Thursday, October 28, 2010

Astronaut Theology: Zecharia Sitchin, Caprica Pass On

Zecharia Sitchin, the man that too many people incorrectly credit as the "creator" of Ancient Astronaut Theory, passed away after a rich and full ninety years of life on October 9, according to a brief statement from the family on his website. I hope this won't sound insensitive, but it's my hope that people will take the opportunity to put some of his theories to rest as well.

I read The Twelfth Planet many, many years ago and was very impressed with it, but wasn't too impressed with its sequels. Aside from the noticeable repetition of the information, Sitchin's writing style was often a hard slog and the definitive tone wasn't always matched by the evidence on hand. However, Sitchin's work eclipsed that of his more controversial predecessor Erich Von Daniken, particularly in the 90s (though I think the pendulum has begun to swing back).

Though it appeared towards the end of the 70s AAT boom, The Twelfth Planet was so compelling because Sitchin presented a kind of epic narrative of his (controversial) interpretations of the Sumerian tablets. It wasn't just data- it was a story. Strangely enough, it all reminded me a lot of Dune, with its labyrinthine political intrigues and apocalyptic desert battles (not to mention Dune's inferior sequel syndrome).

Sitchin's theorizing also tied into the neo-Gnosticism of the 90s conspiracy underground and had a huge influence on the works of theorists like William Bramley, Jim Marrs and David Icke. That eventually trickled down to the YouTards and the snakehandlers, who tossed in the usual Collins Elite "fallen angel" propaganda and the usual desperate stretching of Genesis 6:4 to explain any and all anomalous phenomena.

At the same time, Sitchin's overly literal interpretation of some of the myths (which are bound to be corrupted, given the passage of time), and the entire issue of Nibiru being a planet with a 3600-year orbit also opened up AAT to ridicule. The elderly, bookish Sitchin was often his own worst salesman, and could often be seen on documentaries like a deer caught in the headlights, stiffly reciting his interpretive theories as unassailable fact. To be frank, that turned a lot of people off.

All that being said, Sitchin's many contributions to alternative history are crucial, and he did produce a ton of breakthrough discoveries, particularly in the multiple visual references to the double helix. Some of the "debunking" of his theories was flat-out deceitful (I'm thinking of one snakehandling parasite in particular), but Sitchin's dogged refusal to revise and rethink some of his interpretations helped make a lot of that criticism stick.

Particularly with a topic as incendiary as AAT, it's very important to give the novice some room to question and explore. The best work done in the field does that. What's more, when you make definitive statements on controversial issues, the burden of proof is on you. When you question definitive statements made by the orthodoxy, the onus is on them. Important distinction.

All that being said, allow me to raise a toast to a freethinking brother, who lived his life kicking at the doors of orthodoxy, and put everything on the line to speak his truth, even if it may not be yours or mine.

Well, I'd like to say that Caprica's cancellation was a surprise but the show was just too demanding on an audience whose attention is being atomized. I enjoyed it because I recognized that the series was actually presenting us with an allegorical version of third century Rome. I was looking forward to seeing who the plutocrats secretly bankrolling the Soldiers of the One were (you figured that out, right?) and I was looking forward even more to seeing some brainpan-bursting payback for their terror campaign, but had a terrible feeling it wasn't necessarily forthcoming.

Now there's another Battlestar Galactica spinoff coming (BSG being one of the many AAT-centered sci-fi franchises, a fact that fandom doesn't quite know how to acknowledge) and I hope that the new showrunners- hell, all genre showrunners out there- realize that the serial format is ratings death.

Sure, the critics love it and the hardcore fans do as well but Joe Average Viewer doesn't have the patience for it. The next step will have to be working the almighty mytharc in standalone episodes that have a beginning, middle and end.

I know I have a lot of viewers out there in Hollywoodland, so a word to the wise.

And don't forget, the new season of Ancient Aliens premieres tonight, October 28 on The History Channel.