Thursday, May 28, 2009

The slow accumulation of wisdom

I grew up blissfully unaware of Nostradamus. I had heard of Edgar Cayce and Jean Dixon, but no one had told me about Mr. Fancy Frenchy Future Guy. I first heard of him when I was watching cable TV back in the 1980's, probably HBO, and I saw the documentary The Man Who Saw Tomorrow, starring Orson Welles as the on-camera narrator. It kind of freaked me out.

I wasn't a big believer in prophecy, but this cheesy little film was fascinating. A lot of the credit for this thing not being a complete joke is Orson Welles himself. He may have fallen farther than any movie star in history, from the director of Citizen Kane to regular on the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts, but even old and fat and willing to do anything for a buck, Orson Welles knew something about how to deliver a line to a movie camera. He took the position of a skeptical person occasionally in the film, but then he would deliver a line in a tone of voice that said, "Okay. I thought this was cheese when I started out, but now I believe it." And when the movie talked about the Third Anti-Christ attacking America in 1999, I was buying into this stuff, too.

Then I bought the Quatrains of Nostradamus.

Whether you read it in French or English or Esperanto, this is completely vague nonsense that people can decide after the fact means whatever they want it to mean.

I saw predictions come and go after this without buying into much of it, and I was usually blissfully unaware until I ran into a nest of believers. Remember Harold Camping? He said Jesus was coming September 6, 1994. Or maybe it's May 21, 2011 for the Rapture with the end of the world coming five months later. Those are the numbers he's currently hawking.

Mark your calendars. Or don't. I'll leave that up to you.

Right now, the big popular scary date is December 21, 2012. (Sorry, Harold. Cry wolf once and your flock tends to scatter.) The Mayan calendar ends on December 21, 2012, and we all know what good mathematicians they were. (Actually, as astronomers, they were pretty strong.) On that date, the sun will rise with the galactic center directly in the background of the sunrise. Ominous!

Or... not.

The galactic center is about 50,000 light years away from us. The effect it will have on the sun and the earth on that special day is about the same as the effect it has on us today, which is to say effectively zero.

So I watched a few minutes of Nostradamus: 2012 on The History Channel last week, and I have to say, my respect for The History Channel plummeted like a stone for putting this nonsense on the air. They sure could use an actor as good as Orson Welles to sell this stinky cheese.

Or maybe what they need is a much younger and more gullible Matty Boy. But like Orson Welles, that guy isn't around any more.


namastenancy said...

I don't know if you remember Benjamin Creme (sp?). He must have made a mint back in the 70's or 80's, proclaiming the second coming. I went to one of his talks with a friend of mine who was totally suckered. I retained my cynical attitude but then, hucksters of any type have always set off my alarm bells. It's fun to read about the the Mayan prophesies of the end of the world and Nostradamus as well but to really believe them? The one thing you can say about Nostradamus is that he was very clever about the politics of his day. He managed to retain the favor of many highly placed court nobility, including, some say, Catherine d'Medici herself, Thus, he was able to die peacefully in bed - rather than being burned at the stake. That's not a bad feat for an astrologer and one who dabbled, so they say, in the fringes of the occult in a very dangerous time.

dguzman said...

OHMYGOD that film scared the bejeebus out of me and my little sister too!

But then, I was afraid of Bigfoot when I was little too.

I think some of these cable channels are running out of ideas, and they're upping the cheese factor to attract the LCD instead of digging deeper into things that haven't been fully explored.

Imagine a true history of the Middle East, right up the Iraq War, in a twenty-or-so-part series. Nope--too many hot buttons! Let's do Nostradamus!

Matty Boy said...

nancy: Good point about Nostradamus being politically astute. It was easy to get on the wrong side of powerful people back then.

dguzman: I also hoped that Bigfoot was real when I was younger. As for cheesy cable networks, it's hard to even know where to begin. I have a lot of friends who have decided they will watch "just one" reality show like Top Chef or Project Runway, but I believe that way lies madness. Soon enough, there are ten million people watching Jon and Kate Plus Eight, without even one of them able to give a good reason why.