June 29, 2023

Ancient aliens: America's divine intervention genesis myth about civilization and life itself

Having looked at the distinctly American genesis myth of our prehistory -- inhabiting the same land as dinosaurs and missing links, threatened by a volcanic rather than a diluvian apocalypse -- let's look at the other distinctly American genesis myth about our even deeper history. How did life itself ever come to be on Earth? It's actually the same myth regarding the birth of terrestrial civilizations, at a far later stage of our species' history -- being seeded by aliens!

In contrast to the creation myths of most cultures throughout the world and over time, ours does not dwell on the creation of the Earth itself, the stars, sky, oceans, and so on and so forth. You can believe in the Abrahamic universe-creation myth of the Old World, the Big Bang, or whatever else. Those inanimate things are taken for granted. What we really want to know is, how did life begin and get to where we human beings are today? And for us compared to other animals, how did civilized societies begin and get to where they are today?

The myth is not interested in evolution as much as the initial birth from apparent nothingness. Notice that the "cavemen and dinosaurs" myth doesn't say where primates came from -- they're just there, in media res of their drama. And the myth about the origins of life itself doesn't concern itself with any particular species that is present far later on, human or otherwise. Evolution is boring, while creation from nothing is interesting.

This is another stark contrast with the Old World creation myths, where human beings are created in their more-or-less current form (e.g., Adam and Eve). Sometime in the distant past, a creation of some kind occurred -- whether it was creating life where there was none before, or primates where there were only non-primate animals before, or hominids where there were only apes before, or human-like cavemen where there were only missing links before.

Somehow -- it doesn't matter how -- that initial creation led to us here today. We did evolve from earlier forms, but how that happened is irrelevant. How far back does the creation process go? And who if anyone was in charge of the initial creation?

Notice that this creation myth accommodates the 19th-century debates on the evolution of human beings. Not being an Old World culture, we never felt very threatened by the idea that homo sapiens evolved from earlier primate forms, rather than being created as we are now, back in the Garden of Eden, according to Abrahamic myth which took root in Europe during the Middle Ages via Christianization.

We have never had a national church, de jure or de facto (although during the mid-20th C., the United Methodist Church came the closest). Nor, therefore, any hierarchy of national church officials who could enculturate Americans in the Genesis creation myth. And no, contrary to clever-sillies, nothing is a "church" outside of Christianity. Academia is not a church, and the two most popular creation myths held by the general public -- Genesis for Christians, ancient aliens for non-Christians -- have taken deep root *in spite of* constant pressure by the hierarchical officials in the schooling sector to kill them off.

Nor is civic philosophy and dogma a "religion", let alone a "church". Church refers to a Christian institution, in contrast to mosques for Muslims, temples for Buddhists, etc. And all stripes of American civic philosophy and dogma are entirely silent about creation -- of the Earth, of life, of homo sapiens, etc. There's no primeval narrative of how things began, let alone one bringing supernatural or at least more-than-human actors and supervisors into the cast of characters.

And so, because we're not committed to where contemporary human beings came from, we can avoid the whole controversy arising from Darwin, who only says how things evolve once life-forms have existed, not whether or not there is a first created form of life and how that came into being. That controversy vexed all Old World religions, but not ours -- we're so new, we could just build in an agnostic stance regarding evolution at the beginning!

The Mormons -- America's global religion -- are also famously equivocating on evolution, with high officials officially saying don't ask, don't tell, it doesn't matter. What matters is the creation of life, the creation of god-like beings, the creation of civilizations in the New World, the appearance of Jesus in the New World, and so on and so forth. Don't worry about whether or how today's human beings descended from earlier primates.

Our creation myth also avoided the controversy about the Big Bang vs. static universe from the early 20th C., right as our myth was starting to take shape. Ours is not about cosmogenesis, unlike many other major religions and folk cultures, including Christianity. We could already sense that controversy as it was developing, so we built in an agnosticism about it from the outset. Only focus on the creation of life, humans, civilizations -- not the universe itself, stars, planets, and all that other inanimate and non-societal stuff.

* * *

The ancient aliens myth only began -- when else? -- during the 1890s, after our integrative civil war was wrapped up, and our ethnogenesis could get going for real, as in the lifespan of every empire. And where else could it have been born but out West? -- Flagstaff, Arizona, to be exact. Although hailing from a Boston Brahmin family, Percival Lowell used his wealth to build a world-class observatory in Arizona, where viewing conditions would be superior than back East -- but also because it would be more Romantically American to explore the next frontier of outer space, from our defining meta-ethnic frontier out West (against the Indians and later Mexicans).

Although later famous as the site that discovered the ninth planet Pluto, whose existence was predicted by Lowell, it was initially dedicated to the study of Mars -- specifically, what Lowell thought to be its canals. The overview of his vision of Mars can be skimmed in the Conclusion section of his book Mars (1895).

The canal structures suggested that not only was there water on Mars, there was life, it was intelligent, and it was advanced enough technologically, and organized in a socially complex way, as to complete irrigation projects.

If anything, he thought they were more advanced than anything on Earth -- inventing and using technology far beyond our own, and rising above petty partisan politics, to undertake such a planetwide project. He says that human beings are not even the highest of the mammals, putting us in our lower place relative to Martians. And he says Martians and their civilizations are far older than ours, Mars being an older and dying planet. These elements of the narrative are all necessary for the next step, where they intervene in Earthly matters.

He does explicitly state that life on Mars will likely have evolved into different forms from life on Earth, owing to the different environments they're adapting to. But that doesn't contradict a belief that they could have visited us in the past, seeded our civilizations, or even seeded life itself on Earth. It only requires them to have a somewhat different superficial form, and that we were not made entirely in their own image -- rather, at the abstract level of "life-form" or "intelligent life-form" or "civilizational being".

Although Lowell didn't go that far in his non-fiction work, a contemporary of his -- also a popularizing astronomer -- did in an early work of science-fiction, Garrett Serviss' novel Edison's Conquest of Mars (1898). Here, Martians are hostile to Earth, engaged in a War of the Worlds kind of battle with it. During one of their missions to capture slaves from Earth, 9000 years ago, they built the Great Pyramids and the Great Sphinx of Egypt (the Sphinx being made in the image of their leader).

