History or Hysteria?


By Brantley Thompson Elkins



Maybe you’ve followed all the fuss about a current biopic series on the Kennedy Family, which was commissioned by the History Channel but later rejected by that channel after numerous complaints of bias and inaccuracies. It ended up on ReelzChannel, a little-known cable outlet.


From all the controversy, you’d think the History Channel was taking the moral high ground, eating the cost of the series in the name of commitment to historical accuracy. But you’d be dead wrong. I hadn’t known this myself until a co-worker revealed to me all the things she’d “learned” from the History Channel about ancient astronauts, global conspiracies and the world coming to an end next year. When I told Velvet about this, she quipped that maybe the History Channel should by called the Hysteria Channel. But when I did some surfing, I discovered that John Major Jenkins had come up with the same epithet nearly five years ago after having been snookered into taking part in a program about the Mayan calendar and its alleged prophecy that the world will come to an end Dec. 12, 2012:




Jenkins, an authority on things Mayan, had been assured that the “documentary” would be done point-counterpoint style. But it turned out to be only a puff-job for True Believers, as witness the official press release about the show:


The world is coming to an end on December 12, 2012! The ancient Maya made this stunning prediction more than 2,000 years ago. We'll peel back the layers of mystery and examine in detail how the Maya calculated the exact date of doomsday. Journey back to the ancient city of Chichen Itza, the hub of Maya civilization deep in the heart of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, to uncover the truth about this prophecy. The Maya were legendary astronomers and timekeepers--their calendar is more accurate than our own. By tracking the stars and planets they assigned great meaning to astronomical phenomena and made extraordinary predictions based on them--many of which have come true. Could their doomsday prophecy be one of them? In insightful interviews archaeologists, astrologers, and historians speculate on the meaning of the 2012 prophecy. Their answers are as intriguing as the questions. 


Well, that was five years ago. But just the year before last the History Channel launched a series about Ancient Astronauts that was a puff job for the idiotic theories of Erich von Daniken, Zecharia Sitchin and others. That morphed into a 16-episode series last year:




Here are capsule descriptions of the pilot and the most recent episode:


The pilot presents the views of author Erich von Däniken who theorized that advanced beings from another world visited primitive humans, gave them the knowledge of the solar system, concepts of engineering and mathematics, and became the basis for their religions and cultures as evidenced by ancient monuments such as the Nazca Lines, the Pyramids of Giza and the Moai statues of Easter Island. 


"Alien Contacts" December 30, 2010. This episode proposes that extraterrestrials may have contacted various humans throughout history, such as Moses and Joan of Arc, to help guide and inspire them to achieve great things; or to pass on important messages for humanity; such as a supposed binary message given to a UFO-contactee during the 1980 Rendlesham Forest incident who believes it is the coordinates to a mythical island called Hy-Brazil. 


In between, the series touches such familiar bases as Roswell and less familiar ones like the Battle of Los Angeles in 1942 (This actually involved false sightings of Japanese planes; anti-aircraft fire never hit anything.). But the series did so well that the History Channel is promising more this year. Pigs from Space? Maybe it will also offer us more “revelations” about Nostradamus, the Bermuda Triangle and the Bavarian Illuminati (Still around, a recent program claimed – they supposedly control 90% of the world’s wealth, maybe staged 9/11, and are the verge of establishing a New World Order).


When Velvet and I went to the movies recently, there was a promo for another new History Channel series called Swamp People, about alligator hunters in Louisiana. That was at least good for a few jokes between us, like the hunters waterboarding the gators or torturing them on luggage racks, their wives doing insider trading in handbag futures. But there’s nothing funny about the channel’s catering to superstition and hysteria.