Saturday, November 30, 2013

X-aminations: Space: 1999

Space 1999 : Pilgrims Through The Void

(My apologies for the long spell, this required a lot of research, and outside circumstances, which I won’t go into, have delayed its completion. –MA) 

The ‘what if’ scenario of science fiction and man’s reaction to cataclysm was always remained prevalent in the genre, as well as the theme of adaptability and evolution, these ideas were explored in interesting ways during the first run of Space: 1999.

Often it seemed that Chris Carter would cast certain characters based on childhood shows that must of left an impact, and while it’s not especially surprising, the selection of acting talent was frequently revealing. While the casting of Darren McGavin as Arthur Dales in “Travelers” was pretty self evident due to his involvement with Kolchak: The Night Stalker, the casting of Roy Thinnes as Jeremiah Smith, was revealing when you consider Thinnes role in the seminal mid 60s series, The Invaders, a show that had elements that would be featured on The X-Files, conspiracies, covert alien colonization, and questions about identity. Another telling casting decision was Martin Landau as Alvin Kurtzweil in the first feature Fight The Future. While the casting decision might have been motivated by Landau’s role in Mission: Impossible, as well as the high caliber of his acting work, one also has to wonder if Landau’s work on Space: 1999, playing commander John Koenig, was another factor.

In the history of Science Fiction television, there seems to be a common thread, that Science Fiction that deals with metaphysics tends to resonate more with the public than programs that deal with hard science, and lean secular. The overall excellent first season of Space: 1999 explicitly dealt with metaphysics, with scenarios that constantly forced the characters to accept the other, and to accept and embrace intangibles. This does not mean the first season didn’t have it’s flaws, but the production values, the set design and the visual effects were fairly impeccable for it’s time, but the uneven scripts undermined the season.

Gerry Anderson has an interesting history, Born in April, 1929, Bloomsbury, London. His brother Lionel served in the Royal Air Force at the start of World War II, Lionel’s experiences in America influenced Gerry. He began his career in Photography, earning a traineeship with the British Colonial Film Unit after the war. In 1947, he was conscripted for national service with the RAF. After starting his career as an editor for Gainsborough Pictures, he moved into several projects in the mid 50s, utilizing his skills with puppets and miniatures, Once Gerry became involved with Sylvia Anderson in the early 60s, he had a series of hits, Supercar, Fireball XL5, and Stingray, the first British children’s television show in color. Thunderbirds would go on to be his greatest success, he followed this with another success Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.

The early template for Space: 1999 could be found in Gerry Anderson’s 1969 film Doppelganger, also known in American as Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun, starring American actor Roy Thinnes, played an astronaut who travels to a newly discovered planet on the opposite side of the sun, which is revealed to be an exact mirror image of Earth A thoughtful and measured film that came right at the heals of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Anderson followed this feature by developing UFO. While the premise has a few elements that reference the usual Abduction UFOlogy, - earth is visited and attacked by aliens from a dying planet and humans are covertly harvested for their organs, a military organization set up to combat the invaders, SHADO - But the show was more of a wild and wooly adventure, with a Thunderbirds flavor, than a series that seriously explored such esoteric subjects, that ran from 1970-1971.

Problems between Gerry’s wife, Sylvia, started to develop around this period, deciding to branch out on his own, Gerry Anderson’s next project was The Protectors, with Robert Vaughn and Nyree Dawn Porter. In spite of the success of The Protectors, UFO experienced a drop in ratings both in the UK and US, due to Gerry’s ideas within UFO, to expand the SHADO moonbase, he wasn’t willing to let certain ideas die. Being that Sir Lew Grade had stipulated that UFO should primarily be based on the moon, and such episodes set on the moon had been the most popular during the series run. Anderson approached Grade’s number two man in the New York division, Abe Mandell, and proposed taking the research and development done for UFO, while Mandell was open to the idea, he stipulated he didn’t want any earth-bound settings.

The first attempt for the pilot script, “Zero-G” had some similar elements that could be found on UFO, but writer George Bellak would end up establishing many of the elements to be found in “Breakway”. A deal was arranged, Group Three Productions with a partnership with the Andersons and production executive Reg Hill would produce the series, ITC Entertainment and RAI would provide the funding. Grade, while aiming for a US network sale, insisted the series have American leads, and employ American writers, and directors. Hence writer Bellak was brought on board, as well as Christopher Penfold and Johnny Byrne. Several writers credit Bellak for setting up the writers guide to help define the three lead, the facilities for the moonbase, and potential storylines.

It’s interesting to note that in 1966, several effects crew members working on Thunderbirds were convinced to defect the show and work on Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and one could note the eventual influence. As a key figure in the development and influence of the first season, Penfold wrote 16 of the 24 episodes. Born the son of a vicar in Bristol, educated at Cambridge, Chris Penfold joined Australia’s ABC, becoming a writer and producer in radio and television. He eventually returned to England to work in industrial documentaries, before becoming story editor on the series The Pathfinder. Penfold commented in a 1997 interview:

"I was certainly interested in the idea of making popular the kind of science fiction which dealt unashamedly with metaphysical ideas, And in the first series of Space: 1999 a lot of the episodes, not all of them, but a lot of them, confronted those issues head on. I think they make very good programmes."

Penfold elaborated in a 2002 interview.

"Space fiction stories are mainly thought of as action adventure. What we were engaged in [with] Space: 1999 was of course action adventure, but it was also ideas adventure. We weren’t afraid of big ideas in series one, it was what drove us on day to day, it gave us a huge sense of excitement."

This explicit metaphysics was one of the strengths of the first season, and one could argue that each episode acted as an initiation rite for the moonbase crew, as they were headed into something transformative.

Episode summations

“It’s the struggle for survival that makes monsters of us all.” – Dorzak, season two

The premise is established in the pilot, newly appointed to Moonbase Alpha at the end of the 90s, Commander John Koenig heads the team, with Paul Morrow the second in command. Doctor Helena Russell is the head of the medical section, and a long time associate of Koenig, Victor Bergman is the science advisor, Alan Carter is the third in command and heads the massive squadron of Eagles that operate on the base. Sandra Benes is the data analyst. David Kano is the computer operations officer, and doctor Bob Mathias is Doctor Russell’s deputy. The following sequence is not based on broadcast air dates, but production dates. Yet I tend to feel this sequence makes sense in revealing the progression and development of these characters as they condition and accept the situations they find themselves in.

In “Breakaway”, Commander Koenig is sent to Moonbase Alpha to insure that a deep space probe ship to readied to send to a planet that has sent an intelligent signal to earth, Meta. But an unstable nuclear disposal area explodes and blasts the moon out of earth’s orbit. In “Force of Life”, A form of alien energy enters Moonbase Alpha, and inhabits a crew member, the force needs heat to survive, and starts to kill crew members, this type of story is frequent to the first season, and I’ll explore in a moment. In “Collision Course” The Alphan’s, after destroying an asteroid that is in their path, discover a massive planet, Koenig, on an interception, meets an alien embarsary from the planet who convinces him to do nothing to stop the collision, but the alpha crew challenges him, a test of faith. In “War Games”, an episode that would be re-cut into a feature, The alphans are tested from an alien planet they cross paths into believing they are under attack, but the attacks are projections to test their fear. Koenig and Helena visit the planet, learn about the race, and have to make a choice. The next episode featured Brian Blessed, “Deaths Other Dominion”, where the Alpha team come across a frozen planet, and meet fellow Earthmen, a team living under the planet that were part of a Uranus probe mission from 1986. But there is a price on Ultma Thewley, all of the humans are immortal, impotent, and can only remain that way if they stay on the planet.

