The untold truth of Ancient Aliens

In 2009, the History Channel's Ancient Aliens took a far-out concept and rocketed it into the pop culture hive mind. It dared to ask two questions: "Was it aliens?" and "Are we serious?" Unfortunately, eight years later, it's failed to come up with a suitable answer to either. Viewed through an objective and superficial lens, it's a show about passionate people discussing far-fetched ideas. Viewed through the lens of the public eye, it's either hard-hitting science that The Man doesn't want you to know about or a Yertle the Turtle pile of stupidity towering into the heavens. (Side note: Ever wonder how they stacked the turtles so high in that book? Aliens.)

Whether you're just casually aware of the program or a diehard fan, there's a lot about Ancient Aliens you might not know. Here's a behind-the-scenes look at this titan of documentary-ish television, presented without snark, sarcasm, or contempt. How did we manage such a difficult feat?

Aliens.

It was made by a top shelf nerd

In show business, it's not what you know about aliens, it's who you know that knows about aliens. Case in point: the man without whom Ancient Aliens might not exist, executive producer Kevin Burns. It's a name that instantly calls to mind the question "Wait, the guy from the PBS documentaries?" No, that's Ken Burns. Totally different guy.

Kevin Burns is, for all intents and purposes, the reason Ancient Aliens ever made the leap to television. While he's not particularly well known for his contributions to educational programming, Burns is a pretty big deal behind the scenes of the nerd world. If you've ever watched the cult sci-fi series Alien Nation, you're already familiar with his work. He also produced several specials about the Star Wars universe and has taken a couple of cracks at bringing back Lost in Space; once in 2004 with an unaired pilot and again recently with Netflix's new series. Sense a pattern? See a conspiracy? Good, now you're getting into the spirit of things.

You bring me the alien pictures, I'll bring you the alien war

In the nine years since its conception, Ancient Aliens has released a staggering 13 seasons and over 130 one-hour episodes. That's a lot of time to fill. Probably too much time. Really, looking at how much they've accomplished in that vast span makes you wonder what else humans could create given years and years to do it. One wonders if we could build pyramids. But no, that's silly.

Here's the problem. As anyone who's ever worked on a sitcom can tell you, after a while, you just start to run out of ideas. On Scrubs, it seemed to happen around the same time that Elliot cut her bangs. On Ancient Aliens, well, it's tough to put your finger on it. Recent episodes have featured such topics as "did aliens make NASA?" and "did aliens change the course of the Civil War?" The answers, in case you were curious, are "no" and "no," but there just isn't any money in a show called There Weren't Any Ancient Aliens.

Actual scientists hate it so much

It wouldn't make much sense to create an educational program without contributors who know what they're talking about. What would Cosmos be without Neil DeGrasse Tyson? How, indeed, would we know what C was for if it were not good enough for the esteemed Doctor Cookie F. Monster? He knows what C is for. He did his research. The results are in. The math adds up.

This being the case, it makes every bit of sense that Ancient Aliens would have its own stable of experts in their field. Now, given 18 seconds of thought, this raises an important question: How do you become an expert in aliens that have never been documented? According to actual scientists, you don't. The argument pretty much goes that being an authority on speculative alien history makes you a scientist in the same way that writing Harry Potter made J.K. Rowling a wizard archaeologist. Fun's fun, but don't pretend you did anything besides come up with a story.

It inspired skeptics to get real loud

Ancient Aliens has built up a dedicated fan base over the years, but you know who just might have spent more time on the series than its fans? The people who've never seen a full episode because every time they start one, they have to go into another room and scream into a pillow. While it may have inspired a few new Mutt Joneses to go searching for crystal skulls, it's incontrovertible that at this point, Ancient Aliens has birthed a lot more skeptics.

A cursory glance at the internet will show that there are now swaths of blogs, acres of Reddit, and hours of YouTube content dedicated to breaking down the hypotheses presented on the show. There's even a Lord of the Rings-length documentary, Debunking Ancient Aliens, that came out in 2012. The haters have been so thorough about debunking the show, the only question left unanswered is how they managed to rain so hard on this parade. For possible answers, please feel free to look up the Ancient Aliens episode "The Great Flood."

The 'Aliens' guy is crazier than his hair lets on

It just wouldn't be an Ancient Aliens piece without a section about the most flammable hairdo working in entertainment today: Giorgio Tsoukalos, aka the meme (which Tsoukalos says he loves) that your friend keeps sharing even though it's been almost a decade. When such colorful characters as Tsoukalos come into view, it's easy for the public to write them off as zany cartoons and not real people.

Tsoukalos has apparently always had a flair for the outrageous, having started out as a promoter for professional bodybuilders. But the world of dudes with 32-inch waists and 54-inch shoulders was too grounded in reality for Giorgio, so he switched things up and went on to find acclaim as a man who argues that the reason we can't see aliens is that they're invisible. For a more intimate look into the mind of a man who now sweats AquaNet, check out his Instagram page: a charming mix of sci-fi movie paraphernalia, people who dressed up as him for Halloween, and, weirdly, cryptoscience that he's debunked. Pick a lane, Tsoukalos.

