A double-wide in Pahrump, Nevada is haunted now

The grandfather of all the mass-media conspiracy stories and paranormal nonsense has died — Art Bell has become a ghost and floated up in the sky to be with the aliens. Some of us will recall Coast to Coast AM from the 1990s, when Art presided over a collection of the freakiest dingleberries on Earth, gullibly broadcasting every improbable story any yahoo with a phone wanted to call in.

One could literally trace every woo claim, urban myth, and conspiracy theory of the 21st century to its appearance on Coast to Coast AM. The notion that comet Hale Bopp was being shadowed by a UFO (which inspired the Heaven’s Gate cult suicides in 1997) was given no small amount of credibility on the show, as was Remote viewing, EVP, Mel’s Hole, and End Times predictions too numerous to count. Bell created an art form out of giving the craziest of the crazy their individual 15 minutes of fame. According to The Washington Post in its February 23, 1997 edition, Bell was at the time America’s highest-rated late-night radio talk show host, broadcast on 328 stations. In 1999, Bell co-authored The Coming Global Superstorm, upon which the movie The Day After Tomorrow was based.

He was last century’s less mean-spirited Alex Jones. Now dead.


  1. KG says

    less mean-spirited Alex Jones

    Now that’s “damning with faint praise” with a vengence!

  2. sparks says

    As Hitch once observed of Jerry Falwell: “Give him an enema and bury him in a shoe box.”

  3. says

    I think some of the blame for where we are now with regard to widespread conspiracy-mongering also needs to be placed on the shoulders of the TV show “The X-Files”.

    Mainly due to its neverending deployment of “straw science” – the story was structured such that skepticism was always portrayed as denial of the “obvious,” the obvious being that outlandish shit is happening all around us all the time and any attempt to employ empiricism was somehow a denial of reality, when in fact, in the real world, it’s the opposite. Rational skepticism was shown as always wrong and foolish.

    The writers displayed a deep, deep illiteracy of how science works.

    The X-files did a lot of damage to the promotion of an empirical world view and paved the way for the rise of crackpots like Alex Jones, “reality” tv shows about ghost hunting, ancient aliens, crackpot histories, etc. Could it also be connected to the rise of Trumpism?

  4. JoeBuddha says

    X-Files? Really? I loved it! It was never more than fiction. Never claimed to be. Why would anyone blame the X Files on a phenomenom that has been at work in the American psychy since forever? Now, I know what I need to binge watch.

  5. archangelospumoni says

    Dang. All of this paranormal stuff (being polite here) and still NOBODY can tell me who is going to win the upcoming Kentucky Derby.

  6. chrislawson says

    JoeBuddha@4 —

    Obviously people should watch X-Files as completely fictional, and I don’t think the show deserves blame for anyone believing any of its storylines, but…the problem I have with it is continually presenting Scully as a rational skeptic who nevertheless was always wrong about rejecting the supernatural and never learned from her past experiences. I understand why they used this format for dramatic effect, but surely you can see how it played to and reinforced popular belief that skeptics were automatically narrow-minded and always wrong.

  7. brett says

    In 1999, Bell co-authored The Coming Global Superstorm, upon which the movie The Day After Tomorrow was based.

    That book was wild. It wasn’t just the superstorm he and Whitney Streiber wrote about – it had “the Sphinx is secretly 10,000 years old”, “Vedic stories are actually of advanced civilizations that fought wars with each other”, etc. I read it as a kid and thought it was so cool, but man is it bad in hindsight.

  8. says

    Eh, Art Bell was at least fun, for those of us who love a good mystery and a good story. (Ditto “The X-Files” — and there were plenty of episodes where Scully was right.)

    Alex Jones — the entire few minutes I could tolerate — nearly caused a second-hand rage-stroke. I try to avoid things that do that.

  9. leerudolph says

    who is going to win the upcoming Kentucky Derby.

    A horse. Probably. (You might be able to get amazing odds on an octopus.)

  10. microraptor says

    WMDKitty @8: Weren’t most of the episodes where Scully was right ones where the mystery of the week was religious in nature, since Scully was Catholic and Mulder was an atheist?