The next episode seems to be a commentary on Colonial expansionism and the unforeseen genocide of native Americans due to exposure to diseases, In “Voyage’s Return”, The Moonbase Alpha team encounter one of the Voyager probes, but the probes drive system is destructive, yet the original inventor of the drive system is on Alpha. . A fleet of ships, the Arkons, have been tracking Voyager, and threaten to destroy Alpha and eventually Earth, due to the drive technology of Voyager destroying two worlds. The next episode which featured Julian Glover, “Alpha Child”, dealt with the first male baby is born in Alpha, and who is taken over by an alien entity named Jarek, a fleet of ships arrive, as the baby rapidly grows to five years old, before growing to adulthood. Jerek’s people intend to take over the souls of the Alpha crew, until another alien ship arrives to deal with Jerek and his people who are renegades. The next episode, A modern day retelling of the fable of George and the Dragon, has been written about by John Kenneth Muir, “Dragon’s Domain”, As recounted by Helena, an alpha crew member who is a friend of John Koenig and Victor, had encountered, on a deep space probe mission to an earth like planet in 1996, a graveyard of ships and an alien space dragon that killed the crew for blood. The Alpha crew find the same graveyard, that same crew member confronts the alien beast. In the next episode, which featured Joan Collins, “Mission of the Darians”, The Alphans encounter a massive space city, a kind of Ark for the Darians, whose planet died off ages ago. The Darians were split into a distinct class system after nuclear explosions destroyed parts of the space ark, a small circle of elites survived, and the rest were mutants, nine hundred years later, The Alphans discover the truth, the elites uses mutants and primitive humans as food to survive.

In “Black Sun”, Moonbase Alpha encounters a Black Hole, and has to initially create a reverse shield to protect the base. It soon becomes apparent the odds are slim and a survival ship is loaded with a crew of six, three men, three women including Helena. Ultimately, the episode deals with mortality and faith, and the thin line between science and metaphysics. The next episode featured Catherine Sheel who would go on to play Maya in the second season, The episode, “Guardians of Piri”, has been argued by some to be a retelling of the story of the Island of the Lotus Eaters, with Koenig cast in the role of Odysseus. The Alphans encounter a strange, surreal planet, Piri, where it’s main computer created an idyllic life, which led to the extinction of it’s people through apathy. Koenig must fight to save Alpha and his people from the same fate. There’s a minor subplot with Kano, whom had electrodes implanted in his brain years before, due to an experiment on Earth, predating VR, and the premise of the film, The Matrix.

In “End of Eternity”, a fairly weak entry, the tone of which is similar to “Force of Life”, a horror tale. The Alpha team come across an asteroid they discover is hollow, blasting the inner chambers open they release an immortal alien named Balor, whom was shunned from his home world for being a sadist and psychotic, Balor’s ultimatum is to control the Alphans for his own experiments. In “Matter of Life and Death”, Helena’s presumed dead husband, Lee Russell, reappears during a reconnaissance mission to a passing planet that the alphan’s believe could be a new home. But Lee Russell is an anti-matter copy of her husband, it’s presumed, a spirit to warn the base to not colonize the planet, after the copy dies, the warning is ignored with disastrous results, and Helena is given a choice. The episode plays as a parable about humans reentering Eden, the paradise that men were expelled from. In “Earthbound”, a crew of Alien pacifists, with a ship that is programmed to be bound for Earth, crash lands on Alpha, the crew greet and support the aliens, except for Commissioner Simmons (From “Breakaway”) who sees their vessel as a means to return home. Simmons blackmails the base and get’s his just deserts, featuring the great Christopher Lee.

In “The Full Circle”, A very sub par episode, the Moon passes an earth-like planet, dense with jungles, a strange mist causes a number of reconnaissance crew members to disappear, crews lead by Bergman, discover the mist transforms Alphans to a Nethanderthal state. The episodes feels like an excuse for the production team to shoot on location, and there’s an overall feeling of slumming it, in spite of an attempt to comment on man’s primal allows Sondra to play the victim. In “Another Time, Another place”, A distortion in time produces two separate moons with two separate alphans from different eras, one female crew member seems connected to the two eras, and tries to warn of danger when Alpha discovers the ruins of Earth. A slow, and somewhat interesting philosophical episode, that takes a nod to the spirit of Rod Serling.

In “The Infernal Machine”, An all-powerful spaceship visits the Alphans, it’s inhabitant Delmer Plebus Powells Gwent is an old man, and the ship is an extension of his genius and ego. After luring Koenig, Russell, and Bergman onto the ship, a militarized cat and mouse game ensues with the ship demanding supplies and companions. Leo Mckern delivers a sympathetic performance as the old genius who had placed his worst traits into the machine. The episode touches on another on going theme using reason and compassion as opposed to using military offense when dealing with the unknown. The episode thematically is similar to the V’Ger plot of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, a sentient machine that has the development of a child. Similar plot points are also found in the next episode, “Ring Around The Moon”, where a crew member is possessed by an orange glow, which ultimately kills him, it transpires it comes from a giant energy probe originally sent from the planet Triton, the probe which captures the Alphans and insists that Helena should become the eyes of Triton. To rescue her, Koenig must convince the probe that it’s home has long been destroyed and it’s mission to collect data serves no purpose.

In “Missing Link”, While on a recon mission to an alien world, Koenig and crewmates are on an Eagle that is destabilized, the Eagle crashes back on the moon and Koenig appears to be dying, his spirit is captured and scrutinized by an resident alien and his daughter on Zenno, due to the fact that humans appear to be the Zenno’s missing link. Pensive and psychological, although a little uneven in the characterization, it features Peter Cushing. In “The Last Sunset”, While Eagle’s do another recon mission to an oxygen rich planet they are heading into orbit, a probe attaches itself to the lead eagle. Back on Moonbase Alpha, while studying, the probe unleashes a gas, followed by a fleet of probes that gives the moon an atmosphere, and a weather cycle, but the develop causes a new set or problems for the crew, and it’s more than bargained for.

In “Space Brain”, The moon crosses paths with a massive space brain, a recon ship is destroyed, reduced to a rock as the brain emits anti-bodies. The brain tries to communicate with the alpha’s with massive amounts of data the crew can’t understand, on a second recon mission, a crew member is used as a conduit between the brain and the bases computer. A solution must be found or both the moon and the brain could be destroyed. “The Troubled Spirit”, A botanical scientist in the middle of an experiment has triggered and unexplained event. A psychic entity appears and kills a couple of crew members close to the scientist, but the entity might or might not be the future spirit of the scientists demise. The crew has to make a choice. This is in essence a ghost tale with an O’Henry twist.

By the next episode, the alpha crew seems to have learned the lessons from “War Games”; In “The Last Enemy”, The moon crosses paths with a sun with two worlds on opposing sides of the sun, both worlds and it’s alien races are involved in a age old war, and moon base alpha are caught in the middle as the moon is the perfect tactical location for both sides, the base has to stay neutral or face destruction from either planet. In the season closer, “The Testament of Arkadia”, The Moon is mysteriously locked into orbit around a dead, alien planet, and the power reserves of Moonbase Alpha mysteriously start to drain away, the crew must visit the planet Arkadia to discover the mystery, where they find the mummified remains of humans, and after finding Sanskrit writing learn of an alien holocaust and that earth are the decedents of this planet. A choice must be made, to create a new Adam and Eve, or face death with a dying moonbase.