While the Earth-battling Martians hardly resemble the benevolent steward / supervisor gods of later versions of the myth, this is still the beginning of the myth of ancient aliens directly intervening in the course of events on Earth, seeding a major civilization.

And true to our Europe-obscuring identity, Serviss located the ancient alien intervention in Egypt, not even an Indo-European culture like the Greeks, Romans, Celts, etc. That would have been too much of a Euro-LARP, so if it has to be set in the Old World, it must be within the Saharo-Arabian sphere (Egypt, Israel, Mesopotamia, etc.). This was decades before the Egyptian craze of the 1920s -- it's simply the most obvious solution to "Old World civilizational ancestor of America that is not related to Europe". The only others would be from the Far East, and that's too much of a stretch of the imagination, compared to the Fertile Crescent.

If you're an American, and want to learn a dead language to study our civilizational ancestors in the Old World, you want to learn hieroglyphics, cuneiform, or maybe Biblical Hebrew / Aramaic -- not Greek and Latin (back-East Euro-LARP). I'm sure the Saharo-Arabians find this imagined heritage of ours comical -- "you Faranji people come from Europe!" But we are American, and Americans are fundamentally not European, so no, we do not come from Europe. Where else could we have derived from in the civilized Old World? -- China? C'mon, the Fertile Crescent is far more believable than China...

* * *

After the European empires, aside from Russia, bit the dust after WWI, and became occupied by America after WWII, the American myth of ancient aliens began to take root in Europe as well. This process reached maturity by the late '60s, when Erich von Daeniken wrote Chariots of the Gods? It was soon made into a feature-length documentary movie, whose English dub you can watch on YouTube here.

This is far and away the best audio-visual telling of the narrative, with amazing photography, ethnographic portraits, voiceover, and conveying the sublime nature of the archaeological record. It's superior to the more plodding, meandering, and less artistic renditions associated with Rod Serling from the same time period (In Search of Ancient Astronauts, In Search of Ancient Mysteries, and The Outer Space Connection, all available on YouTube as well, but you can stick to the last one, which incorporates the first two).

I think von Daeniken being Swiss was important, since he was not part of a collapsed empire, and was not subject to the hangover effect that had wiped out native cultural innovation in the collapsed Euro empires. Similar to Le Corbusier in architecture, who was a footnote to the American pioneer Frank Lloyd Wright of many decades earlier, yet still more original and influential than the Bauhaus people from Germany and Austria (like Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer).

You can tell how well the Europeans had incorporated the American framework by their avoidance of their own European ancestors. The focus is on ancient Egypt, Israel, Mesopotamia, and New World cultures like the Maya, Tiwanaku, Easter Islanders, and so on. Nothing about China, nothing about Greece or Rome. The book, but not the movie, does include Stonehenge among its examples. Indeed, in the movie there's only a single passing mention of any Indo-European culture -- purported descriptions of ancient astronauts in the Ramayana of the Indo-Aryans.

From the ancient aliens narrative, you'd hardly know that there were people and civilizations in Europe during ancient and Medieval times! But that's unsurprising given its American origin.

Some local adaptations did work in their own history, such as the British movie Quatermass and the Pit (1967), in which contemporary people discover a Martian spaceship in the London Underground from millions of years ago, along with skeletons of primate ancestors just as old, the preserved remains of the insectoid Martians, and the revelation of Martian intervention in the evolution of the hominid lineage on Earth. That could be totally American, but the story also uses this Martian spaceship's effects to explain historical accounts of the devil, spectral phenomena, and other witchy goings-on -- within England, during the Medieval and Early Modern periods.

* * *

How about further back, to the creation of life itself on Earth? This view, strangely titled "directed panspermia", goes back to an American and Soviet collaboration (as in many other areas of 20th-C. culture, the only two empires left standing coincided, both sharing outsider status vis-a-vis the Early Modern Euro empires that defined high culture up until then). Namely, the astronomers Carl Sagan and Iosif Shklovsky, whose 1966 book Intelligent Life in the Universe raised the possibility that extraterrestrial life-forms could have purposefully delivered life to Earth.

Where *those* life-forms are supposed to come from, who knows? And who cares? The genesis myth is only meant to account for the ancestry of us, the story-tellers, and perhaps our fellow animals. Just as we are not interested in cosmogenesis, we aren't interested in whether the alien race that seeded life on Earth was itself seeded by a third alien race, and if there was a prime mover alien race, and so on and so forth.

Likewise, American culture is not really concerned with the other direction of panspermia, whereby we would seed life on other planets. That is about our future, whereas this concept is really to account for our distant past.

For my money, the best telling of this myth is the 1993 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, "The Chase" (from the amazing season 6). It's not just a high-concept "what if?" story, but brings to life the excitement of high-stakes archaeological fieldwork, collecting clues, solving puzzles, and trying to stay one step ahead of your competitors in the race to the finish. This version is about the spread of humanoid life, not life in general, but that is to keep the focus on the ultimate subject of narrative interest -- us, not plants or viruses or whatever. If aliens could seed humanoid life, certainly they could send mold spores to other planets as well.

* * *

Redditards, Wiki-brains, and other midwits love to deride the ancient aliens creation myth -- creation of life itself, of humanoids, or of civilization -- as a "pseudoscientific hypothesis" or "conspiracy theory," terms that they never use for Adam & Eve, Noah / the Flood, the World Tree, Persephone and the harvesting cycle, and so on. By now, so many Americans believe, or are at least open to the possibility, of the ancient aliens story, that it cannot be a hypothesis -- common people don't know what a hypothesis is, how to test it, how to analyze results, weigh in on counter-arguments, etc. It's a story that you believe or don't, and science has nothing to do with it.

None of the most popular entries in the genre present the concepts in the manner of a scientific method, experiment, etc. On the surface level, they're trying to make sense of seemingly unbelievable phenomena, while on a deeper level they're trying to connect us with our distant ancestors through narrative, myth, and storytelling. And as such, there's little that "science" can do to push or pull anyone.