  11. billyjoe says

    I watched one episode of “The X Files” and never went back, basically for the reason that Chris Lawson gave in comment #6. I don’t mind fiction but there’s a limit to what I will put up with.

    Also, I don’t understand the title of PZ’s post.

  12. chigau (違う) says

    The X-Files first few seasons were an absolute delight.
    When they were in “Monster-Of-The-Week” mode it was always fun to watch.
    The fan-base was fanatical and Chris Carter paid attention.
    The alt-rec-xfiles place had regular posters whose names featured in episodes.
    We had deep™, meaningful™, discussions about satanic cults and golems and etc.
    Then Carter got lazy, moved back to LA and had bots writing scripts about alien DNA.
    I stopped watching.

  13. wajim says

    “He was last century’s less mean-spirited Alex Jones. Now dead.” Um, what specific evidence do we have that 1) Alex Jones . . . is . . . I mean, Art Bell is dead? That’s just boring, and crapulent, likely Illumianti propaganda. Say, PZ, how do we really know YOU’RE not dead? 17 years ago I heard that biologists figured out to survive such an event: Suspended Embalmation, I think the gut called it. So, Zombie PZ, time to come clean.

  14. Larry says

    Remember when all the nut jobs and conspiracy whackos, et al, used to phone in to Bell’s radio show giving them a forum to spew their inanities? Today, we call these people Congressmen, Senator, and Fox News hosts.

  15. Robert Serrano says

    chigau @ 8: That was pretty much my experience with it, too. The monster-of-the-week time was great. They still had the conspiracy stuff, but it was more background noise. Once they decided to make the conspiracy the main story, they sucked a lot of the fun out of it for me. It didn’t help that the conspiracy storyline was tedious and didn’t seem all that terribly well thought out.

  16. chigau (違う) says

    Robert Serrano #15

    Yes. And we loved every microsecond of it.

  17. chigau (違う) says

    It is late.
    Yes. And we loved every microsecond of it.
    Robert Serrano
    “tedious” is the accurate word

  18. Crudely Wrott says

    I am quite saddened to hear the news of Art’s passing.
    Many long, cold nights I enjoyed listening to his show. I still have the very capable AM radio that brought his show into my home.
    Sure, he was mostly wrong about mostly everything but he did so with such style!
    A slick producer, carefully attendant to the latest fears of the great unwashed, polished and professional. Gifted with probably the greatest radio voice since, oh, pick your own favorite.
    How many happy hours I spent arguing alone in the dark against his carefully orchestrated gullibility, bashing his pandering to suggestibility and promoting suspicion of even the most basic assumptions of reality. Such exchanges provided me great satisfaction. Great satisfaction.
    He was, and, I assert, a true American icon. He may not be widely mourned or missed but for me, the world is just a little less colorful and entertaining now.
    RIP, Art. Go well and gently. And thanks for the laughs.

  19. Crudely Wrott says

    There is a missing “will remain” in the above.
    I’m sure that you’ll have no problem finding where to insert it.

  20. jack16 says

    @9 leerudolph

    “The fantastic odds of three million to one were set against Firefly in the Kentucky Derby of nineteen thirty three. Firefly was a garter snake.” —Ernie Kovacs


  21. twarren1111 says

    I wondered initially if your comparison to Alex Jones was a bit extreme. I used to hear Art Bell in the late 90s infrequently (when late driving) and recall only odd supernatural discussions. No racism, sexism, etc. Not any Alt-right stuff (which was called white supremacist stuff then). In fact, Fox News wasn’t even a thing yet. But once you linked him to the suicide cult you jolted me. Lies are lies. Deception is deception. And doing so with the power of broadcasting just magnifies the wrong.

  22. billyjoe says

    Timgueguen, thanks for the explanation. Never heard of a double-wide in relation to mobile phones.

  23. says

    Mobile HOME, not phone. i.e., a house on wheels, but usually doesn’t go anywhere. Often seen in large “trailer parks” or plunked down individually in the middle of the desert, like Bell’s.

    I spent many a 3rd shift work night staying awake by screaming back at the radio at whatever crackpot Art was credulously enabling.