Missed Opportunities

Leading into the second season, several shake-ups would change the nature of the series original intent. The break up of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, factored into some of the changes, when ratings for the first season dropped in the United States in the Autumn months, Lew Grade canceled production for further work on season two, Gerry Anderson and Fred Freiberger were able to rallied the situation and do a re-pitch with the alien Maya. arguing that the dynamic would shake up the interaction of the characters, and re-spark viewer interest in the states. But it also in essence helped to dumb down the series. Setting aside the criticism of the scientific implausibility of the pilot episode, regarding how the moon blasted out of Earth’s orbit, a point that Isaac Asimov was highly critical of, there is also the missed opportunity of having a more compelling, biblical story arc. If the event of the breakaway had had to do with a massive commit or meteor has struck the earth, with something to the effect of shattering the planet in two, and causing a blast wave that broke the Moon from it’s fixed orbit, then you eliminate any hope of ever getting back to earth, and the Moon and Moonbase Alpha becomes a kind of Noah’s ark, with the survivors searching and waiting to find a new home. Certainly, the scale of the moonbase, suggests a city and miniature society. If the bio-chambers, envisioned as bio-domes, featured a range of animal life, this would reinforce the Noah’s ark meme.

When considering the civilian aspect of this society, unless one assumes this base was strictly a military industrial operation, then the lack of a civilian vs. military hierarchy, then the lack of development with Commissioner Simmons, who only appears in “Breakaway” and “Earthbound”, is another missed opportunity as far as a recurring character. A dynamic between Commander Koenig and the Commissioner could have been set-up; a tension between civilian and military needs. Such dynamics were put to great effect with Ron Moore’s Battlestar: Galactica, between Adama and President.Roslin

Writer Christopher Penfold was able cast some light on the inconsistent quality within the first season, in an interview from 1997:

"As the series developed, the increasing concerns of ITC for a kind of science fiction which I felt very alien to me began to have the effect of undermining the scripts which were being written. We had very good scripts which had to go back to the drawing board to meet a requirement which had come from Abe Mandell, who didn’t appear to have any understanding that if you take one strand out of a script, it effects everything else in the script. So a lot of rewriting, needless rewriting, went on and this had the effect of bringing the scripts further and further behind schedule. The difficulties came to a head and Gerry asked me to leave the series. I don’t remember having any severe falling out with him, but I realized the way the wind was blowing as far as story content was concerned and I was, at that point, utterly exhausted anyway."

Most people, when they reference their memory of the series will recall Catherine Sheel’s Maya from the second season, but I have found myself always underwhelmed by season two, and often found it inferior. Some of the reasons for the poor quality have everything to do with significant cast changes that changed the tone of the series. Barry Morse apparently had grown dissatisfied with the treatment of his character, Victor Bergman, and opted to not return. Undermining the trifecta of Koenig, Russell, and Bergman - a set of character arcs that shared similarities to Kirk, Spock, McCoy from Star Trek, or Harry, Ron, and Hermione from the Potter series. If the writers had allowed Bergman’s character to be more developed in season two, and progressed his arc to something more satisfying, and allowed for his demise at the end in the second season – he was an older man with an artificial heart – it could have resonated. The inclusion for Maya for a third season would have made sense other than the abrupt change at the start of the second season.

The other baffling change was the absence of the second in command Paul Morrow, and the appearance of Tony Verdeschi as the second in command, as well as the eventual love interest for Maya in the second season. Being that Tony never appears in the first season, it is a complete break from continuity, we are left to assume he was deep in the bowels of the moonbase, and moves up in rank with no explanation. It would be revealed that Fred Freiberger held a certain dismissive attitude about certain characters in later years, but many of the inconsistencies in the second season would merely help to diminish the reputation of the show. Fred Freiberger became notorious for cutting corners with the production, the look of the sets and costume design. Martin landau has commented:

"They changed it because a bunch of American minds got into the act and they decided to do many things they felt were commercial. Fred Freiberger helped in some respects, but, overall, I don't think he helped the show, I think he brought a much more ordinary, mundane approach to the series."

Critics of the first season often comment on the scientific implausibility of many episodes, yet they fail to recognize the season one series might not be realistic, it works in terms of it’s dream imagery – touching on some very primal psyche issues – the show, and each episode seems to act as an initiation rite, compelling the characters to accept, adapt, and transform from their accepted understanding of the universe, consciously or not, the series works within the purpose of alchemy. But another aspect that is referenced in the episode “Dragon’s Domain” when Helena Russell observes about the crew ‘inventing their own mythology’ in the closing moments, touches on the idea of mythologies reinventing themselves anew as our complicated understanding of our existence evolves.

All of this makes the first season worth more of an reexamination then some might have assumed. Some of these retellings like in “Guardians of Piri”, are interesting in context. In Odyssey IX, Odysseus describes the tale of the Lotus-eaters thusly:

"I was driven thence by foul winds for a space of 9 days upon the sea, but on the tenth day we reached the land of the Lotus-eaters, who live on a food that comes from a kind of flower. Here we landed to take in fresh water, and our crews got their mid-day meal on the shore near the ships. When they had eaten and drunk I sent two of my company to see what manner of men the people of the place might be, and they had a third man under them. They started at once, and went about among the Lotus-eaters, who did them no hurt, but gave them to eat of the lotus, which was so delicious that those who ate of it left off caring about home, and did not even want to go back and say what had happened to them, but were for staying and munching lotus with the Lotus-eaters without thinking further of their return; nevertheless, though they wept bitterly I forced them back to the ships and made them fast under the benches. Then I told the rest to go on board at once, lest any of them should taste of the lotus and leave off wanting to get home, so they took their places and smote the grey sea with their oars."

The theme of the tale can be seen as a comment on man’s nature to be easily distracted away from our true purpose. Certain conclusions can be drawn by the origin of the “Dragon’s Domain” episode – George and the Dragon. Of course the way that the tale is retold is interesting when you take into account the known variations of St. George. In the earliest account, the Golden legend, the king is forced to sacrifice his daughter from a lottery to appease the dragon, when livestock offerings fail. St. George passed by the lake per chance where the Dragon dwelled, after wounding the beast, the princess helps George subdue the beast, George persuaded the city folk of Silene to convert to Christianity with the promise the slay the beast, which he did. In later accounts based in Libya, a poor hermit tells George of the beast that has ravaged the country, and this leads to his quest, not by chance, but by choice. Another alternative version from Essex tells of St. George losing the battle with the dragon early on in the encounter. St. George retreats, and wanders down the river, prays over his challenges, removes his armor to melt it down and forges it into a metal box. He places his fears, doubts and lack of faith into the box, faces the dragon again with no armor and then slays the beast. This leaves a curious comment about the meaning of “Dragon’s Domain”, is Tony Cellini’s demise due to a lack of faith or an inability to overcome his personal demons from the first encounter? Regardless, like St. George, Cellini manages to convert them into the idea of believing in ‘belief.’

Christopher Penford wrote both “Guardians of Piri” and “Dragon’s Domain”, and he certainly pointed a way to reexamine classic mythologies and religious allegories and present them in a contemporary setting, which the why the abandonment of these memes all the more baffling. It has been rumored that a new series is being developed, Space: 2099. If this version comes to pass, and if the producers take pages from Ron Moore’s approach, perhaps some of the promise and potential of the idea can be fulfilled. Nevertheless, the first season is worth examining as it represented a time when the Science Fiction genre on television was allowed to intelligently explore the subject of metaphysics. We might not see the allowance of such subjects, or it’s like, for a long spell.

Special thanks to John Kenneth Muir, and Harry Craft for their insights.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The trouble with 'celebrity webmasters'...

(The following article was written as far back as January 2012, but held back due to certain concerns. While seeking the advice from a small circle of colleagues, some felt it could read as antagonistic, while other’s saw no issue. The following piece is not directed at any X-Files fan site, or fellow Philes, but a series of general observations.)

I’ve been mulling over this subject for a very long time, and it is based on my own personal observations over time, and a few direct experiences. For some fans of either this blog or the overall work of The X-Files Lexicon, some of the following points might seem like I am biting the very hand that feeds me, and I hope they won’t be misconstrued as a lack of appreciation on my part, I have always been very aware over how fortunate we have been. Yet, the longer you run a fan site that keeps growing and developing, the more pitfalls you risk encountering, and that’s really the way it is, the dilemma becomes – how to continue, and retain your integrity?