Very few people have "beliefs," let alone a system of beliefs. It's not about belief, in the sense of a theory. It's about whether the story gives meaning to that person, not individually, but as part of something larger than themselves -- to their distant ancestors, the chain of transmission up to the present, and the universe beyond our own world. It's more about emotional and social and cultural satisfaction, which nerdy arguments, "data", etc. cannot move one way or the other.

Exactly like Adam & Eve, Noah and the Flood, and other such myths from the Old World. It's just that, as with most clueless back-East academics and media-ites, they deny that America is a different culture from anything in the Old World. But just cuz we're a young civilization, doesn't mean we aren't distinctive, and these various origin myths -- Cavemen and Dinosaurs and Volcanos, Ancient Aliens, and the Book of Mormon -- are all a testament to that. They're as American as burgers and blocky buildings.

The rAtiOnAL SkEPtiCs who think they're smart or insightful for trying to deboonk origin stories involving aliens, are the same who labor fruitlessly to convince Americans that cavemen and dinosaurs never lived at the same time (somebody's never watched the Flintstones), that there was not a worldwide flood that destroyed all life except for Noah's Ark, etc.

The haters' arguments require no math, problem-solving, pattern recognition, specialized knowledge, breadth of knowledge, or anything like that. Any idiot can make them -- and plenty of total numbskulls and ignoramuses do.

What they are is autistic, not able to empathize with normal human beings, who have a deep need for the social / cultural / emotional satisfaction of belonging to something beyond their individual personal private self, across both time and space. Autists have a broken social lobe in their brain, and being incapable of empathy, they project their broken social lobe onto everyone else as well.

"Why would anyone want to feel connected to others across space and time? Nah, they must be making scientific-method claims subject to experimental testing..."

There's a heavy overlap between know-nothing rational skeptics and libertarians, both highly autistic and clueless. Libertarian morality is only about "avoiding harm and fraud", excluding matters of purity, sanctity, and taboo (Jonathan Haidt, The Moral Mind). So when they see a sacred narrative, they don't mind pissing all over it -- not as a vindication for their side of a debate, since there is no debate. They're cluelessly assuming the other side is involved in scientific claim-making, rather than cultural bonding through narrative and myth.

This is why no one regards them as smartypants or intellectuals, who happen to use their big brains for sacrilegious purposes -- they're just clueless midwits or dum-dums. It takes no IQ to piss on something sacred, it's entirely a matter of attitude.

And like typical self-centered semi-children, they pat themselves on the back for how clever they are, when it's only a matter of their attitude, not brainpower or knowledge, which are middling and spoonfed from some online midwit clearinghouse / group chat like Reddit, Wikipedia, etc.

Normal-brained Americans will keep alive the stories of "When dinosaurs towered over cavemen," "When Martians visited ancient Egypt," and the like.

June 19, 2023

Dinosaurs, cavemen, and volcanic disaster: America's prehistoric genesis myth

The root problem in American ethnogenesis is that we just got here, and where we came from was host to rival empires with their own already elaborated cultures. The solution has been to push into the background the period of time when those empires grew. So, ignore the Early Modern and most of the Medieval periods, and a good amount of the Ancient world as well.

As I've detailed earlier, American culture does allow some exceptions -- provided they avoid our European lineage. Mainly, this means drawing on our imagined connections to the Saharo-Arabian sphere rather than the Indo-European one. Ancient Egypt and Israel / Judah are more fundamental to American identity than Ancient Rome or Greece, and not because we're all Christian fundamentalists -- none of the Egyptian part of our culture is from Greco-Roman times or later, it's from the times of the pyramids, mummies, death masks, scarab beetles, hieroglyphics, etc.

But even Ancient Egypt falls within the historical record -- where did we come from before then? What is our prehistoric genesis myth?

Not in the Garden of Eden, not Adam and Eve, or anything else that is distinctly Old World-oriented, let alone from an existing Old World genesis myth (from the Old Testament). That would contradict our New World identity. Sure, maybe we ultimately came from the Old World, but our origins back there must somehow feel as though they were also right here. More lush and tropical, more beachy. And so far back in time that it trumps the Old World vs. New World population split -- perhaps so far back that the continents were all one big Pangaean landmass anyway, where the Old vs. New World distinction doesn't even exist.

But in any case, a stylized imaginary location much like the Garden of Eden, which does not come with a latitude & longitude measurement to pinpoint it for the audience. Shrouded in the mysteries of prehistory, but clear enough to be seen in its outlines.

In the American genesis myth, the land is lush and tropical, along with rocky mountainous areas, ringed by beaches, with no seafaring technology to take anyone far off into the ocean. Crucially, there is a volcano somewhere, whether it is prominent in the landscape or its downstream effects are (like cooled & hardened lava making up the rocky terrain).

Our primitive caveman ancestors do not inhabit this island alone -- an endless variety of dinosaurs tower over us, mainly as apex predators who prey on the cavemen (and lesser dinosaur species). Our caveman ancestors didn't have very advanced technology, for defense or offense, so they / we were always underdogs, unlikely Davids against the terrifying Goliaths.

In fact, there were other human-like primates there as well -- depending on the telling, some far more primitive and ape-like than our caveman ancestors, some a bit more advanced. But not human, in either case -- a rival hominid species.

As though there were not enough drama from the negotiations and battles among caveman tribes, and cavemen woo-ing cavewomen, and the struggle for survival against the dinosaurs -- when a climactic, apocalyptic event is called for, it is not water-related like the flood of the Old Testament, and there is no water-related vessel like an ark to navigate it.

Rather, it is fire-based -- a massive volcanic eruption, with lava flowing freely, fireballs raining down from the sky, the earth splitting apart to open fiery pits below, and depending on how long the event is followed, ash and smoke clouding the sky, depriving the lush vegetation of sunlight, and wreaking havoc on the landscape long after the initial explosion. In this large-scale destruction, the lumbering dinosaurs are left with nowhere to hide and sadly go extinct, while the nimble and clever cavemen -- some fortunate subset of them, anyway, who lend a helping hand to each other -- eke out an existence in the aftermath, ultimately to populate the entire world with human beings. (Likewise the other cute and clever mammals, though little attention is given to their fate.)

* * *

There is no single author or work that provides the outline for this genesis myth, but legends rarely do trace back to a single author. Similar stories are told, they catch on, are reworked, and nobody remembers exactly where they came from, or who they came from.

