History Channel, H2, and the Legitimation of Conspiracy Theories

History Channel History meme
History Channel History meme

Various television shows are  produced for niche markets. One example would be that of the programming of the History Channel and its sister network, H2. Owned by A&E, which is jointly owned by ABC, NBC Universal and The Hearst Corporation, History Channel and H2 have become synonymous with television programs that promote a conspiracist view of history, nature, and the origins of humanity.

Ancient Aliens

The show Ancient Aliens posits that aliens visited humans or prehistoric man in the distant past and modified human DNA to make the intelligent homo sapiens we are today. Episodes focus on large structures made in ancient human history and the contents of myths, legends, and holy texts as further evidence that extraterrestrials also visited humans throughout ancient times. The tone of these shows are generally full of conjecture; “What if it were true?” is a common tagline, but does not give an adequate counter argument such as “What if humans did all this on our own?”

Although the show is neither science, nor history, it is fun and is often a great way to discover the lore surrounding ancient ruins.

America’s Book of Secrets

America’s Book of Secrets first aired in 2012 and centers around the conjecture of a ‘book of secrets’ that the show’s producers posit may exist. The real purpose of the show is to give a detailed account of various American conspiracy theories involving the foundation of the United States, the lives and affiliations of America’s founding fathers, and the potential involvement of secret societies and secret knowledge which may have been at play. Unlike Ancient Aliens, America’s Book of Secrets often pits soundbites of conspiracy theorists and researchers with the authorities and experts that have in depth knowledge of the subject in question. The narration follows the same “What if?” stance quite often, but attempts are made to give accurate historic information when it is available. Airs in episodes but also has longer documentary-style shows attached to it as with the following video link.

Brad Meltzer’s Decoded

Novelist Brad Meltzer leads a group of researchers in an investigative reality history show (the easiest way to describe what this show is). This show does a lot to find out the facts of the real story behind the legends that have often been connected with various conspiracy theories. Even though the show attempts to find the truth rather than stew in the more ‘sexy’ plot conjectures of Ancient Aliens and America’s Book of Secrets but still keeps the show interesting and high energy.

America Unearthed

Premiering in 2013, America Unearthed‘s first episode sought the Holy Grail and started a series that is one part reality show, one part scavenger hunt, with a significant dose of conjecture included. The reality show surrounding real people hunting for, and often not finding; secret knowledge, mythical objects, or physical evidence of suspected secret societies. The series does a lot to show the lack evidence for the various subjects they investigate, but the series also seems to have inspired the next show.

The Curse of Oak Island

Oak Island, a small island in Nova Scotia, Canada, is the setting for this latest of History Channel series. A team of treasure hunters search for unknown (and perhaps non-existent) treasures. The series follows two brothers who invest tens of thousands of dollars of their own money in the hopes of finding what is suspected to pirate treasure, Templar gold, or perhaps the Holy Grail, in a shaft called the ‘Money Pit’ where several treasure hunters have sought the same. The curse refers to the various treasure seekers who had died in the hopes of finding the treasure (which, again, may not exist).

There may well be a cautionary tale inherently built into the plot of The Curse of Oak Island. May the various seekers of hidden knowledge, or proof of nefarious cabals continue to seek but, perhaps, be careful not to waste time or treasure in the pursuit.

Historic conjecture is the name of the game. Ratings seem to fuel a preference for reality shows such as American Pickers and Pawn Stars as well as spooky content such as Ancient Aliens and Roswell Files. The History Channel did once focus on history documentaries, but perhaps that is not what the History Channel is really about. One day, perhaps, when aliens have disclosed themselves to the people as humanity’s true progenitors, the vindicated History Channel may once again go on to more historically accurate fare. Until then, of course, I will continue to enjoy watching Ancient Aliens and Brad Meltzer’s Decoded while imagining the secret rites of America’s masonic founding fathers and planning my next trip to the Amhara church at Lalibella.

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