Personally, I have been at this game of being involved with a small circle of fan sites from as far back as 2000. I was a moderator and minor contributor to a site I won’t mention, from 2000 to late 2001. Then I became a moderator and minor contributor to The Harry Potter Lexicon from 2002 to 2005, and this is not withstanding the years of observing the rise and fall of countless other fan sites, as well as noting the price that is exacted for highly successful fan sites.

Yet over years of my observations, I learned and tried to apply what I learned with the establishment of The X-Files Lexicon in 2005, and tried to uphold my ‘statement of principles’ at the time of my launch. Yet it is a juggling act to try and avoid various pitfalls and maintain a level of objective honesty, and avoid conflicts of interest even while being offered the occasional perk, I am always reminded of the Rush lyric: “Glittering prizes, and endless compromises, shatter the illusion of integrity.”

Perhaps upholding pure integrity is an impossible ideal, but then again, one might be able to sleep better if they hold themselves to a higher standard, and treat people how they wish to be treated.

I remember seeing some of these dilemma’s early on as I visited some hugely successful movie news fan sites with whom won’t be mentioned by name, where the webmaster’s would be wildly inconsistent with their argument's, or would allow their opinions to be co-opted by studios that would curry their favor with press access, or elaborate press junkets, or free product, while the outside public would hold some illusion that such fan sites were different, more honest, or better than the mainstream press, either media or print, when in truth I didn’t see any distinctions.

The avarice of successful sites can be their un-doing, if one isn’t diligent. There’s a number of traps that I can list to help explain how sites can lose their credibility.

Too much praise.

On a universal level everyone likes to get recognition for their efforts, and it’s natural to enjoy, on some level, compliments, which I do, but I also compartmentalize, and contextualize such compliments. It never changes the fact that at the end of the day you have more work to do, and more to prove, I take it with some modesty, but what I have noticed in some cases, with certain webmasters, they cultivate a climate that encourages sycophants, a kind of unhealthy adulation that seems disproportionate in the scheme of things. In many respects, I don’t trust sycophantic praise, and thankfully I have never encountered that problem with the Lexicon. In truth, while agreement is nice, I don’t expect anyone to agree with me on various points, and that dialogue, that disagreement is healthy.

Some consider me an “expert” with all things X-Files, and while such labels are flattering, as I have stated before, I really consider myself more a facilitator who had a good idea back at the beginning of the site in 2005. I am well aware that some webmasters will be invited, or will petition to make public speaking appearances at conventions, and so on. While I wish them the best of luck, I have never seeked out making such visible appearances, it’s just not my thing, and while I can be assertive when needed, I just don’t have that inclination.

I should also point out, I have always been diligent and mindful with using the phrase “We” when speaking about any success within the Lexicon site, and not “I”, no one succeeds alone, and this distinction helps to keep myself in check.

Advertising and selling out.

The Lexicon does use a certain amount of website advertising, but in truth, we generate little revenue, I consider it mostly extra gravy, and it’s something I don’t depend upon, but I have observed with hugely successful sites where their web hits generate revenue, if the webmaster is dependent on that revenue generator, then they can become a slave to the success, and will go to great lengths to feed that machine. I’ve observed this a number of times where people will be driven to do things, for the sake of competition, they otherwise would never do.

Another byproduct I have become all too aware of is the trend with webmasters to write, sell and get published biographical works about their websites, their experiences with meeting fans, and to dish on their experiences with interviewing, and meeting celebrities. While my feeling is ‘to each his own’, I share no such interest on capitalizing on my experience with running a professional fan site. While this subject hasn’t been broached within the fan inquiries I receive, I should state the following:

I have no intention to publish a print edition of The X-Files Lexicon in any form, for profit. Where it could be done with relative ease, when you consider our growing percentage of interviews, original articles, or the articles within this blog, such a book could be done, but it won’t happen, the only way such a book would be published in any form as if the profits went towards some charity. The other reason why I feel no need to write any book is the fact that the Lexicon’s history is all there on-line, the site is an open book, and our interaction with people of note is well documented, there would be no need to write about any antidotal tales.

A part of my problem is that I feel that such books are driven by such hubris, and narcissism, especially when dishing gossip about the fandom experiences. The reason why I support such fan efforts by Erica Fraga and writers like Amy Donaldson, is the fact that their publications offer original content, and fresh insight into The X-Files phenomenon.

The problem of objectivity

I had previously mentioned in late 2008 about my prior involvement with The Harry Potter Lexicon, the lawsuit debacle between RDR and JKR’s legal team, and the debate over “Fair Use” copyright and the internet. At the time I diplomatically avoided citing my specific problems with the Harry Potter fan news site, The Leaky Cauldron, and their reporting of the RDR law suit, and specifically web mistress Melissa Anelli who exclusively handled the bulk of such reporting of that case, which favored a bias for JK Rowling, which I guess could be expected. But the site used their clout, which was significant at the time and abused it, to go beyond covering what was a mere dispute between publishers, and engage in a character assassination of the webmaster of The Harry Potter Lexicon, Steve Van Der Ark, where the Cauldron acted as the judge, jury, and executioner, when Steve was never listed as an official defendant in the case, but as a mere witness.

Melissa Anelli had close ties to JK Rowling, Warner Brothers, Scholastic; The Leaky Cauldron’s actions I’d argue were driven by fear, based on my speculation, over losing the relationship they enjoyed with Warner Bros, and the access of JK Rowling herself. In entertainment media, access equals power, in many cases access also generates on-line advertising revenue

At the time, Melissa had broken the code of ethics rule for on-line journalists as cited here, due to her evident conflict of interest.

This breach of ethics could have been avoided by Melissa Anelli early on, if she had recused herself from reporting on the case, and brought in a writer who was steeped in copyright law, and could have explained the murky details to Potter fans, Melissa never did that. I should add, the relationship between the Leaky Cauldron and the HP Lexicon was indeed complex, as both sites were involved with membership with The Floo Network, a small group of high profile HP fan sites. This crisis dissolved that partnership.

I remember all too well, visiting the comments section of The Cauldron, and seeing a propaganda strategy employed with Cauldron insiders, and sychcophants, early on when the mere question, or suggestion of unprofessional bias was raised by a fan, the attacks on fans who raised the question were voracious, and the tactic, of insisting the Cauldron was being objective and professional, this tactic reminded me of Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels when he argued that if you repeat a lie, (or, in this case, a credibility exaggeration) persistently and strongly enough, it would be accepted as fact.

At the time of this issue, I created a Facebook group arguing for this unprofessional bias from The Leaky Cauldron, while it generated only a small percent of followers, it provided a platform for a circle of fans to trade information, get the word out, and hold some semblance of accountability.

The tactic’s against Steve Van Der Ark and The Harry Potter Lexicon worked. The price was steep. At the time I had departed HPL in 2005, it was a robust, active site with a large following, and still putting out new material on a regular basis. By 2008, the bulk of the entire staff had resigned, in many cases due to pressure from outside fans, voracious attacks from other fans in many cases towards contributors, and while the Lexicon site is still available, it hasn’t been active in any measure for years.

It is only in retrospect after a number of years, that certain things become clear. At the time of the RDR suit, one of the claims of JKR’s legal team was a print edition of the PHL site would be detrimental to the eventual publication of a Harry Potter Enclyopedia to be written by JKR, an argument that never washed for me as there was never any evidence to me that the writing of such an encyclopedia was impending. It baffled me that JKR’s team, at the time, would focus on such a tactic as to character assassinate Van Der Ark and the HP Lexicon, and it only became clear recently when JKR launched “Pottermore”, an official site was probably in the works at the time the RDR lawsuit developed. They probably saw a window of opportunity to use the “fair use” issue to eliminate a website competitor. JKR has been known for having a litigious inclination over other slights. In fairness to JKR, in her deposition she did comment that her decision to move forward with the suit had nothing to do with Warner Brothers, you can find a summary of the entire case here.