But in the interest of scholarly documentation, this genesis myth comes -- when else? -- after the integrative civil war in American imperial expansion, when our ethnogenesis really gets started. The earliest example I can find is D.W. Griffith's short film "Primitive Man" (AKA Brute Force), from 1914, following up on his dinosaur-free short film "Man's Genesis" from 1912. In a comical vein, there was also the 1915 short, "The Dinosaur and the Missing Link: A Prehistoric Tragedy". Later animated shorts include "Felix the Cat Trifles with Time" from 1925, and "Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur" from 1939.

The myth would not be fleshed out in feature-length form until 1940, in the American movie One Million B.C., which was later remade in 1966 in American-occupied Britain, as One Million Years B.C., with Raquel Welch and Martine Beswick (now that'll get the ol' caveman nature a-goin'). The Brits, still under American influence after their own empire and culture bit the dust after WWI, followed up on their remake with a new example of their own, 1970's When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (starring recent Playboy Playmate of the Year, Victoria Vetri).

In between then, from 1960 to '66, the iconic TV series The Flintstones standardized the key element of dinosaurs and homo sapiens co-existing.

By the time of the 1983 Iron Maiden song "Quest for Fire", about primitive man, it had become obligatory to introduce the story with, "In a time when dinosaurs walked the earth..."

In later media, Japanese video games series of the 1990s like Bonk's Adventure and Joe & Mac depict cavemen and dinosaurs side-by-side, with dinosaurs as predators upon cavemen, and prominent volcanic landscapes (Bonk's transformation animation shows his head exploding like a volcano, too).

By now, this myth is so widespread and taken for granted that Wikipedia editors feel the need to "correct the record" -- to no avail -- by stating that it's an anachronism to depict hominids and dinosaurs living in the same time period. So clueless -- in American cultural works, it is *required* to show dinosaurs and cavemen side-by-side! They are fiction, legends, myths, not claiming to be pedantic documentaries or audio-visual textbooks. And so, the "dinos and grugs" image remains.

* * *

The stark differences between the American genesis myth and all others from our closest historical relatives (actual, not imagined) are obvious. That includes the Garden of Eden, the World Tree, or the Titans (dinosaurs only bearing a weak resemblance to them, due to their sheer size and ferocity, not in being proto-gods or super-humans).

But it also differs crucially from other European stories about dinosaurs and hominids found together, such as Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864-'7) or Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1912).

For one thing, those stories never spawned an endless chain of development within Europe. Instead, they took root and multiplied in America, beginning with Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of Tarzan (*not* a dino-centric series), who developed them in his Pellucidar series and Caspak series of pulp novels during the 1910s. He also pioneered the other side of our primitive-futurist cultural identity, in his Barsoom series, also from the 1910s, about life and adventure on Mars (including dinosaur-esque prehistoric beasts).

The main difference, though, is that the Europeans were not writing genesis myths -- they were set in the contemporary world, albeit in some undiscovered part of it, where prehistoric creatures had managed to survive into the present day. Perhaps far under the Earth's crust, perhaps some remote island -- but still, today. The American works I mentioned in the last section are all set in the very distant past, as part of an origin story. Lost world vs. prehistoric genesis.

Why didn't Jules Verne or other Europeans hit on the genesis approach? Because they already had secure genesis myths, from the Garden of Eden, the Roman Empire, Medieval chivalry, Early Modern gunpowder, global exploration, etc. They had no need to set their origin story 1 million years ago.

But Americans, needing to obscure our European and even Indo-European lineage, had to set our genesis myth in the very distant past, when dinosaurs walked the earth, alongside our caveman ancestors, with that volcano always looming in the background.

It also played up our out-West cultural origins, following the meta-ethnic frontier between us and the Indians, and later the Mexicans in the Southwest. There are no volcanoes back East, but there are closer to the Pacific Ring of Fire, Yellowstone, etc. Crucially, there are no active volcanoes in Europe proper, only in some Mediterranean islands. There are hardly any inactive volcanoes in Europe, for that matter. Western America is also where the dinosaur bone beds are. Not to mention earlier stages of human culture and civilization, among the Indians. Whether or not a given Indian tribe is hunter-gatherers, it's a hell of a lot closer to "primitive man" than any group of people in former European empires.

* * *

The centrality of these elements in our conception of who we are and where we came from, is shown by what questions we start asking about the Christian genesis myth, which itself is borrowed from the Second Temple Judaic myth.

What does the Bible have to say about dinosaurs, huh? Or "the fossil record" -- which means "dinosaur bones," not fossils of intermediate stages in evolution. Adam sure doesn't seem like a caveman -- are you *sure* this is the first human being? And what's all this about a catastrophic flood -- everyone knows the dinosaurs were wiped out by a meteor impact and/or volcanic eruptions.

This is not a midwit attempt to defeat mythology with empirical facts, evidence, science, reason, etc. -- it is one myth vs. another myth. Skeptics and atheists foolishly thought that Americans not buying into the Garden of Eden or Great Flood myths meant that they were fellow reddit-brains, when it really meant Americans had developed their own genesis myth that was sharply at odds with the Old World one. That's why we ignore the Wikipedia nerds complaining about the aNaCHroNiStIC depiction of cavemen and dinosaurs in the Stone Age!

Mormonism, the distinct American religion, still relies on the Garden of Eden myth, although being a young religion, perhaps they have enough time to issue "clarifications" or addenda to work the "cavemen and dinosaurs and/or other hominids" into their canon. They are much more neutral about evolution and missing links and our relationship with primates, and do not have many Young Earth types. So they could probably work dinosaurs and cavemen into their mythology better than Christians could.

Instead of Lucifer tempting Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, he's influencing one tribe or another among the population of One Million Years B.C., to act in evil ways to benefit themselves while harming others, acting in defiance of God's will in order to get a leg up in the competition against other tribes... perhaps killing too many dinosaurs, without being able to eat their meat, use their bones for construction, and so on. Irresponsible relationship with animals, especially if God had told them the dinos were sacred and not to be messed around with unnecessarily.

