Forty years ago, I was a little boy growing up in The Bronx, N.Y., and my favorite place in my neighborhood was a small cinema called the Dale Theatre. It wasn’t a fancy venue, by any means, but it seemed to have the knack of booking the best movies – or, at least, the best movies for a kid like me.
Back in 1974, one film played at the Dale Theatre that had a profound impact on my life. It was a strange documentary called “Chariots of the Gods” and it offered the remarkable idea that the ancient world was visited by extraterrestrials that gave the gifts of architectural and engineering knowledge to the grateful Earth population. But not everyone benefitted from this gift: the film theorized that the people in ancient Egypt and Central and South America created their magnificent pyramids and legendary cities with the help of the spaceship travelers.
As a nine-year-old sitting in the darkness of the Dale Theatre, the theories put forth by “Chariots of the Gods” were astonishing – and I wondered why no one previously advocated these ideas. But the profound impact that “Chariots of the Gods” had on my life did not occur until many years, when I revisited the film as an adult. The wonder and mystery that I experienced as a child were gone. Instead, I looked at this weird film through adult eyes with horror and anguish. My thoughts were rooted in shame – how could a smart little boy like me fall for such ridiculous ideas that extraterrestrials played a role in building the wonders of the ancient world?
Actually, I didn’t need to feel ashamed because a lot of adults fell for this nonsense – the film was a major box office hit, and even the supposedly savvy folks at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who nominated “Chariots of the Gods” for the Best Documentary Oscar. Today, a new generation of UFO-seeking souls continues to embrace the idea that E.T.’s uncle helped the pharaohs with their urban development planning.
The important thing I learned from “Chariots of the Gods” is actually a life lesson as old as the pyramids and the Easter Island statues: you can say the most inane things imaginable, but gullible people will embrace your message if you package it with a degree of style and seriousness. The brilliance of “Chariots of the Gods” was that it took a purely nonsensical theory – one that could not be backed with any trace of irrefutable evidence – and presented it in a flashy production that casually planted seeds of doubt with its audience. After all, how could the supposedly primitive people living thousands of years ago create soaring works of engineering genius without the use of modern machinery? The answer, according to the film, was a higher intelligence came in as a silent partner – but since no higher intelligence seemed to be available on the planet at the time, the brain power must have come from beyond the planet. Yes, this is a case of adding two and two and winding up with zero – but too many people didn’t seem to care if nothing added up, because it sounded funky enough to be real.
Since the 2008 crash, we’ve seen variations of “Chariots of the God”-style tomfoolery play out in relation to the real estate finance world, as certain characters peddle a series of bizarre statements and ideas that should never be taken seriously. For example, in 2009 we had Elizabeth Warren claim with a straight face that the “financial crisis started one mortgage at a time, one household at a time, and it destabilized the world economy” – obviously, the global economy fell apart solely because of the machinations of home loan originators.
In 2012, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke arrogantly brushed aside requests to conduct an audit of the central bank by stating, “The public thinks auditing means checking the books [and] making sure you’re not doing special deals.” Which is exactly what Bernanke did not want: thanks to Freedom of Information Act requests and litigation pursued by Bloomberg News, the Fed was forced to admit that it had secretly loaned trillions of dollars to banks headquartered in prosperous countries including Switzerland, Taiwan and Bahrain.
Last year, Attorney General Eric Holder defended his refusal to bring criminal charges against the Wall Street chieftains at the core of the 2008 crash by claiming, “If you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy.” To date, Holder never explained how indicting Angelo Mozilo on criminal charges would plunge the planet into ruin.
This year, CFPB second banana Steve Antonakes berated the audience at the Mortgage Bankers Association’s servicing conference by claiming that servicers were still doing a shoddy job – a claim that was refuted two months later when the CFPB released data that showed the overwhelming majority of consumer complaints against mortgage servicers were dismissed as being without merit. And Scott Pluta, a CFPB third banana, brusquely dismissed a Congressional investigation into multiple charges of racial and gender discrimination in CFPB personnel practices as “political theater” – a crass suggestion that this miserable case of discrimination is merely a figment of Darrell Issa’s imagination.
Sadly, there are too many people that eagerly accept such stupid statements as the truth. But claims of government agencies that can do no wrong and mortgage professionals that can do no right are just as ludicrous as the ancient astronaut ideas that floated on the movie screens of my childhood some forty years ago. The only difference is that the aliens that allegedly visited the Earth were able to board their spaceships and go off into stars – here on Earth, we’re still stuck with Elizabeth Warren, Eric Holder and that crowd.
About The Author
Phil Hall has been (among other things) a United Nations-based radio journalist, the president of a public relations and marketing agency, a financial magazine editor, the author of six books and a horror movie actor. Also, as you will discover, he is not shy about stating his views.