Teaching with the Alien

alien secret service

In previous posts, I’ve confessed to a weakness for “speculative documentaries.” You know, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, U.F.O’s, and all their friends in the crypto-zoologicaspere (I should copyright that term!).

One program holds a special place in my heart, however: Ancient Aliens.

As I’ve shared previously, this program performs a dizzying array of death-defying rhetorical shenanigans, and is so utterly removed from the logic that binds the rest of us to reality that I thoroughly enjoy watching it.

At its heart though, I think my love of the show’s antics is a love of rhetoric. I watch the crimes that Mr. Giorgio and company rhetorically perform against humanity and, like Superman, my argumentative mind springs into action. “This would be great to show my students!” I think aloud.

Uh oh. I think you see where this is going.

Unlike a lot of literature types out there, I personally don’t mind teaching freshman composition because, to me, the construction and expression of arguments are a vital part of what makes us beautifully and insufferably human – I believe rhet/comp to be central to any liberal arts education. With those lofty goals, the argumentative gymnastics of a conspiracy-ridden mind are gold, Jerry. Gold!

I give you the following video, for which I must thank my friend, Stephen:

Step One: What’s Wrong With This Picture?

I showed this video to my classes today, after confessing my love for conspiratorial narratives. I told them about the all-encompassing grand narrative of the Ancient Alien types – how the Annunaki supposedly came down and created human beings to mine Gold for them et cetera. (Here I should point out that this video is not connected to the program Ancient Aliens – it simply shares the same mythos). Then basically anything that ever happened after that is part of the alien conspiracy. The whole bit. I admitted some shame in knowing as much as I do about the “theory,” then I asked them to watch the above video and take note of some of its particulars to specifically argue against. The key phrase was “specific.” I stressed that they were to identify concrete formal and rhetorical structures that they could then analyze for their function and overall effect.

The conversations we had were excellent. Several students pointed out the problems with zooms that pushed beyond what pixel limits of the original video would allow. Still others argued that the abundance of rhetorical questions simply plants ideas in the views head and tempts them into making false assumptions. Others pointed out that the computer generated narrator-voice makes attribution impossible and that the script could have been written by a ten-year-old boy and we would never know.

One canny student observed that the application of a video filter that resembles a heat-sensing camera falsely suggests that the poor secret service agent is a reptilian. She noted that the heat sensor would have had to have been a part of the original video for that gimmick to work.

The Importance of Being Specific

I was proud of my rhetoricians in training. They noticed many things that I did not, and we had a series of terrific conversations about writing. Most importantly, I tried to stress that when they are engaged in argumentative writing, it really helps to have something to, you know, write about. By not simply relying on their initial, general impressions – “Are these people serious?” “Don’t they know that they sound crazy?” – they made it possible to have a productive conversation. In short, identifying concrete things that present problems gives the writer something to write about. I then urged them to take the same approach with their current research projects.

My Personal Response to the Video: Aliens? Maybe. Anti-Semitism? Yep.

Before moving on to the next topic of the day, I offered my own response to the video, re-enforcing the fact that my response was only really possible after identifying specific, problematic elements in the video’s argument. Now I’ll share it with the internet.

This video is a raging, syphilitic case of anti-Semitism.

First of all, whenever I hear the term “Zionist cabal,” my Jew-hater radar detector springs into action. Check.  Second, after laying down its “Zionist cabal” card, the video ever so un-subtly offers the following image of Lee Rosenberg, President of AIPAC:

Lee Rosenberg

I have no doubt that the video’s authors found Mr. Rosenberg’s most awkward moment so they could juxtapose it directly against the image that immediately follows; that of their “shapeshifting alien.”

Supposed Alien

The argument is clear. The video exploits its deceptive rhetorical tricks to suggest (without actually saying outright) that not only is there a Jewish conspiracy, but the Jews themselves are more closely aligned with the aliens than with the humans. This, of course, goes back to anti-Semitic rhetoric that spans the ages. The oft-debunked Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a model for this type of deception and, incredibly, there are still people who believe in its truthfulness, as I’m sure there are people who believe the claims of this 3 minute video.

This video is not simply mindless stupidity, it is ugly hate speech packaged for weak-minded conspiracy theorists. It is dangerous if we don’t pay attention to how it makes its arguments.

Oh, and in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, look at this.

Same as it ever was.

At any rate, I used this as an example of the importance of paying attention. Passive consumers of information are prey to dangerous minds, and may become dangerous themselves. Active readers have the benefit of an insight that is not only advantageous, but also a moral obligation.

English class may not always be thrilling, but the lessons we’re trying to teach you are important.

Unless, of course, I too am one of the Annunaki, sent here to confuse my students and keep my race in power.