And by this point, dinosaurs *are* sacred animals in American culture, not only from our genesis myth, but lost world stories from King Kong to Jurassic Park, not to mention other icons like Godzilla (imported from Japan, who understands us more than any other foreign nation does), Barney, Yoshi (another one from Japan), the all-American '90s family sit-com Dinosaurs, "rawr means 'I love you' in dinosaur," and even the Dino Gura costume for the most famous vtuber (rivaling her shark theme in popularity).

Not too long ago, kids' snacks were made to resemble zoo animals -- but by now, they have to be dino nuggets, dino chips, dino egg candies, and so on and so forth. All part of enculturating our future generations into respect for the dinosaurs.

More than the bald eagle -- our nominal national mascot -- it is the dinosaurs who are our spirit animals. No one else had claimed them, since they had only recently been understood, as of the late 19th century, especially during the American "bone wars" between rival paleontologists (a term that still refers to "dinosaur bones" in common speech). Just the right opportunity for a young nation that wants to mythologize its prehistoric origins!

June 17, 2023

The Midcentury tiki / caveman origins of the iconic low "mansard" roof for McDonald's, Pizza Hut, etc.

The recent posts about Googie and tiki styles co-existing, as well as the primitive style of the Polynesian Village Resort at the founding of Disney World, got me thinking about American roof styles.

There's a group of small office buildings I drive by that are only 1 story -- and a low story at that -- but have tall roofs, like an extra 1 1/2 stories, that dominate the height of the building. However, they don't have windows in the roof, and they don't appear to be used as a second floor. The total height is still low, so it looks more like a primitive hut or longhouse -- prominent but low roof, squat main floor. The roofs are pitched and clad in shingles, not metal or slate or terra cotta tiles or whatever else.

That's when it hit me -- those iconic "mansard" roofs that distinguished every McDonald's, Burger King, Pizza Hut, etc., were not really mansard! They were tiki! It was a carry-over or evolution of the tropical longhouse-inspired roof from the Polynesian craze, after the overtly Polynesian elements had outgrown the fashion cycle, for the time being, before future tiki revivals (tiki statues & torches, leighs, hula dancing, ukuleles, and so on).

First, for examples of these "mansard" roofs in American popular architecture, see this discussion in general, and this history from Pizza Hut. McDonald's and Pizza Hut independently pioneered this style in 1969 (both in the Midwest-to-West, following our meta-ethnic frontier against Indians and later Mexicans), and it became ubiquitous during the '70s and '80s.

Really only the McDonald's and Pizza Hut have a noticeable change in the angle between the central part (steep) and the outer part (shallow). Wendy's had a changing angle, from steep to shallow from center to edge, but it was smooth and curved, not quite as striking. And Burger King and KFC had a single large "outer" part with a constant slope, and a short vertical perimeter around the "center" -- not really that noticeable of an angle change.

Now contrast with examples of actual mansard roofs -- and crucially, the rest of the building that they are a part of.

These roofs consist mostly of the steep vertical central part, with the outer more horizontal edge being almost a flourish or afterthought. The American roofs are more about that outer edge, less about the vertical central part. Mansard roofs have windows (dormers), whereas the American roofs do not. The cladding is sophisticated stone, usually slate tile, whereas the American roofs do not use stone and do not even try to imitate it -- it looks more like primitive wooden tiles (shake), even if it's technically asphalt. (Later revisions made the American roofs metal, too sleek compared to the original style.)

And most importantly, mansard roofs do not dominate the height of the building. Especially where they came from, in Early Modern French chateaus, there are two stories below -- with very high European ceilings on each floor. The roof is still prominent, but not dominating. The dormer windows show that the top floor was either a full floor unto itself, or at least an attic with high ceilings (for an attic) and lots of light coming in.

The American roofs dominate the height of the entire building, there is only one story below, and even that main floor has low ceilings, as is typical of Midcentury buildings (like ranch homes in the residential sector). They are not grand imposing hulks of mass -- that would be Brutalist buildings of the same time period -- but short squat huts, tapping more into the primitive than the futurist side of the American style of architecture.

And unlike the buildings with real mansard roofs, the American buildings are fairly open around their main story. Sometimes a wall-o'-windows straight out of Googie, though more often broken up by columns or piers, still opening up the main space on three sides (the back one closed off for the drive-thru).

Therefore, the American buildings read more as open outdoor structures like a primitive hut or a beach tent, without proper sturdy walls to enclose the interior (materially or visually). The columns or piers are just the supports for the deeply overhanging roof -- much like the porch-area columns holding up the roof of a Craftsman bungalow. In fact, the columns on the Pizza Hut buildings have the same shape as Craftsman bungalow columns -- wide at the base and tapering toward the top. Very distinctly American all around -- but what else would you expect from Pizza Hut?!

Although the pseudo-walls are windowed, from the outside and inside alike there is no feeling of the "light and airy" environment of Early Modern Euro imperial styles, such as a French chateau. Low ceilings, dark-tinted windows, no dormer windows or skylights in the massive roof, all contribute to the cozy caveman hut environment that Americans crave. We are part caveman, part spaceman -- and nothing in between (that's the Europeans, who we are not).

See this gallery for tiki architecture of the Midcentury, just before the mass adoption of the not-mansard roof style in commercial American buildings. (There are 3 other galleries on tiki, at the bottom of the page, but this one shows off the dominant roofs.) Looks pretty familiar, eh?

However, perhaps these roofs did not emerge directly from tiki, but from the broader caveman developments to our collective identity during the early and mid-20th C. It's too bad the Flintstones had homes that were like Midcentury ranch homes, with comparatively flat roofs that do not dominate the height. True Stone Age roofs would cover most of the height (and be thatched, not stone slabs), sometimes reaching all the way to the ground, so that the hut is really just one great big roof (ditto for an igloo).

In either case, these Pizza Hut type roofs derive from the primitive theme that came from within American cultural evolution, not from importing or copying a European style. How anyone can look at a 1970s McDonald's and see a French chateau, rather than a caveman hut, is beyond me -- why the use of the term "mansard", then? Probably just status-striver branding, I dunno.

McDonald's itself began with an iconic Googie design -- as did many restaurants and coffee shops of the time -- tapping more into the futuristic side of American culture, before eventually changing over to the primitive hut style. But in both cases, it was distinctly American, not European. A little more Jetsons at the start, then more Flintstones later.