By 2005, while I had grown disillusioned within the fandom of Harry Potter, it was mostly a desire to move into other independent areas, by 2008, my disillusionment was complete. Personally, and sadly, I feel no connection whatsoever to that scene. I haven’t bothered to read any of JK Rowling’s books since then. Not The Tales of Beedle The Bard, not The Casual Vacancy, not The Cockoo’s Calling. I wish her luck, but I moved on.

One of the unfortunate byproducts of professional fan sites engaging in this kind of conduct is the fact that they become blunt tools of corporate interest, and I suspect that The Leaky Cauldron, Melissa Anelli, and her team were mere pawns in a greater scheme. I haven’t found this to be the case within X-Files fan circles, and to the great credit of Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz, they have always been approachable to the fans, and seemed to feel little threat over copyright issues, as long as such fan activity promotes the X-Files / Millennium phenomenon in a beneficial manner.

I cited this example to illustrate a byproduct of what happens when webmasters gain too much access – you see a level of abuse, of jockeying for power where the need becomes to stamp out competition, and ultimately there are no winners in such circumstances, based on what I’ve heard through other sources, website interest in the Leaky Cauldron has declined in numbers. I always suspected it would.

Conclusion – The problem itself.

I have addressed a number of points to breakdown my observations, and issues with the conduct of outside professional fan sites. To the great credit of the X-Files fandom community, I rarely if ever see these issues, most of the fandom are populated by such intelligent, and independently minded people, I see less of an inclination for sycophantic behavior, it may be there, but it seems to correct itself over time, and that’s why I love being involved with this fan base.

One remedy might be our support of the network platform known as The Syndicate, as the platform might help The X-Files / Millennium fan community to steer away from the click type situations that leave segments of fandom insulated, but I digress.

I think the reason why these behaviors come up for webmaster’s of some professional fan sites, might simply be that such webmasters allow their identity to be defined by the success of such sites, if they have nothing else to fall back on – for example, success with an independent career or occupation, or artistic success as a filmmaker, writer, musician, painter, illustrator, or a digital artist. But my observation remains that the success of running a professional fan site is a hollow success, especially being that you are focused on the creative success of someone else, yet we live in a culture where there’s a growing trend to celebrate trivial success.

In my case, I have varying degrees of success, and a career that involves my personal passions,.. filmmaking, music, writing, and media. Where I don’t feel the need to cling to the success of the Lexicon, I would be more than willing to walk away and hand ownership to someone else if the opportunity were to arise.

I have seen cases of webmasters whom have stayed too long in the game, and should have handed control to others and walked away, where they have allowed hubris to damage their credibility – pride goeth before the fall, so to speak.

While I can understand this fear, this desire to cling to what they have, life is also about change, and moving into new territories. Buddhism describes the very problem of attachments, and the need to let go.

Ultimately, the highest compliment you could pay to an artist who has influenced you is to go forth and create your own original material, and that itself, perpetuates a healthy cycle of creativity.

AddendumIn 2009, when I had access to the good people at 20th Century Fox Television, I took a risk and asked the legal team at Fox, if they saw any issues, or evidence I had breached the issue of “Fair Use” regarding The X-Files. At that time, they found no issues of concern.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

When esoteric influences are everywhere

Often images say more than words, I have driven through enough parts of California to have seen a lot of pop culture references to various weirdness, be it UFOs or Cryptozoology, for example, that you tend to take it for granted. The following ‘Bigfoot’ images can be seen on Highway 5 headed towards Eureka. Often I suspect most people don’t give these things a second thought.

When driving through Marin County around the piers, one can find the following neon light UFO motif.

There’s a lot of architecture through the US that references “Flying Saucer” iconography. One example was built in Tampa Florida, 1968.

Or this structure in Pensacola Beach, on Panferio Road.

Or this structure in Rio De Janerio, Southeast, Niterio.

Or in novelty models, machines, or displays, as demonstrated:

Even David Bowie’s 1969 album, with the Space Oddity track, was referencing UFOs and grays.

Which begs the question, when esoteric subjects have become the mainstream, where do you go from there?

Friday, May 31, 2013

Random Thoughts 2013

There are a number of substantial blog entries that are slowly being worked on, so this is just offering some footnotes on certain interests. I haven’t written about the personal impact of Ray Harryhausen as a child, but he captured the imagination of several generations of filmmakers, visual effects artists, and his work with producer Charles Schneer built up a body of iconic work. After recently reviewing my copy of First Men In The Moon, I realized that I had forgotten that Nigel Kneale, who’s work with the Quartermass series remains legend, was the co-screen writer for that film. Someone whom I had been in contact with in the past, Tim Lucas, has written the best piece as to why Harryhausen’s work was so important.

On another point: Someone had recently uploaded on You Tube the full movie of Starship Invasions (1977), a Canadian production that starred Christopher Lee and Robert Vaughn. One does get the feeling that these actors were sort of slumming it by appearing in this film. But for those interested in the UFO phenomenon, the film referenced a number of UFO iconoclasts that were prevalent in the real world culture at the time. Enjoy it while it lasts, as I suspect copyright issues will force it to be pulled down soon enough.

This month also represents another milestone: the release in late May, 1977 of George Lucas’s Star Wars. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote up several pieces about the film’s impact on Bay area audiences in 1977. I was a part of that generation that was at the right age to see that film. I fear that contemporary readers in this day and age do not understand the visceral impact, or have forgotten about the visceral impact that Star Wars had on a certain generation. I mean that impact was seismic, and drove a lot of people to want to get into film, the arts, or the sciences. John Wasserman’s review correctly sized up the film, acknowledging that “The Force” was in essence, God. The article by Peter Hartlaub accurately depicts seeing the film at the Coronet Theatre in 70 MM, in six track Dolby. I was one of those people that would gladly wear a “I was there, May, 1977” badge. When I write seismic, I would liken it to The Beatles on Ed Sullivan for our generation; it was that great of a shift in the psyche of a lot of young people. The article is also interesting with the portrait that is painted, sans the historical revisionism that has occurred with Star Wars, and now that we are entering into the post-Lucas era, I fear we will see a lot more revisionism under the Disney machine.

Lastly, this brings up some unpleasant thoughts about the new Star Trek: Into Darkness film. There isn’t any other way to put this, but I had some real problems with the second half of the film. While I had no problems with a reimaging of the “Space Seed” story arc, and really liked the 2009 film, I felt the overt quotes from The Wrath of Khan used in the film seemed lazy on the part of the writers. Many of the quotes seemed out of context in relation to the aim of the story. I was left with the impression that the writers weren’t as clever as they believed they were, and I could not tell if the writers and J.J. Abrams weren’t demonstrating a real contempt for the viewing audience, and to long-term Star Trek fans. It’s true that Nicholas Meyer did not view Star Trek as a sacred cow back when he helmed ST II: The Wrath of Khan, but having met Nic Meyer, in spite of his high intelligence, I never felt he had contempt for the fans, nor the viewing public. This is a real problem for the film, and now that word of mouth is circling, this might explain the weaker box office than expected. I appreciate that J.J. Abrams has expressed real admiration for The X-Files, but some things have to be said, and the attitude with certain sites to not criticize Abrams and view him as ‘one of us’ as a self-professed genre geek, really must stop. By many accounts, Abrams has always been a Hollywood insider, and has professed to not liking 60s Star Trek, as he sees it as being a little too talky and cerebral. I see too many fan sites that are tying themselves in knots trying to defend Abrams on this film, and it’s a great disservice for all.

