Ancient Aliens Buries the Lead

"The Great Stone Face," 1957

Ancient Aliens is now in its seventh season. I DVR it, but don't really watch it that often. It's gotten to the point where it's not telling me anything I don't know already, and having been on the other side of the camera a number of times I know how the game is played. 

What is very clear with the Ancient Aliens style of interviewing is that the producers are looking for soundbites. They will prompt the speaker to repeat the question in their own words and then give the required answer. And anyone who's watched a number of episodes of Ancient Aliens probably can recite the answers along at home.

I've sometimes defended Ancient Aliens, not out of a great love for the show, but because so many of the people who've attacked it are doing so on behalf of the Fundamentalist/Creationist/Theocrat axis, a fact they fail to disclose to their audiences. But the fact of the matter is that I have a lot of problems with it, and only took down my critique of it when Filip Coppens passed away (I've since put it back up).

But I'm mature enough enough to realize that any criticisms I have of the show are irrelevant. It is what it is, as the people say. It wouldn't be on around the clock if people weren't watching it and it wouldn't have been renewed six times if it wasn't making money.

But compared to the original two-hour specials (which I do think were very well done), the show is running on fumes, content-wise. It makes for pleasant enough background noise from time to time, but hasn't told us anything new for a while (The Satanic Conspiracy episode, while misleadingly titled, did have some good information on the Watchers).

But this latest episode was something else. Not only did you have the stock answers that you could hear on any episode on any topic, they blew the lede here in a major way.

"Jacob Wrestles the Angel", portfolio piece, 1980 

As I've been writing about since this blog went live, comic book superheroes didn't just materialize from the ether like tulpas -- as the Ancient Aliens cast of regulars repeatedly suggested-- a good many of them were created or co-created by Jack Kirby. And the ones he didn't create or co-create, he had a hand in, like Iron Man and Spider-Man.

And Jack Kirby is a guy who was not only doing stories about ancient astronauts long before Erich Von Daniken (there's practically enough of those to fill a stadium by now), he was using AAT as the basis of the superheroes he was creating, beginning with The Inhumans in 1965.

Kirby was so obsessed with AAT that it consumed the latter part of his career; three of his titles for Marvel in the 1970s were built around the theme and he did a number of other AAT projects after he left comics for animation.

What's more, his prescient "Face on Mars" story from the late 50s showed a distinct Theosophical influence with its ancient extraterrestrial civilizations, demonstrating he may have been exploring the same material that inspired Edgar Rice Burroughs for his own Mars material.

But aside from Kirby, you also have Otto Binder, who was not only one of the great writers of the Golden Age of Comics, he was also a prolific sci-fi writer, editor of Space magazine, and the co-author of the classic AAT text, Mankind, Child of the Stars. 

Binder is not as well known as Kirby today but he worked on Captain Marvel, which at the time was Superman's #1 rival on the stands, selling upwards of a million copies a month and inspiring a number of spin-offs.

It's really too much to ask at this point; a tiger doesn't change its stripes. And in a way I'm glad Kirby wasn't drawn into the reductionist POV of Ancient Aliens, a show which does its best to make none of these old stories seem alien, as in god-damn-what-the-fuck-you've-got-to-be-kidding-me alien. 

It's just more naturalism, more materialism, more shopping-mall American midnight.

More despair.

You see, materialism doesn't lead to a nation of scientists, rolling up their sleeves and boldly pressing at the frontiers of human knowledge. It leads to a nation of YOLO hedonists, drinking J├Ąger shots from each others' navels while running the Visa bills into the red at Cabo and Ibiza. Materialism gives us Kardashians, not Carl Sagans.

The evolution of Giorgio into Internet laughing stock- cui bono?

I could be wrong, but Ancient Aliens comes across as a show for people who've never had an alien experience, for people who've never tripped balls and ripped at the coffin lid of infinity, or for people who've never had such an experience forced upon them.

It's just the same old, same old; mind-blowing mystical experience (which nearly all of those ancient texts describe) reduced to a 1980s Saturday morning cartoon.

It comes across as a show for people who haven't had their worldview shaked and baked and then been thrown back and had to pick up the pieces again. As a show that takes the magical and makes it mundane, that takes the psychotronic and makes it pseudo-scientific.

I want to defend Ancient Aliens, really I do. But I won't. This was a golden opportunity- a major architect of today's pop culture who was also obsessed with ancient astronauts- and they blew it. Just blew it. I'm sure Gerry Jones told them about Kirby, I'm sure their other comics guests probably did as well. But what do we get? The same soundbites you hear on every episode.

Go back and watch all the AAT documentaries from the 70s, with Rod Serling and William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy and so on and so forth. Even if you don't believe a word of it, that stuff still holds up and still kicks ass. And you definitely get the feeling that those motherfuckers were experienced.

Note: I know it's spelled "lede", but it looks weird as a headline.