Googie already had a heavy primitive theme, with its flagstone walls and tropical vegetation inside and outside. Very few vernacular styles of the supposedly more optimistic '50s and '60s were purely futuristic -- and so the shift to more earthy primitive hut styles in the '70s and '80s does not represent a turn toward the pessimistic or dystopian regarding the future and technology. Brutalism was still in full force, and it would dominate commercial architecture in the '70s and '80s -- in the grand scale buildings, with malls, not with the smaller detached hamburger stands.

When you think about it, a hi-tech space-rocket style for a burger joint is a little out of place. That should be for a grander scale, like the airport terminals and later the malls -- symbols of our growing societal complexity and industrial / technological progress. A standalone pizza parlor, which is not even connected to other stores as in a strip center, is too small-scale to merit the Universe of Tomorrow treatment. So just go with the cozy caveman theme instead -- just like detached homes, which never got the Brutalist treatment but the cozy caveman treatment (ranch homes).

Some new McDonald's are getting the retro Googie look, which is also fine -- at least it's part of American culture, albeit still a little out of place for a burger joint. But I'd rather have one of those than, well...

I don't want to dwell too much on the desecration of American architecture during the neoliberal era. But in this case, it was not a sudden explosion during the woketard iconoclasm of the 2010s, although it certainly got exponentially worse during that decade as well. The main change in the 2010s was to paint everything dull gray, as shown in this overview from 2012, right as that wave of desecration had begun.

But earlier in 2006, McDonald's got rid of its caveman hut roofs, and radically shifted to a more Euro look overall -- sophisticated stone facades, bland agoraphobic light-and-airy interiors, etc. And sometime before that (the '90s?) they began replacing the primitive-themed brown shingles with sleek metal roofs that were ketchup red. At least they left the caveman hut proportions mostly intact, though.

The later styles removed the roof nearly entirely, made the facades more filled-in and, well, facade-like instead of the wraparound wall-o'-windows broken up only by columns (not proper walls). They appear too tall, not like the cozy squat huts dominated by a massive roof like an extra-heavy blanket.

"But aren't you OK with them being blocky and boxy with sturdy walls? Isn't that the American style?" In those two senses, they still do look American, but they don't do the proportions right. They don't use a variety of scales a la the Prairie School or Art Deco or Mormon temples. And they don't use massive scale, imposing heights, and repeated geometric motifs, like Brutalism did to create a sublime rather than beautiful atmosphere. And none of those iconic American styles are literally just a dull gray box!

That is way more in the vein of Bauhaus -- utilitarian with throwaway gestures at sophistication through stone materials. We beat Bauhaus to the punch on post-Euro imperial architecture, beginning with Frank Lloyd Wright and the original Chicago School. And once Bauhaus did exist, we managed to prevent infection of it into America (other than Cesca chairs, with their use of wood and reed, atypical for Bauhaus materials). These dull gray functional boxes only sprang up during the neoliberal era, pretty late in the era for that matter -- the late 2000s for McDonald's.

But then, we have rapidly approached the stage in the imperial lifespan that Bauhaus came out of. Our neolib era was one of stagnation and plateau-ing, and only since 2020 have we entered the full-on collapse stage. Euro empires reached stagnation by the late 19th C, and only began collapsing during the 1910s. So, the closer that we come to their social and political environments, the more our cultural output will resemble theirs -- including god-awful utilitarian bores.

Once America's current civil breakdown has reached its nadir, and reconstruction begins -- not a new wave of imperial expansion, LOL, those days are over -- the first architectural task is to restore the American styles to American buildings. No more pseudo-Bauhaus burger joints or any restaurant -- we're going right back to cozy caveman huts!

June 7, 2023

Disney World's Brutalist and primitive futurist origins

Although discussion of Brutalist architecture in America, where it was born, focuses only on its more elevated settings -- civic buildings, libraries, universities, research labs, and so on -- it was just as widespread of a style in suburban office buildings and malls. Before getting there, though, let's take a quick look at another mass-market, working and middle-class, all-American, consumer-driven setting, to establish how popular and populist it was -- not at all an elitist style reserved for ivory tower eggheads.

Disney World itself was founded on Brutalism in 1971, in the form of the Contemporary Resort, which was offered along with the Polynesian Village Resort in order to hit both the primitive and futuristic themes that define American cultural identity. Notice the continuation of the Midcentury tiki / Googie theme of Polynesia in particular to stand in for "New World primitive" as opposed to various Old World primitive environments.

And yet, even the Contemporary has a pyramid-esque shape -- albeit stepped only side-to-side, not also front-to-back like the later Luxor in Vegas -- to evoke New World ancient civilizations like the Maya. This continued another enduring theme in American culture, using the Maya instead of Rome or Athens to represent the RETVRN to ancient times. The gigantic mosaic inside the Contemporary also depicts New World native cultures, to reinforce the combined theme of "ancient and futuristic, entirely within the New World".

These were the only two places to stay, and set the tone for the entire amusement park. For extensive picture galleries, along with verbal histories that you can skip if you just want the overall impression, see here and here for what it was like during its New Deal utopian heyday (and here for how it has evolved since then). Then there's this old promo, which showcases both resorts until the 4-minute mark, and this old home movie from the same time.

There are shots of the exterior, interior atrium, leisure spaces, the Midcentury Modern rooms, and the Top of the World Lounge -- we'd usually associate being on top of the world with an unstable equilibrium, a delicate balance, not a place for a carefree lounge. But this was the Midcentury American utopia, so nothing sounded more natural than lounging around at the summit of existence. Just like the SkyCity restaurant, calmly revolving at 500 feet up the Space Needle tower in Seattle, built less than a decade earlier.

Much of the finer details of the original Contemporary atmosphere have been steadily adulterated during the neoliberal era, but we cannot judge Brutalism for what it was corrupted into later -- only by what it was.

If you never got to experience such a place during the good ol' days, including those that kept going even during the neoliberal era, nothing can prepare you for it. The warm color palette, the plush carpeting, the simple-not-busy geometric lines and arrangements of elements, the dark cozy intimate lighting, the lush vegetation and water elements, not to mention the futuristic atmosphere -- nothing could make us feel so welcomed, integrated, and belonging to a singular utopian American culture.