And he's not the only one

Aside from the walking fire hazard that is Giorgio Tsoukalos, the most frequent guest contributor on Ancient Aliens is a fella named David Childress. A college dropout (nothing wrong with that) turned author and self-publisher (right on, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps!) specializing in the history of Atlantis (whoops … umm) and a history of plagiarizing the works of other authors for his own financial gain (all right, you're on your own, Davy).

Okay, but let's ignore that last part for the time being. Everyone makes mistakes, right? It's important at times to judge a person by their works and not their deeds. Do Childress' theories on the utopian techtropolis of Atlantis hold, you know, water?

Not by a long shot. As it turns out, the story of Atlantis was written by Plato, the same guy who gave us the Allegory of the Cave and other fables, always with the intention of getting across a philosophical moral. In the case of Atlantis, it was a story about an advanced civilization that learned the dangers of hubris. It was Jurassic Park, basically. And this guy wants to find it.

And they're not the only ones

And then there's Erich von Daniken. This next part's more fun if you imagine the Dating Game theme music playing in the background while you read it.

Ladies, take note: Appearing on Ancient Aliens over 60 times, this octogenarian Swiss charm bucket is famous for popularizing swathes of pseudoscience in his bestselling books Chariots of the Gods, The Gold of the Gods, and the somewhat less spiritually titled History Was Wrong. What he's less famous for? So glad you asked: his numerous criminal convictions, including fraud and embezzlement in the '50s and '60s. Yes, between 1957 and 1968, Daniken was working as a hotel manager in Davos, Switzerland. While working there, he racked up an eye-popping $130,000 in debt. Keep in mind, those are '50s and '60s dollars, so factoring in inflation, you're looking at closer to a cool million in today's Benjamins. He did all this through "misrepresentation of his financial situation, falsifying the hotel's books to make it appear solvent," according to a New York Times article on the guy from 1974.

Here's the fun bit: As part of that case, Daniken entered court-ordered psychoanalysis, where he was found to be "a prestige‐seeker, a liar and an unstable and criminal psychopath with a hysterical character." Anyway, now he goes on TV and tells people how much smarter he is than the experts.

It's gotten traction

It's a phenomenon that puts measles back in kids and keeps cult leaders in fresh white Nikes: Repeat stuff loudly enough and eventually, somebody's going to believe you. Sometimes, that person is going to be someone in a position of power. For example, in 2017, vice chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Dana Rohrabacher asked a panel of NASA scientists whether there were aliens living on Mars a few thousand years ago, which is a theory Ancient Aliens has bumped against more than once. The long answer: No.

And it gets way weirder. You might remember John Podesta as the chief of staff to Bill Clinton and counselor to Barack Obama. More recently, he's set up shop under a different spotlight as a guest on 2018's season premiere of Ancient Aliens. The subject of the episode? Hillary Clinton, against all odds, lost the presidency because of low voter turnout and a sloppy handling of the electoral coIl- just kidding. It was aliens. The show suggested she lost because of aliens.

As with all great documentaries, there's a video game adaptation

Remember growing up watching Mister Rogers' Neighborhood? How the joy of each day ended in the sting of disappointment when you'd realize that there was no video game tie-in to the part where Fred went to the factory to learn how bread was made? Ancient Aliens would never hurt you like that monster Fred Rogers did. They love you just the way you are. And that, presumably along with the burgeoning microtransaction market, is why they made a mobile game cleverly titled Ancient Aliens: The Game.

In the game, you play as a human tasked by aliens with advancing humanity. The aliens' homeworld is in desperate need of gold, so they hustle on over to Earth and manipulate humanity into becoming their workforce. If that sounds like the plot of Battlefield: Earth, it's only because you watched Battlefield: Earth. It would be irresponsible at this juncture not to remind you that this whole thing came out of the History Channel.

Get ready to learn some Latin

The entire show revolves around a logical fallacy so old that it has a Latin name: argumentum ad ignorantiam, meaning "argument from ignorance." Basically, it means "you can't prove it wasn't x, so it's gotta be x," with "x" in this case being "aliens." Here's an example of this argument in practice. Who made the shirt that you're wearing? You've got a pretty good idea it was somebody in a far-off sweatshop, but you can't prove that. When it comes right down to it, you could never find, with definitive proof, the exact person who sewed that together for you. And since you can't prove otherwise, it was probably Gary Busey.

It's true that we don't know how the pyramids were built, or exactly how they made the Nazca lines. It's even true that some original theories about how these wonders came to be have been disproven in the past. And yes, Sherlock Holmes said that once you have eliminated the possible, whatever remains, however unlikely, must be true, but he also smoked a lot of cocaine.

It might seem unlikely, but one of the greatest detractors of the premise of Ancient Aliens was Gene Roddenberry, the guy who thought up Star Trek. He said, "Ancient astronauts didn't build the pyramids. Human beings built the pyramids, because they're clever and they work hard." Hopefully we'll live up to that sentiment. Hopefully this show gets canceled.