The Critical Mass

Nazi War Machines of the Gods

What the hell has happened to The History Channel? I can’t even begin to tell you what a comfort it generally is, when faced with a task like cleaning the kitchen last Sunday, to know that I can turn on the TV and scrub stove burners while watching the Nazi War Machine rumble through Poland.

Sunday afternoon, The History Channel featured a two-hour show called Apocalypse Island. I like those shows about ancient ruins. Mayan pyramids peering out of the top of the dense South American jungle remind me of my backyard. This particular show featured an explorer named Jim Turner, who had discovered an uninhabited Pacific island, which he dubbed “Apocalypse Island.” Its most-intriguing feature, he claimed, was a towering Maya monument that was the celestial key to the Maya calendar’s “End of Days.” Since the Maya calendar ends on Dec. 21, 2012, the thinking goes, that’s the end of the world. You won’t need a calendar after that, right?

Well, after an excruciatingly long segment on arranging for a funky boat for the dangerous trip, Turner and his buddy get to the island, and we see the remote monument. Sorta. The camera crew (always an invisible, unacknowledged presence on these expeditions) gives us a couple of shots of the monument, allegedly a stone head and crouching jaguar, as Turner excitedly explained its significance in a language I’ve come to recognize as excited, unsubstantiated gobbledygook.

I was suspicious that the camera crew only gave us perspectives of the monument from two angles. It was so weathered, Turner had to provide an artist’s rendering of what it must have once looked like. To me, it was just a volcanic rock formation that looked like something if you viewed it from a certain angle, and squinted your eyes, and remembered that it was blanketed in seven centuries of sea-bird shit. Like New Hampshire’s Old Man on the Mountain. Or looking at clouds and thinking, that one looks like Ernest Borgnine.

I Googled Jim Turner and Apocalypse Island. The Internet chorus is virtually unanimous. It’s a fraud. Apocalypse Island is actually a place off of Chile called Robinson Crusoe Island. There is a town there. And an airport, so there’s no need to charter a funky boat to get there. The monument, a couple of geologists point out, is simply a crumbing volcanic basalt ridge. Some astronomers add that Turner’s claims of the monument’s celestial alignments – the key gobbledygook – aren’t real. And one more thing. If you go to Turner’s web site, he’s asking for donations, as much as $500, to fund his research.

As I moved on to de-greasing the ceiling fan, Apocalypse Island was followed by a mini-marathon of a show called Ancient Aliens, which was highly recommended to me by some of my very intelligent friends. The premise of the show is that “star people,” as they insist on calling them, have been visiting the Earth for centuries.  We know this because the star of the show – the spectacularly moussed and spray-tanned Giorgio Tsoukalos – tells us so. His point of view is propped up each episode by a handful of unemployed journalists and self-assured mystics with candles burning in the background, as well as bare tires such as Chariots of the Gods author Erich von Däniken.

To these guys, everything we know about the ancient world is irrefutable proof that aliens were here. Somebody scratched a big monkey in the desert dust of Peru? It must be a signal to the star people! There is no other possibility! They traveled thousands of light years to Earth in spaceships whose technology is beyond our comprehension, just to mutilate cattle? That’s how dangerous they are!

Arguments are built from the ground up as articles of faith, rather than fact. Typically, Ancient Aliens poses a question like, “How did primitive civilizations move those big rocks? Did they have anti-gravity devices?” Then, rather than answer yes or no, Ancient Aliens just assumes so, and skips to the next question. “If they did have anti-gravity devices, how did they work?” Then they trot out a bemused physicist who merely answers a speculative question about anti-gravity devices. In the context of all this craziness, Ancient Aliens makes it sound as though a legit scientist has just said yes, the people who built Stonehenge had anti-gravity devices.

Then, they never again used this miracle technology. It disappeared. They lost it.  Or maybe they loaned it to the Mayans.

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