While there has been a certain level of cynicism that has developed within Hollywood genre blockbusters, when filmmakers start to develop contempt for the viewers, the worm indeed turns. Harryhausen captured that sense of wonder--even an exploitation genre film like Starship Invasions had a certain naïve, but flawed charm--and Star Wars shared the same enthusiasm, reconnecting with the past, while moving forward with innovation. Something seems to be lost with some of the new generations of genre filmmakers. If Abrams sees Star Trek as too high minded, how could he not see The X-Files in the same way?

This is why I have such misgivings with Abrams being involved with any X-Files reimaging, if such rumors persist.

Special thanks to XScribe for editorial assistance.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Esoteric Studies, Part 2: Mitchell-Hedges Crystal Skull

What I've seen, I've seen because I wanted to believe. I…if you look too hard, you can go mad… but if you continue to look, you become liberated, And you become awake, as if from a dream… - Fox Mulder (Patient X, Season 5)

One of the inherent problems with people who explore these areas is the risk of accepting anything at face value, without one’s own inquiry. This has been a concern I have brought up previously. One should have a filter, discern, and accept that if there is enough forensic evidence that something isn’t necessarily true, then it probably isn’t. Why would the subject of crystal skulls hold such appeal? Actually, I think I understand the appeal. Archeologists keep making enough discoveries about ancient civilizations that end up altering our assumptions of those cultures–there are some known gaps in history that haven’t been explained–and it would demonstrate a hubris for any scientist or archeologists to assume that an ancient culture wasn’t more advanced. I don’t mean in the industrialized sense, as we have come to know it, but in the sense of cultures that had knowledge that we only ascribe to coming from western culture. The curiosity with Crystal Skulls speaks to a suspicion many share–that many conventional scientists aren’t giving the public the whole story, or that scientists are so blinded by their own assumptions, or hubris, they ignore data that is right in front of them.

We left the previous piece with the origin of the Mitchell-Hedges skull in question, that the origin had been cited in an anthropological journal which connected it to an art dealer named Sydney Burney, and the fact that Norman Hammond had failed to mention the crystal skull in his book about Lubaantum, which he had excavated, and had argued that the crystal skull had nothing to do with Lubaantum, and had noted “I have always thought it is most likely a memento mori–something designed to remind us that we all must die–of sixteenth to eighteenth century origin. While a Renaissance origin is not improbable, given the sheer size of the rock crystal block involved, manufacture in Quing-dynasty China for a European client cannot be ruled out.” Sotheby’s records show that Sydney Burney had put up the skull for auction in 1943, but since no one had bid no more than 340 pounds for it, Burney kept it, and it was apparently sold to Mitchell-Hedges in 1944 for 400 pounds.

Mitchell-Hedges on one of his expeditions.

Matters were further complicated when Joe Nickell pressed Anna Mitchell-Hedges about the story. She had explained that the skull had been left for security to Burney for a loan to finance an expedition, and that Burney had no right to offer the skull for sale. Yet there was no scrap of evidence to prove that the skull was in the possession of Mitchell-Hedges before 1944. Furthermore, a letter from Sydney Burney, dated March, 21 1933 to someone at the American Museum of Natural History declared that before Burney owned it, the skull was in the possession of the collector from whom Burney bought it, and before that, in the collection of an Englishmen. These disappointing details would confirm the “Mystery” of the skull as a hoax. Yet considering that, less crafted skulls in the British Museum are generally accepted as genuine; for example, the skull found at the Museum Of Man, near Piccadilly Circus in London was purchased from the New York Jeweler Tiffany in 1998 for 120 pounds.

Frank Dorland’s research helped to conclude that the skull was likely a religious object, its purpose was connected to divination, and it was probably kept on an alter. He was informed by friends of Mitchell-Hedges that the skull was brought back from the holy land by the Knights Templar during the crusades, and that it was kept in their inner sanctum in London until it found its way onto the antiques market. Due to the phenomenal success of the Knights Templar from 1118 until their demise in 1307 under the orders of King Philip IV of France who ordered mass arrests and executions, it is likely, due to their practice of ritual magic, as noted by scholars, the Mitchell-Hedges skull might have been one of their many treasures. Yet it will never be known, as King Philip never succeeded in getting his hands on their fabled ‘treasures’ if such a skull was part of their rituals.

Anna Mitchell-Hedges had claimed the skull held mystical properties, and in the seven years that Dorland conducted his research, he did describe hearing sounds of “high-pitched silver bells,” and sounds like an “a capella choir.” Furthermore, Dorland stated, while staring into the skull he saw “…images of other skulls, high mountains, fingers, and faces.” While this could be autosuggestion, the mystical aspects were reinforced by some proponents during a visit from “Satanist” Anton LaVey who called on Dorland with the help of an Oakland, CA newspaper. He visited Dorland, staying so late that the skull was not placed back in its safe deposit box. That night, there were many strange sounds that kept Dorland and his wife awake. When they got up to investigate, they found nothing, yet the next morning they found many of their belongings displaced, and objects moved across the room. Of course some could argue that LaVey, a notorious opportunist, could have engineered the incident to validate the skull had a “satanic” connection. But Dorland had offered his own theory about the incident – that LeVey’s ‘vibes’ and those of the skull conflicted, producing physical effects. This would reinforce Rupert Sheldrake’s morphic resonance argument, a kind of telepathy that Sheldrake believed has always played an active part in evolution. It needs to be noted that skeptics like Joe Nickell and Robert T. Carroll have dismissed Frank Dorland as a mere crystal carver, and freelance art restorer.

Further questions.

Of course, the rest of the story, to cite Paul Harvey, is complicated when you consider the pro and con mechanizations to declare the “Mitchell-Hedges” skull as a ‘hoax,’ as well as efforts that skirt the issue if the Mayan and Aztec cultures could have been more advanced than archeologists generally assume, a hubris of some scholars that one should be vigilant when accessing the merits of this case. It should be noted that Erich von Daniken’s ‘ancient astronaut’ argument in the case of the Mayans and Aztecs also demonstrates a kind of hubris in fairness–there could be a middle ground over how advanced these Pre-Columbian cultures were.

Believers in the idea that the skulls had a connection to Atlantis, in part based this assumption on maps that place Atlantis between the Americas and Europe, as well as psychic comments from Edgar Cayce that described cities in Atlantis being controlled by crystal technology.

Joe Nickell(1) has cited the work of Ian Freestone, which had concluded the skull was likely a fake, apparently fashioned from a lump of poor quality Brazilian crystal. The skull’s cutting and polishing was done at a lapidary in nineteen-century Europe, and the work of Jane Walsh, an archivist at the Smithsonian, who found documents showing that two of the known crystal skulls were sold to the same man, a French collector of Pre-Columbian artifacts, Eugene Boban. The British Museum purchased its skull from Tiffany’s and in turn, which had bought it from Boban. It has also been argued that a possible source for many of the crystal skulls was the renowned gemstone center of Idar and Oberstein in Germany. Scholars have noted that the area underwent a resurgence in the1870s with the shipment of Quartz crystals from Brazil.

While one has to accept these points as likely, I have noted that many skeptics cite Joe Nickell’s work as gospel, or regurgitate Walsh’s and Freestone’s work. I opted to do my own inquiry to help answer several salient questions; could the Aztecs or Mayans have had the skills, Pre-Columbian, to craft with quartz such equivalent skulls? Was there any evidence beyond Pre-Columbian work with ceramics that these cultures were sculpting with quartz? While Mitchell-Hedges’s credibility is questionable, why the overwhelming effort to question the credibility of Eugene Boban, Frank Dorland, and others who have done their own research?