Notwithstanding the mixture of primitive and futuristic within the Contemporary, and the park as a whole with the Polynesian as well, it was the monorail transportation system, that decisively tilted the balance in favor of the futuristic and Brutalist theme. Its concrete supports, sleek cars with streamline profiles, dark tinted glass windows, with simple bands of warm colors on the shell to make this futuristic mode of transport feel lively and exciting rather than cold and utilitarian.

Integrating the monorail system so that it traveled right into the main concourse / atrium of the resort, only heightened the futuristic feel -- who ever saw a train pull right up to the base of your residence, so you don't have to hike, hop a cab, or drive to the station? It was not merely a matter of convenience and efficiency -- it proclaimed that this is a utopia, where there are no trade-offs from a single rail system having to service a wide network of residential areas. Everybody was staying at the Contemporary compound, so there was no need to build a station between it and dozens of other neighborhoods, towns, and cities. The resort was so removed from competing residential sites that the public transit could almost pull right up to your front door!

Nobody among the blinkered Bauhaus blackpillers could've dreamed up such a visionary utopian thing.

In fact, the Contemporary was designed by prolific architect Welton Becket, who was at the time participating in the Brutalist movement (Xerox Tower and the Gulf Life Tower, just a few years earlier). It was only natural for Disney World's inspiring foundational resort to be built at monumental scale, out of concrete, shaped as though it were a single large sculpture, casting an imposing and sublime presence from the outside, while filling the interior with a warm, lush, sophisticated, and dynamic atmosphere.

This was standard practice for Brutalism, and all complaints about how cold and alienating it is come from people who have never explored the interior of these buildings that are austere fortresses on the outside, but soothing and even sultry social happening-spaces on the inside. Perhaps they are not quite so seductive nowadays, after decades of neglect and outright desecration, but then it's your responsibility to see what it was actually like when it was created.

Haters of Brutalism never show the "before" pictures or the interior pictures, because that would blow up their arguments for why these structures must be demolished and replaced with fishbowl flex-spaces instead (barf-o-rama). That's why I linked to those other sites with extensive galleries -- to set the record incontrovertibly straight.

Steadily over the course of the neoliberal era, Disney World has headed toward making every attraction, resort, etc., a branding opportunity for pop culture figures. But Disneyland and Disney World, when they were under Walt Disney's New Deal vision, hardly included Disney characters or other characters from outside the park at all, only as an afterthought.

These parks were built to celebrate America's past, present, and future as a unique and special civilization and culture, and the rides and resorts reflected that purpose. Be sure to watch the entire promo video linked earlier, "The Magic of Walt Disney World" from the early '70s, to see what all it encompassed -- and what it did not include even remotely.

There is nothing more all-American than Disney World, and the fact that a Brutalist style was chosen for its foundational resort reflects the sense of marvel and wonder that Americans felt in the presence of buildings in that style. It was not an unwanted oppressive style foisted on them by PhD's -- it was a style that resonated with their desire for a monumental expression of the utopian zeitgeist of the Midcentury, as the American Empire had reached its all-time peak, or perhaps plateau.

And they did not have to travel to Ivy League campuses to enjoy it -- it was built for them in their own neighborhoods, and at affordable mass-market tourist destinations. There was nothing stuffy or elitist about it -- it was enshrined at literal Disney World!

June 5, 2023

Googie architecture: primitive futurism, with upswept roofs from Frank Lloyd Wright

No exploration of American culture's distinctive "primitive futurism" would be complete without a look at Googie architecture of the Midcentury period -- usually defined by its Space Age and other futuristic elements. Off-kilter angles, cantilevered upswept roofs, Industrial Age materials of glass and steel and neon lights, shapes and motifs (like starbursts) suggesting rockets or spaceships or space stations, and an overall busy frenetic energy level.

And yet it just wouldn't be American without pronounced primitive elements as well. Rarely does the discussion about this Midcentury style emphasize them, and their seeming contradiction with the Space Age elements.

Googie came from the same time and place -- the Midcentury, out West -- as tiki culture, which was purely primitivist, an attempt to root our still-developing identity in the ancient times of the New World, including Polynesia, rather than the Old World (just as the Mayan revival style of the '20s had done, or the ahead-of-its-time Book of Mormon's genesis narrative had done circa 1830). Googie fused this primitive / tropical theme with the also contemporaneous Space Age / Industrial Age / Streamline theme.

In the Penguin coffee shop below (built in 1959), the dramatic upswept roof (being cantilevered, and so appearing to defy gravity and take flight), wall-o'-windows, neon lights on the sign, and the busily off-center placement of items on the sign, give this building a futuristic feel that could not have even been imagined 100 years earlier.

However, Americans have never defined ourselves as strictly futuristic, progressive, etc., hence the need for the ancient and primitive elements -- tropical vegetation, and massive piers faced in flagstone to support the roof. The stones are not finely cut into rectangular prisms and then laid in regular courses like advanced stonework -- they appear to be used as they were found, with human ingenuity only playing a role in fitting them together like puzzle pieces.

This is not the masonry of an advanced civilization of several thousand years ago -- let alone one capable of splitting the atom and sending rockets to escape Earth's orbit. This far cruder form of assembling the stones together leavens the head-spinning futurism of the other elements. Crude and raw -- yet also advanced and sophisticated -- in its construction. That's what American identity is all about.

In fact, from some angles, these Googie buildings primarily consist of primitive elements and crude techniques, not so Space Age-y after all:

This combination of primitive with futuristic continued on the inside, where large expanses of flagstone walls gave a familiar cozy feel to the starkly-angled interior space, with rough natural textures and earthy colors balancing the smooth and dyed-any-color synthetic materials. Just as the woodgrain tabletops balanced the gleaming stainless steel / chrome pedestal supports.

* * *

I was glad to find one quote to this effect already out there: "these were places where George Jetson and Fred Flintstone could meet over a cup of coffee" (Alan Hess, Googie: Fifties Coffee Shop Architecture, quoted here). The Jetsons and the Flintstones were both highly popular TV shows, and helped define American identity of the time and ever since. Their co-existence is no accident: Americans are part caveman, part spaceman, with no stage of material cultural development in between -- that would be Europeans, and because we are not European, we have had to define ourselves as belonging to the time periods outside of the heyday of European empires.

