Unlike viewers, ancient astronaut theorists are genuine

According to the Ancient Astronaut Theory, there is a strong likelihood that human civilization was able to develop because throughout history aliens have intervened and gifted us with their technology. Without the guidance of “ancient astronauts” that may have hailed from the Sirius star cluster, humanity never would have flourished. Stonehenge, the Pyramids at Giza and all of our most treasured ancient cultural sights are the products of alien intervention, and if we knew how to use them properly, we may be able to contact our interstellar benefactors.  Although there is no concrete evidence to prove these things, mainstream scientists cannot directly disprove them.

These are all claims made by the ancient astronaut theorists from the History Channel show “Ancient Aliens.” Very few people take ancient aliens and the rotating cast of theorists seriously, and yet the show has survived for eight seasons and more than 100 episodes have aired. It has even earned the cultural badge of honor that comes with becoming an internet meme: a screencap from season one of Ancient Aliens shows the star and producer Giorgio A. Tsoukalos and his signature hair.

Very few people tune in to this show to learn about what they believe is the true history of mankind. Most viewers watch “Ancient Aliens” because television programs no longer have to be substantive for us to want to watch them.

Instead, we are entertained by things that make us feel better about our own lives and more secure in our own intelligence. In his essay “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction” David Foster Wallace explores this idea.

“Not only are sincerity and passion now ‘out,’ but TV-wise, the very idea of pleasure has been undercut,” Wallace wrote. “TV can flatter [us] about ‘seeing through’ the pretentiousness and hypocrisy of outdated values, it can induce in [us] precisely the feeling of canny superiority it’s taught [us] to crave.”

This craving that Wallace postulated in 1993 is demonstrated by the fact that today not one, but three films about cataclysmic shark tornados were filmed and successfully sold to audiences. The American consumer loves to indulge in things that they can mock.

I am perhaps more guilty of this than the average person. “The Room” (which has been called the “Citizen Kane” of Bad Movies) is frankly one of my all time favorite films. Watching things that are ridiculously bad is entertaining, because making fun of things is way too much fun. The truth is that ironic appreciation is one of the few ways in which it feels safe to like something.

In a 1999 article, “Glamor and the End of Irony”, Harvie Ferguson of the University of Glasgow hypothesized that this preference for irony over ingenuity stems from the fact that we all want to express ourselves without the risk of doing so directly.

“Irony, a form of negative communication, dissolved the disjunction by allowing the authenticity of the inner self to be expressed indirectly by affirming its opposite,” Ferguson wrote.

By making fun of all the Real Housewives of Atlanta, New York, Orange County and Timbuktu, we consciously distance ourselves from them. We all want people to perceive us as smart and reasonable, unlike, say, a version of Abraham Lincoln that kills vampires, Snooki or Giorgio Tsoukalos.

In the past few years, ingenuity has begun to re-emerge in pop culture. Lady Gaga set aside her theatrics and recorded a jazz album with Tony Bennett, and Nicki Minaj ended the era of her alter ego “Roman” and released a deeply personal album about her past.

The golden age of reality television seems to be drawing to a close as the giants of the genre like American Idol die out. This denouement of reality TV comes just in time for the emergence of some of the best scripted television in history (I’m looking at you, Breaking Bad). Perhaps irony is on its way out, and honest appreciation is once more on the rise.

Once again, I will admit to being a bigger fan of the ironic watch than the average person. I have seen far more episodes of Ancient Aliens than I should have. But, I still am hoping that an era of sincerity is on the way. Many people my age, myself included, seem to struggle with being genuine.

Ferguson’s theory was not off-base: admitting to liking something seems to reveal too much about the self, so we hide behind the things we dislike and let them do the talking for us. We should start letting things be great again because they are actually great, not because they are fun to mock.