheus Entertainments choice of a biblical scholar as the dissenting voice highlights another problem with the Americanised tone of the program; the fact that science is assumed to be on the side of the astronaut theorists in their fight to redefine the true historical, and they would argue extraterrestrial, context of religion. Thus we witness science hijacked by the ancient alien believers and used as a stick to beat religion with, and religion, not science, given the only right of reply against their terrible scholarship and generally accepted leaps of blind faith.
While it is easy to just watch the show and enjoy all the impassioned speculation and pretty pictures of truly amazing prehistoric monuments, especially of you are familiar with the scholarly disciplines being reimagined by those interviewed, the real danger comes from those unfamiliar with the basic information taking on board the points outlined by the ancient astronaut believers without the massive boat load of salt that is required to make the show palatable.
The bottom line is a simple one. Prometheus Entertainment have knowingly crossed from documentary to fantasy, and in continuing to market this series as science fact they knowingly deceive those among the viewing public who would be unable to discern the difference between that and science fiction. However, those of a more skeptical mindset can draw some solace from the very real fact that while it will no doubt convert many to their growing new extraterrestrial religion in the next few years, once the momentum drains from the movement and the established facts reassert themselves, the majority of those will drift away to the next media lead craze masquerading as ancient wisdom, whatever that may be.