There were never mighty empires and advanced civilizations where Americans landed and settled, and we have always had to wrestle with the absence of counterparts to Ancient Greek temples, Medieval castles, and Early Modern cathedrals in our newly settled land. Part of our response was to borrow from those civilizations in the New World that did build monumental architecture that was still easily visible and tangible, like the Maya of Central America or the later Easter Islanders off the Pacific coast of South America.

But mainly our response was to go with the obvious theme, that we were bringing an advanced civilization to a mostly primitive environment. Not necessarily like taming a desert environment to make it suitable for agriculture. We didn't build spaceships out of the primitive environment we found on arrival -- it's more like the advanced technology appeared to have been dropped from the sky by some civilizational stork.

Americans project that founding myth back onto other civilizations, when we assume that the Ancient Egyptians must have had their advanced tech for pyramid-building dropped upon them by ancient aliens. It may sound silly, but it makes sense when you consider our historical path, and the absence of intermediate stages of material development between the primitive and industrial in America. We just assume that every civilization in history has been dropped from the sky, mostly pre-fabricated, like ours was.

* * *

Finally, where *did* all of these dramatically upswept roofs, heavily cantilevered, come from -- if not aliens? You should already know the answer by now, given his all-encompassing influence on American architecture, but -- that's right -- they were invented by Frank Lloyd Wright himself, back in the Midwest. As far as I can tell, anyway, from searching around for "upswept roofs", and I'm happy to be corrected.

I don't know from my limited study of Googie examples which one was the first to employ the upswept roof, but Wright had all of them beat anyway -- the Robert and Rae Levin House from 1949, in Kalamazoo, Michigan. While most of the roof is flat, as was his style, a pronounced section of it soars up toward one of the edges, is not supported vertically at the outer edge, and contains a wall-o'-windows underneath, exactly as would become the norm with Googie in the next decade.

Even more Googie than that is the Elam House from only one year later, 1950, in Austin, Minnesota. This one has the doubly upswept roof, rising toward opposite edges and having a low-point in the middle of the roof, which is off-center / asymmetric. It's also cantilevered, supported by massive stone piers -- the only difference from Googie being their finer level of cutting and dressing, instead of being used as they were found, in the cruder Googie fashion, and so not looking quite as primitive. (But then, this is only the Midwest, not the Pacific coast, where the tropical primitive environment is more evident.) It has a wall-o'-windows underneath as well.

In 1952, at the Reisley House in Pleasantville, New York, he added a bit of functionality to the upswept roof, turning it into the cover for a carport. (He also changed the material to be cypress wood panels, adding to the primitive side of the balance.) The pier supporting the cantilevered roof is again stone, though more Googie-esque in using stones of uneven size, albeit still in rectangular outlines. It really did take the Googie movement to make them look unaltered and crudely assembled at varying angles.

I couldn't easily find other examples throughout the '50s, perhaps because he had seen it evolve into Googie -- and then elevated Modernist airport terminals from Eero Saarinen, like Dulles and the TWA Flight Center at JFK -- and figured his pioneering work was done. However, he was still at it circa 1960, when he built the Don Stromquist House in Bountiful, Utah. One corner of the roof rises toward the edge, is cantilevered, and contains a wall-o'-windows underneath.

California Googie architect John Lautner had apprenticed under Wright in the '30s, though I don't know if he was still keeping tabs on what his mentor was up to circa 1950 with three out of dozens of Usonian homes. It's possible that the moment for upswept roofs had come, and Wright was simply an early pioneer, while it came to others later but independently as part of a general zeitgeist. But there is a potential direct channel from Wright to Googie-style roofs that is worth looking into (for someone else).

* * *

And we must remember to hit on the other big-picture lesson from my survey of modern architecture -- the non-existent role played by the Europeans, whether affiliated with Bauhaus or otherwise. Clueless and embarrassed-to-be-American East Coast academics may hear "upswept roof" and "Modern architecture," and think of Notre-Dame du Haut by Le Corbusier. But that was built in 1955 -- half a decade after Wright pioneered the look in the American Midwest with multiple examples, as usual. It's also not as cantilevered as Wright's proto-Googie buildings, being supported at the outer corner.

For that matter, the supposed avant-garde of Bauhaus had been beaten to the punch by literal McDonald's, whose 1953 oldest building in Downey, California employed an upward-sloping roof -- along with prominent parabolas over a decade before Saarinen's Gateway Arch was built.

Civilization-shaping cultural creativity comes from expanding empires, and by the 20th century, the Euro empires had all bitten the dust, except for Russia, which didn't start its collapse until the final decade of that century. America was still rising, expanding, and innovating. If something cool or inventive happened, just assume that we did it (or maybe a Russian counterpart), not the collapsed empires with no gas left in the tank. Their heyday was several centuries earlier.

Whether trad or mod, Europeans simply had nothing to invent during the 20th C., although if they came under American aegis post-WWII, they could jump on our bandwagon and contribute that way -- which many of them did, enthusiastically, since our cultural scene was the only game in town, aside from Russia's.

We can't get too triumphalist, though, since our empire has begun collapsing as well. We aren't going to invent anything else ever again. That means our job is to preserve what has already been built in our national distinctive style, such as Googie (or Brutalism, Art Deco, Streamline, Prairie School, Mission, etc.). And if anything new needs to be built, then produce new examples of those established styles. That's how the Mormons are treating their temples -- old and new alike -- and that's how we should treat our buildings as an entire nation.

Fortunately in the case of Googie, it was most prolific in Southern California, which is the most preservationist region of the country, to their envy-making credit. If there's even a rumor about someone taking down the giant donut from what used to be a roadside vernacular diner, City Council will block them. And they have probably already made a preemptive move by getting the building legally protected as a landmark, making it sacrosanct, untouchable, and inviolable.

Nowhere else in the country conserves its American culture like L.A., which is why Brutalism is being systematically razed all along the East Coast, while UC Irvine will always look like it's from the Planet of the Apes, primitive yet futuristic at the same time -- and for all time.