I have an "Ancient Aliens 'theory'" theory.
Let me back up a bit. You might be confused by my contact info below into thinking that I, a grad student in history, would ever give any credence to the thought that ancient aliens ever existed. I assure you that this is not true. There are many reasons why I wouldn't ever give credence to this "theory" which build on the fact that I both know and can recognize fallacies. Of course, there is a strong argument to be made that any sleazy entertainment value to be gained from watching the show Ancient Aliens— I recently was informed that there is even a drinking game based on it— is not equivalent to the damage caused by idiots profiting by presenting themselves as authorities.
I must confess that I love watching Ancient Aliens more than I should. During the fall of 2010, I would head straight from my seminar on Thursdays, pick up some take-out, and chill out in front of the TV watching "Ancient Aliens." Of course, this is probably not the optimal way to spend my time, but I was not yet married and lived by myself, and those of us who have been there do our best. Anyway, I watched it under similar circumstances to a friend of mine who, as an English major, was required to bash the Twilight books at least twice a day by muttering something like (and please read this in a nasally stuck-up British accent) "I prefer books where characters actually develop" even though she secretly loved them. I have never read the Twilight books and probably won't, but I never understood the extreme amount of criticism they took. Methinks it has as much to do with their massive profitability and the fact that the pre-teen section in every bookstore became "lame vampire central" as it does to any lack of entertainment value. Even though I remember reading good young adult books — Ender's Game, anyone? — it's not like this has been the main source of history's great masterpieces. The much-loved Hunger Games trilogy isn't incredibly original and doesn't offer real insight into the human condition. Entertainment is entertainment.
Where was I? Oh, right, talking about my insane secret love for "Ancient Aliens." Credibility: intact.
Anyway, my "Ancient Aliens 'theory'" theory is that it is a giant hoax, or rather a parody of everything that academia does with the past-archeologists, philologists, and, yes, historians. Now, to be fair, rarely do respected members of academia ever make wild jumps of logic using information spread across vast distances of both space and time, but it's not like any academic still reading this after my defense of Twilight didn't reflexively think of a few examples. Again, these mistakes aren't on the level of "If its possible, it must be aliens." We shouldn't expect this from a parody anyway.
Of course, I must clarify what I mean by "parody." I don't think that this is intentionally done for humors sake by ancient alien theorists. I think they have unintentionally — or even intentionally, I suppose — accessed the language and the perceived source of "authority" of professional academics. One episode of "Ancient Aliens" includes the word "text" more frequently than even the most verbose literary theory paper. Every episode probes the gaps of knowledge which academics often leave open by choice, since they cannot make even a reasonable claim. In their famous discussion of Peru's Nazca lines they argue for the presence of airstrips and skyward signs as evidence that aliens had once landed and were expected to return. This not only engendered the classic weak response of archeologists to unknown cites ("It was probably religious") but also pointed to an unfortunately common fact of study whether serious and farcical: we are limited in our perception of the past by the trappings of the present.
In other words, if super advanced aliens did indeed build the Nazca lines, why must we assume they are airstrips? While this question is ridiculous on its face, we must (and do) ask ourselves similar questions about feminist, economic, political, and cultural history: at what point do modern discourses and definitions overwhelm a reasonable view of the past?
In other words, feel free to enjoy the splendid ridiculousness of "Ancient Aliens." Just remember that in the insane ranting of functional idiots lies a warning that we often come much closer to them than we would ever like to admit. OK, not all that close, but you know what I mean.
— Greg Bearringer is a graduate student in Medieval Studies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.