Monday, September 5, 2011

Have We REALLY Come to This?

For as long as I can remember, or at least since I've had the capabilities and resources to use, I've been a big history buff.  It began at an early age with baseball.  Baseball was my first love and one of the things that is unique about the game is its attachment to tradition and history.  You can catch a glimpse of this by watching just a few minutes of any telecast of a Major League Baseball game.  Without exception, there will be a totally ridiculous statistic brought to the viewer's attention...Just as an example:

"Wow, John.  This is only the fourth time since 1891 that a team has recorded a single, double, triple, and homerun in three consecutive innings."

I honestly have no idea if that statistic is correct, but I can guarantee that baseball stats are so in depth, that the right researcher could tell you how many times it has happened, what two teams were playing, and what players recorded each hit.  Having that tradition and depth is what drove me to research baseball.  My dad always talked about some of his favorite Cardinals growing up: Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Joe Torre.  He talked about Stan "The Man" Musial, and made sure I watched Ozzie Smith's spectacular glove work at shortstop.  I got my hands on a few books detailing all-time great players, or historic stadiums.  Granted, it wasn't much of a research base, but my love for history started with researching baseball.

As I got older, my love of history only grew.  I majored in history at UK, and had about 50 credit hours worth of history classes, ranging from Colonial American history, to the ancient Mycenaeans, Victorian England, Medieval Europe, post-Roman Russia, Ancient Greece...I touched on a little bit of everything.  And I loved it.  Not only did I get to learn about other cultures in lectures, but I also had to do a ton of research on my own.  Now, I don't love research...In fact, it can get extremely tedious and mind-numbing.  But, the end result makes it all worth it.

I'm not just a history nut, though.  I'm an information nut.  I'm a research nut.  You can ask anyone of my friends.  Just in the past few months I've researched things as useless and pointless as the life span of a lightning bug, why cats purr, NCAA Football champions since 1940, the word "feral" and countless others.  If something comes up in conversation that I don't know about, or if I just think of a question, I will immediately log on to Google and look it up.  I'll research anything, but historical topics are by far my favorite.

It kind of goes without saying that I watch the History Channel often.  Pawn Stars, Mysteries of the Bible, Modern Marvels, Cities of the Underworld, American Restoration, any of the countless documentaries they show about a variety of topics...I love them all.  But, I have to admit, HC has taken a very strange turn in the last few years.  Much like every other major network on television today, it is important for them to keep viewers watching.  They have to draw you in with something.  Apparently, presenting facts about historical events wasn't getting the job done anymore.  With the dreaded year 2012 swiftly approaching, the History Channel has turned to fantastical doomsday prophecies and theories in an attempt to stir up hysteria that already exists in a society that is constantly being told what to think by the media.  And how do they get people to watch this nonsense?  They present it as fact.

Take a look at this trailer for History's hit show, Ancient Aliens.

Now, I realize they very carefully word it so it's not EXACTLY factual.  Key words like "a new theory","perhaps", and others cover their tracks.  But, if you watch the show (and you really, really should, at least once) you will see that theories and presumptions go out the window.  Experts that tell you why our civilization can be explained by alien encounters will go to the furthest depths to convince you they are right.  And, when presented with evidence to the contrary, it is simply brushed off as coincidence or not even addressed at all.

In the scholarly world, Ancient Aliens is pushed aside as a crackpot theory, as well it should be.  It is called "pseudohistory," which, as the name suggests, is nothing more than partial history.  Basically, pseudohistorians take widely accepted historical fact and attempt to refute them, or change them.  Often, they will take history and instead of disproving it, they simply give an alternate route.  This is the case in Ancient Aliens.

On the show, they look at everything from the Pyramids of Giza, ancient Mayan culture, Stonehenge, and even Renaissance art looking for evidence of alien life on earth during antiquity.  Is it far-fetched?  Absolutely.  Is it ridiculous?  Without question.  Borderline insane?  Ha, well, watch one episode and you be the judge.  I think it is.

The fallacies in the show would literally take months of research and writing to fully document.  So, I'm just going to focus on a few.  First of all, let me introduce you to Giorgio Tsoukalos, who is the primary "expert" the show uses.  He appears in every episode, and if you visit his website you'll see this little gem in his SELF-WRITTEN bio:

"Giorgio A. Tsoukalos is the star and Consulting Producer of ANCIENT ALIENS - THE SERIES (2010) and publisher of Legendary Times Magazine, the only Ancient Astronaut publication in the world. Giorgio is the real-life Indiana Jones and he is changing the way the world thinks about the Ancient Astronaut Theory."