My first efforts were to inquire to an archeology professor about these questions. I found a Professor emeritus from Berkeley’s Anthropology department, 20-years-retired John Graham, that offered some interesting comments about the Mitchell-Hedges skull. Noting that “The Mitchell-Hedges crystal skull is an impressive object of splendid craftsmanship.” The professor further noted that it was in the hands of a Marin County dealer many years ago, and was brought to the professor on several occasions in the hopes of authenticating the piece. He added, “To the best of my knowledge there isn’t even the most minimal evidence of any kind to support a claim of pre-Columbian New World origins.” Personally, he observed he has read Mitchell-Hedges’s publications, and concluded that “the man fabricated all sorts of ridiculous claims for sensational purposes and personal aggrandizement.” The professor also noted that the skull had been examined from a technical standpoint by various reputable specialists, and as far as he was aware, the evidence pointed to a comparatively modern origin. I wasn’t able to pose further inquiries to the professor regarding other nagging questions about the issue of pre-Columbian artisans, and had to look further on my own.

My speculation and question has been: Could such work have been produced by superheating blocks of quartz into a oval shape, then shaping the details while cooling? Quartz crystal melts at 1670 degrees. The most cited civilizations that might have had the means to melt, and have found a way to melt such crystal is Egypt. The most common explanation would be the use of copper saws and fine sand combinations for cutting granite and marble. One anonymous scholar who’s an expert in Mesoamerica, noted that stone construction was usually made of limestone. Another scholar noted that Peru used harder stones: In the Inca capital of Cusco they used stone like andesitic or metamorphosed basalt. Kiln temperatures, for example, in the Peruvian Andes dating from around 800-700 (Middle Cupisnique Period), Batan Grande, ranged between 650 to 800 degrees, which comparatively makes it not likely that the Aztecs or Mayans had the means to melt quartz crystal blocks to the necessary temperatures,(2) which also makes the argument difficult that Pre-Columbian cultures could have had the means to craft such large scale crystal work.

Yet, some conclusions might not be so cut-and-dried when you consider examples of Pre-Columbian work that used crystal. One example would be an Aztec crystal ear spool, and another would be a Huari mosaic mirror circa 650-800 A.D.(3) Nevertheless, there have been arguments that the melting of quartz could have been achieved through the use of mirrors and sunlight as suggested by some. However, researcher Mark Chorvinsky has cited other examples (4) that demonstrate that Pre-Columbians had the skills to manufacture objects out of hard quartz crystal.

There’s a process of elimination that one has to evaluate within the conventional argument that such quartz crystal would have had to come from the mountains of Brazil. There is evidence the Mayans were a seafaring nation,(5) and when you consider that geographically the nations of the Aztecs and Mayans overlap with the continent of Brazil, it becomes plausible that trading routes(6) had been established that would have granted access to the quartz in question.

Philip Coppins (7) has been highly critical of the conventional thinking by most archeologists that the origins of most crystal skulls (8) were post-Columbian. He has argued that most crystal skulls are likely to have originated in Central America and may have performed an important role in re-enacting Mayan creation myths. He has disputed Freestone’s arguments that such artifacts were 19th century European in origin, and has pointed out that Freestone has acknowledged that it doesn’t amount to cast-iron proof. He has also disputed Jane Walsh’s conclusions, pointing out that the skull at the Museum Of Man–Musee de I’Homme–was sold by Boban. Boban was a controversial collector of Pre-Columbian artifacts who ran his business between 1860 to 1880. Though Boban is indeed likely to have placed the skull at Tiffany’s for auction, there was no hard evidence. He disputes her argument that the skulls’ manufacture were German in origin.

“Though Boban was indeed a controversial figure, he was, of course, no different from all the other operators on the antiquities markets in those days–some of whom made deals for treasures such as the Rosetta Stone or the Elgin Marbles that continue to upset entire nations from which they were "exported."

However, there is no evidence–not even circumstantial–that Boban sourced these skulls from Germany. It is logical to conclude that, as Boban operated in Mexico, he may have acquired the skulls in Mexico. It would be completely logical to assume that if they are Aztec in origin, they were offered on the Mexico City antiques market where Boban picked them up. It is the most logical scenario, yet academics seem to prefer the modern German fabrication theory for which there is no evidence. Why? Perhaps they prefer to label them as fakes so as to evade potential claims from Mexican authorities?”

This raises an interesting point; could there be efforts to evade Mexican authorities, or to conclude such items are post-Columbian to skirt around the narrative that suggests that Pre-Columbian cultures could have been more advanced than assumed? Coppin has further argued that Walsh and her colleagues have presented Boban as a charlatan, yet they have failed to report that Boban had owned genuinely ancient artifacts, had written a scientific study–“Documents To Serve The History of Mexico”--and led his own crusade against frauds, such as in 1881 when he spoke out against forgeries that were being made in the suburbs of Mexico City. Coppin also noted that the source for questioning Boban’s credibility came from a single source, a competitor named Wilson Wilberforce Blake. Coppin argues that no clear evidence exists to question Boban’s credibility and that Blake attempted a smear campaign as he was after Boban’s share of the marketplace.

Another silent point that Coppin has made regarding archeological testing that proves such skulls were post-Columbian in origin is as follows:

The problem of the crystal skulls is that they are made of crystal. Quartz crystal does not age; it does not corrode, erode, decay, or change in any way with time. It cannot be carbon-dated. A skull could be hundreds if not thousands of years old, yet still look as if it was made yesterday–and vice versa. Hence, other means of dating had to be devised, and so evidence of skulls having been polished with wheels has become the key determinant of whether they are modern/post-Columbian or "genuine" archaeological artifacts.

While Coppins reviews the new age argument, that such skulls were the constructions of extra-terrestrials, or the remnants of a lost civilization read as Atlantis, or the claim that the skulls’ origin is German, he points out a fourth option: that many of the skulls were indeed pre-Columbian. He cites one skull owned by Norma Redo, as a skull that supports a large crucifix, showing similar “evidence” of wheelwork:

From his analysis, archaeologist Dr. Andrew Rankin argued that the skull was sculpted from the same crystal as that of the crystal goblet from tomb no. 7 at Monte Albán, which is an uncontested archaeological find. Furthermore, the 1571 hallmark on the crucifix is also deemed to be genuine, thus in general excluding the likelihood that this skull is of 19th century European fabrication. In short, this hard evidence confirms what Michael Coe has argued: that the Mayans apparently do seem to have been able to work with crystal...

Further pointing out that in the mid-19th century, English archeologist Sir John Layard excavated the remains of Babylon and Nineveh, where in 1850, during the excavation of the throne room of Assyrian King Sargon II’s place, he discovered a lens that was dated 721-705 BC, and it is considered to be the first used–or found–convex lens. It is indeed extraordinary that such high technology was used in the 8th century BC. As pointed out by Coppins, most archeologists continue to deny the existence of such lenses, or a recent find in the Idaean Cave in Crete of two rock crystal lenses of good optical quality, suggesting that the use of such lenses was widespread throughout the middle east and Mediterranean basin over several Millennia.

Taking into account some of these points, while Mike Mitchell-Hedges might not be credible, the question of the credibility of a number of crystal skulls might not be so easy to conclude. Aside from the argument that their origin was tied to Atlantis or ancient astronauts, it is possible that certain cultures deemed not on par with ancient western based civilizations, could have been more advanced than assumed (9). We simply don’t have concrete evidence as of yet, to alter the assumptions about certain Pre-Columbian New World cultures, but indeed gaps in history continue to surface from time to time that shake the foundations of what is known.

The point of this exercise was to encourage the reader to do their own investigative inquiry on any given subject, and not just passively accept anything from single sources.

The truth of the Mitchell-Hedges skull might not be what many want to hear, but it could be the starting point to raise legitimate questions about the level of technical skills and advances that predominated Ancient civilizations, and how the demise of such cultures could be a learning tool for our future.

Special thanks to XScribe for editorial proofing.
Special thank you to Professor John Graham for his generous attention.