I am bald, you know.

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Ancient Aliens: Religion is for Suckers, Try Blind Faith Instead!

Ancient Aliens

I have to confess something rather embarrassing right from the outset. I have fallen into the habit of falling asleep at night while watching what I can only call “speculative documentary” programming. Conspiracy stuff, Bigfoot and friends, and, of course, alien propaganda. This post is, I suppose a belated companion piece to my previous one about the Georgia Guidestones. Here’s the link to that if you’re interested. I find it all so very amusing and can doze off without feeling like I’ve missed anything important. Commence with your psychoanalysis. I’m sure I deserve it.

At any rate, Amazon Prime has just added three seasons of the (ahem) History Channel program Ancient Aliens. I have been sleeping very well these days.

title screenshot

title screenshot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The premise of the show is pretty simple, really. Ancient aliens. What about them? Whatever, it all comes back to ancient aliens. The pyramids? Yes. Zeus? Yes. Noah’s Ark? The Holy Grail? Thomas Jefferson? Yes. Yes. Yes. Even Bigfoot! It seems that anything that has or has not transpired in the human experience is a direct result of some paternalistic race of space travelers.

I have no interest in taking the time to debunk the program’s claims. Arthritis would surely kick in before I could finish. Besides, there is already a website that does that. Here. I’m more interested in basking in the delicious irony of this program’s ontological claims.

To summarize, people who call themselves “proponents of the ancient astronaut theory” find a way to stuff everything that the human mind has ever conceived of into their box of pre-conceived, dearly-held notions. Always at odds with “mainstream archaeologists  or “mainstream scientists,” these folks insist that nothing our race has ever done or thought of could have been accomplished without help from “flesh and blood extraterrestrials.”

It goes without saying that the program is ridiculous, but I should take a moment to add that it is also insulting to everyone who is a human of any sort whatsoever. One mainstay in its presenters’ rhetorical bag-of-tricks is to claim that folklore, mythology, and religion are always misunderstood as metaphors or stories. The show’s main “character,” this Giorgio person pictured in the meme above, always insists that the literary and artistic images left by ancient man were not creative inventions, but rather literal depictions of alien technology and beings. This denial of the primacy of the human imagination kind of infuriates me, in all honesty. To deny that human beings have the capacity to engage with the world and all its complexities and create an imaginative representation of that variousness is to deny that we are human at all.

Wait a minute. I guess they do deny that. At about 23 seconds in:

Each program has its own theme (the Bigfoot one is a special hoot), but I’m particularly interested in those that graciously correct our misguided religious notions. According to the ancient astronaut theory, the Bible is full of stories of extraterrestrial encounters. We, in all our silliness, have mistaken them for accounts of religious experience with the Divine. Adam and Eve, Jacob’s Ladder, and even the life of Jesus himself are all literal recorded accounts of contact with aliens. Let’s be clear about that. This group of people maintains that everything in the Bible is literal. It just isn’t divine because that would be crazy. Jesus was a flesh and blood alien. Jacob saw, not angels, but (you know) aliens descending and ascending the ladder. Adam and Eve were genetic mutations created by the aliens!

Two things strike me as ironic here. First, these people take the Bible far more literally than I do as an orthodox man of the Christian faith. I’m perfectly OK with Job being an existential three-act play passed down to help us deal with the terrifying complexities of life. But, oh yes, I forgot. We have no capability of imagination of this sort. Oops. My bad.

Second, let’s think about this systematic debunking of not only the imagination but of the supernatural as well. I have elsewhere maintained that the imagination and religious practice are intimate partners. So what happens to our faith in the ascendance of the ancient astronaut theory?

According to the ancient astronaut theory (I do so love typing that phrase), angels and gods (and God) are misinterpreted flesh and blood aliens. Our adherence to belief in the supernatural quality of these beings is clouding our vision and we are unable to see the truth; not just about this, but about human history. The death of religion as we know it is a natural consequence of this epiphany. We are now free from our slavish devotion to a God that insists that we live our lives in such a way that glorifies him in everything we do or say or think. No longer must we look back at our lives and even history and look for ways in which he has guided and protected us. No longer must we look forward to the return of a God that doesn’t even exist.

Now, with this new vision, with this freedom that comes with realizing that there is no God, but only aliens, we can imagine our place in creation differently. We can know that we were created in the image of these aliens. We can see how they’ve guided us through the ages, inspiring our art and helping us mature as a race. We can feel the elation that comes when we know their plan for our lives; when we accept that they could not have created us for no reason. We can seek their will for our growth as a species. And finally, when they at long last return to welcome us into the universal community of planets, we will be ready because we’ve been expecting them all along.

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

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