He is referred to as the "real-life Indian Jones" but when he is the one calling HIMSELF that, it loses any meaning it MIGHT have had otherwise.  Let's try an experiment.

"Zach Edwards is the coolest guy on the planet.  He knows everything there is to know about everything.  He is the Easter Bunny.  He is Santa Claus.  And he is changing the way the world thinks about what a man is, and should be."

Do you believe one word of that hogwash?  Neither do I.

Let's go back to Tsoukalos.  One of the things that any real researcher looks at when examining a source, is the credibility of the source.  For instance, when writing a research paper, the internet can be a great tool.  Using websites with extensions like .gov, .edu, or .org are usually extremely credible.  They are operated by the government, educational institutions, or legitimate organizations that may specialize in a particular topic.  Likewise, using written sources can be tricky too.  It's best to use scholarly journals as sources, because they are written by experts on the particular subject.  Obviously, the best to use are contemporary authors who saw an event first hand, obviously not the case on Ancient Aliens.  In the case of Tsoukalos, let's take a look at his "credentials."

Tsoukalos graduated from Ithaca College with a degree in Sports Information Communication.  After that, he worked as a bodybuilding promoter for Gold's Gym until 2005.  He travels, and runs the website that I referenced above, but does that make him an "expert"?  Absolutely not.  In reality, it makes the fact that the History Channel uses him as an expert all the more laughable.  How can a television network that supposedly produces programming about historical topics use a guy with a background in Sports Information as their primary expert?  If the show was about the history of bodybuilding, I might be more inclined to trust his judgement.  But when it's based on a theory that human civilization has been fully set in motion by aliens coming to earth?  Sorry, I can't believe a word he says. Not to mention, this is what he looks like:

If his lack of credentials aren't enough, you should hear some of the theories he whole-heartedly believes.  Just a few:

-The Babylonians had nuclear weapons.
-Every "god" in every religion was actually an alien.
-The whale that swallowed Jonah was actually an alien spacecraft.
-The ancestral foundation of the halo is light reflecting off of alien helmets.
-Humans are descendants of an alien civilization from a distant galaxy that was in the midst of a major war.  With their civilization on the verge of total destruction, they traveled back in time and across galaxies to Earth, where they implanted clones of themselves to build a new civilization.  This one is my favorite.
-The Annunciation to Mary was actually a spacecraft that made her pregnant.  He references a painting that records the event, saying the artist "Saw this spacecraft over Mary, and recorded it in this painting!" Problems: The painting is a Renaissance painting, produced roughly 1,500 years after Mary would have been alive.
-Science-fiction staples like tractor beams and time travel were extensively used by these "aliens."
-He constantly uses the term "exra-terrestials" instead of "extra-terrestrials."  This one isn't a crackpot theory, but it bugs the crap out of me.

Tsoukalos is little more than a salesman trying to get you to buy his product.  He does no scientific examinations, and has been accused by a group of similar scientists from Cal Tech of stealing their research findings and plagiarizing them as his own.  Nothing but controversy surrounds this guy, and unfortunately, that may be why so many people tune in to watch.

I just don't understand why the History Channel has sunken to the level of putting this garbage on television.  Don't get me wrong, it's extremely entertaining, but they truly present it as legitimate historical study, and it is anything but.  I challenge you to watch an episode or two, just so you can see the hilarity that is Ancient Aliens.  But, don't watch anymore than that.  If you do, they may keep it on the air and that would be the worst possible conclusion to this issue.

As an historian myself (albeit a poor one), I take offense to the lack of credibility underlying this show.  I'm all for revisionist historical study, because the ultimate goal is to find out the truth.  But, there is a fine line between revisionism and insanity.  And with Ancient Aliens, the History Channel sprints up to that line, and long jumps over it.  Key thing to remember...Don't believe everything you hear.  And don't feed the hysteria.

1 comment:

  1. Wow...and I always trusted the History channel for quality programming. I'm gonna watch one of these episodes now. I've been totally skipping over it just based on the title alone. I'll let you know what I think about it!