‘The Mammoth Encyclopedia of the Unsolved” by Colin and Damon Wilson, published by Carroll & Graft © 2000


(2) Page 67 / 81 of 437 PDF:

(3) Page 19 / 6 of 34 PDF:


(5) Page 1 of 35, PDF:





Thursday, February 28, 2013

Esoteric Studies: The Mitchell-Hedges Crystal Skull

In 1962, Donald Seaman, a journalist for the Daily Express, who was writing a book about espionage, came across a photograph of the recently convicted spy, Gordon Lonsdale, that showed him posing with two middle-aged women. Careful research revealed that one of the women was Anna Mitchell-Hedges. Curious to find out what she was doing with a spy, Seaman contacted her at her home in Reading and went to see her, accompanied by a photographer. The story behind the photo proved to be innocent enough; it had been taken at an historic castle, where she and her friend had fallen into a conversation with the man who would later prove to be the center of the Portland spy case. She hadn’t seen Lonsdale since then.

Anna asked, perhaps out of guilt for their wasted visit, if they would like to see the “Skull of Doom.” Being that nether of them had heard of it, she escorted them to the master bedroom, and while groping under the bed, pulled out a large cabbage-sized object wrapped in newspaper. They followed her back to the sitting room where she unwrapped it and placed it on the table, a nearly life-sized skull that seemed to be made of polished diamond. In the dim light it had a greenish hue, as if lit from inside or from underneath. Its lower jaw moved like that of a human jaw. Anna told them that this was the “skull of doom” found in a Mayan temple in 1927 by adventurer Albert Mitchell-Hedges, thus beginning a strange tale.

It has been described as a fearsome skull, weighing 11 pounds 7 ounces (5.19 kilograms), carved of pure quartz crystal. Its eyes are prisms and some believe the future and the past appear in them. Its owner believed it came from a lost civilization. The skull had belonged to Mitchell-Hedges, born in 1882, and upon his death in 1959, was passed onto his ward, Anna, who was born in 1910. She had claimed to have initially discovered it, according to her own account:

“I did see the skull first–or I saw something shinning and called my father–it was his expedition, and we all helped to carefully move the stones. I was let [allowed to] pick it up because I had seen it first.”

This discovery was made during a South American expedition to the Mayan city of Lubaantun, meaning ‘place of fallen stones’, in the British Honduras. It was found, apparently, underneath the alter in the ruins of a Mayan temple. The date she had given for this find was 1924, which would conflict with the later date when she claimed the discovery was made on her seventeenth birthday. She had found the upper part of the skull and she revealed that the jaw was found three months later under rubble, twenty-five feet away. She further told Seamen that in 1927, her adopted father had been looking for treasure buried by the pirate Henry Morgan in 1671. Mitchell-Hedges was convinced that the remains of the lost civilization of Atlantis were located within Lubaantun. After her father died in 1959, Anna wanted to return to Honduras to look for Morgan’s treasure, and in order to raise the funds, she was willing to sell the skull, as well as a drinking mug that had been presented to King Charles II by Nell Gwyn – a piece that had been authenticated by scholars.

She further explained that Mitchell-Hedges felt that the skull belonged to the local Indians, descendants of the ancient Mayans, and he gave the skull to them. But when he prepared to leave for England, during the rainy season of 1927, the Indians returned it to him as a present for his kindness. Mitchell-Hedges believed that there was a connection between the Mayans and Atlantis, and he hadn’t been the only one who shared such a belief. Another explorer, Colonel Percy Fawcett, believed that he had evidence that survivors from Atlantis had reached South America and that the evidence lay in Brazil, yet Fawcett vanished without a trace on a Brazilian expedition in 1924. Mitchell-Hedges believed that the survivors had come ashore farther north, in the Yucatan Peninsula of central America, and one of the objectives of his expedition in Honduras was to look for proof of this theory. While he never found it, he did find clues to the lost treasures of Captain Morgan.

Mitchell-Hedges declared that the skull was three thousand and six hundred years old, but such a date would have taken the skull back a thousand years before the earliest known date suggested by the Mayans. Mitchell-Hedges also suggested that it must have taken a hundred and fifty years to create, by the grinding and polishing of rock with sand. Erich von Daniken in his book Chariots of the Gods had suggested the skull was created by ancient astronauts, the same astronauts who helped create the Great Pyramid. Many experts are divided on the subject of the skull’s origin: most concur that it was probably carved in Mexico, or Calaveras County, California, and it could have been manufactured within the past five hundred years, arguing that all known skulls are post-Columbus.

By most accounts Albert Mitchell-Hedges was a remarkable man. He met Anna in Toronto in 1917. She was a seven-year-old orphan by the name of Anna Le Guillon. He was touched by her plight and adopted her, and so it would be understandable that she would be devoted to him. His character has been described as similar to a swashbuckling Henry Morgan. He had a keen sense of humor, and he enjoyed telling–even printing–tongue-in-cheek tall tales, inspired by his childhood reading of Rider Haggard stories, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World, which reflected the character of a man who was, in some respects, like an over-grown schoolboy. He did pen his own books of his experiences, Land of Wonder and Fear, and Battles with Giant Fish, and his autobiography Danger My Ally (1954). In some respects, one could compare him to P.T. Barnum. Some consider Mitchell-Hedges an Elizabethan adventurer born out of his time.

Skeptics are focused on a number of inconsistencies, and have used them for ammunition. It has been suggested that Mitchell-Hedges had brought the crystal skull from London to Lubaantum and planted it to be discovered. Norman Hammond, an archaeologist who excavated Lubaantum, failed to mention the crystal skull in his book on Lubaantum, and has explained that “Rock crystal is not found naturally in the Maya area,” to skeptic investigator Joe Nickell, and that the Crystal skull had nothing to do with the area. Hammond had further pointed out that the nearest places where crystal skulls had been found were Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, and small skulls of Aztec manufacture in the valley of Mexico.

Other skeptics have pointed out that Mitchell-Hedges had been caught in several falsehoods. One being that he served with the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, and fought at the battle of Laredo, and that he lost a libel suit against the Daily Express in 1928, which claimed that Mitchell-Hedges had staged a fake robbery for the sake of publicity. The issue of the skull’s bonefides became questionable when the skull was referenced in a 1936 journal entitled Man- A Monthly Record of Anthropological Science, wherein two experts compared the skull with another and referred to it as “the Burney Skull,” which we will discuss in the next segment.

Yet, for enthusiasts on the matter, the issue of its authenticity was made more complicated when a modern crystal expert, Frank Dorland, claimed he could make a similar skull within three years, but with the aid of modern technology. Yet Dorland, who was allowed to examine the skull for seven years starting in 1963, speculated the skull could be as old as twelve thousand years, Dorland had sent the skull to the laboratory of Hewlett-Packard Electronics, who suggested the skull had taken a long time to manufacture–perhaps three hundred years. Dorland believed from personal experiences that the skull might have mystical properties--that the skull could absorb living energies, an idea espoused as possible by clairvoyants, who use crystals because they can absorb such energies. Basis for this belief has been argued by biologist Rupert Sheldrake, that learning between human beings and animals is “transmitted” by a process he described as morphic resonance.

Of course the truth can often be not as we like, or more evasive, and the details of this story are far more complicated than initially assumed. The next segment will explore my own personal inquiry into the Mitchell-Hedges skull, and personal contact with a archeology professor emeritus on their experience with the skull, and the question as to if the skull should be regarded as nothing more than a fascinating urban legend, or a subject that raises the far more interesting question, if ancient South American civilizations were much more advanced than science assumes.

To be continued...

Special thanks to Xscribe for editorial assistance.

Sources : ‘The Mammoth Encyclopedia of the Unsolved” by Colin and Damon Wilson, published by Carroll & Graft © 2000 

World Press article