Friday, April 3, 2015

Wonderful Nonsense and Unearthed America

There are probably all sorts of fascinating reasons that there was a market for UFOs and cryptozoology when I was growing up back in the seventies. I don't really care now and I definitely didn't care when I was eleven. What mattered was that there were lots of books of glorious nonsense for me to read.

The Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film in 1967 and Eric von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods? in 1968. Vincent Gaddis created the idea of the Bermuda Triangle in 1964 and Charles Berlitz popularized it his 1974 book of the same name.

This stuff, especially UFO and Bermuda Triangle themese, worked its way into popular culture. There's a 1975 tv movie called The UFO Incident starring James Earl Jones about the Barney and Betty Hill "abduction" and a tv show called The Fantastic Journey let Roddy McDowall get lost in the Triangle.

Cryptozoology was my favorite of all the bullshit subjects. It was the only one that actually had any sort of track record of
success and therefore the lowest bullshit quotient. Sure, scientists were more likely to uncover something like the coelacanth or a giant peccary and not a sea serpent but even as a kid that was cool enough for me. And I suspected aliens didn't own the Andes and there wasn't a mysterious vortex in the Caribbean.

I loved this stuff (and still do) because I'm a sci-fi/fantasy fan. Secret monsters, aliens, strange disappearances? Those things are at the heart of much of what I was was reading. 

It also seemed to rip the boring mask of reality away and expose all sorts of bizarre things going on in the background. It's cool to know secrets, even if those secrets were available to anybody who bought Chariots of the Gods? from the spinner rack in A&P.  

When I got older my taste for this stuff faded. After you've read one Bermuda Triangle book you've pretty much read them all. Same for Bigfoot and Loch Ness monster.

But I did get hooked on conspiracy and other crazy theories. That's for a whole other post some day. Suffice it to say, I don't believe them (OK, maybe the Business Plot because Smedley Butler's one of my heroes), from JFK's assassination to Nazis in the Antarctic. They are, though, a heck of a lot of fun to read about.

All of this leads me to America Unearthed. It's a History Channel 2 show about supposed lost and hidden pieces of American history. It's without a doubt some of the most magnificent bullshit I have watched in the last year or two.

Scott Wolter, the host, is a forensic geologist, a fine purveyor of grand theories about alternate histories of the settlement of America. In the earliest episodes, he argues for the presence of Mayans, Vikings, and Phoenecians, in the lower forty-eight.

I put the show on out of boredom and quickly was enjoying the silliness for what it is. Wolter brought out the Kensington Stone as proof of real Vikings in Minnesota and claimed Mystery Hill dated back to ancient times. I laughed at how angry he got when the park rangers at Chattahoochee wouldn't let him wander around protected sites or the guide at Roanoke dismised his ideas out of hand. He had heartfelt phone calls with his wife that ended with her telling him about a sudden, recent discovery that could prove his latest wild theory. It was all good, clean fun until he started talking about the Templars and the Holy Grail. 

It's one of the grandest and most debunked conspiracy theories out there. You can look up the details yourself. It's a mishmash of conspiracy theories, new age beliefs, and gnosticism, spawned by one of the most elaborate hoaxes every carried out. Dan Brown rode the hoax to fame and fortune, all the while claiming it was real and that he had discovered it. I don't want to ruin your own discoveries about them. Just start with the Priory of Sion and see where that takes you. 

Four episodes of America Unearthed's first season (the only one I've seen so far) focus on Wolter's theories about the Templars and how some escaped to the New World following their order's destruction in the 14th century. It's a wonderfully nutty web of unbelievable bits strung together with cords of ludicrous theories wrapped in sheets of nonsense. 

Later I found out Wolter has a two-hour show just on the Templars, the Holy Grail and the Kensington Stone. I need to find and watch that next. Then I have to see the second season where he spends at least one episode looking for the Menehune, the little people of Hawaii. 

I look at all of these shows and books as story telling. Maybe the tellers really believe in what they're saying, maybe not. But it doesn't matter. What they are doing is creating tales out of the myths and mysteries that litter our real world and finding patterns in them from which they can make new stories, and I can appreciate and enjoy them for that.


  1. During high school I read books by Charles Berlitz, which, as I recall, had to do with the Bermuda Triangle and the Lost Continent of Atlantis. I was also into Charles Fort, the phony grail history, ancient aliens, and so on. It's interesting how this straight-faced "research" and weird fiction / science fiction tend to cross fertilize.

    There was this late-night documentary TV show called Strange Universe that came on some UHF station. I watched it every night, at first because I found the theories interesting and/or entertaining, but later on because I was fascinated by the true believers they interviewed, the combination of passion and conviction with complete and utter detachment from reality. There was just a certain pathos to it, I suppose, and I pitied the people while somehow also envying and perhaps even admiring them in a weird way.

  2. If you're HPL and you read Madame Blavatsky you just have to find a way to work her writings into your own.

    Whether Wolter believes the theories he researched is the most intriguing part of the show for me.

  3. Don't forget the Hollow Earth theory, one of my personal favorites.

    So much of this stuff is whacky, nutjob fun, and for writers and gamers, perfect idea fodder...

  4. Yeah, Hollow Earth is pretty bats. Rudy Rucker wrote a completely nutzoid book, The Hollow Earth, years ago. The "hero" is E A Poe.