Response to Thomas Frank’s 2012 Editorial


John Major Jenkins


I was alerted to Thomas Frank’s denigrating comments about my work by my friend, author and poet Bill Tremblay, who commented that Frank was clearly “taking me to the woodshed” (for a sound thrashing) and unfairly treating my work. Bill commented to Frank’s Facebook page, in a thread begun by Frank to announce his 2012 piece in the December issue of Harper’s Magazine:


I agree that the 2012 doomsday predictions have drawn attention away from real problems in a maelstrom of chicken-little squawking, i.e. your main thesis in "Appetite for Destruction." But I think you're being very unfair to John Major Jenkins by setting him up as the representative straw man. While he argues that the Maya themselves should be listened to even more so than American anthropologists as to what their tradition is in regard to the extant glyphic evidence, he never says December 21, 2012 is the end of the world, only the end of an eon or era. He's a guy without a college education who went down to Maya country and taught himself a tremendous amount. Sometimes his lack of a PhD gets thrown in his face in the form of "who do you think you are" sorts of challenges. In another context, you would champion Jenkins as an academic underdog, Tom. I know you can't go back and fix this--though if you could you should--by differentiating Jenkins from the doomsday types. In defense of the view that our intellectual elite shouldn't be ignored in favor of populist "know-nothingism," you've taken him to the woodshed for something he hasn't done. 


Bill also commented to me on my own Facebook page:


"The Wall St investment bankers who are extracting the wealth of this country think they are individuals precisely because they have broken the spiritual link between themselves and others. In fact, they have contempt for others, especially those they defraud. So the path you have taken, John, is the one that leads toward your humanity. As I said to you once in "The Bean Cycle," it's a great story. ...

    We must not feed the shadow. Yes! I was also thinking about sacrifice. If you burn up something then the only way to still have it is to put it in your mind. By this you engender mind. The thing is what it represents. Symbolically. Etymology of "symbol" Greek is: if you were a guest at a house you would be given a seal which would be broken in half so that when you went away you kept it. If you should return no matter how much later you showed the half-seal and your host would always recognize you because he or she would have kept the other half and would match it. Thus, you would be re-membered."


I called and talked to Harper’s editor Jason Chupik and registered my concern over the misrepresentation in Thomas Frank’s “Easy Chair” editorial on 2012, in the December issue. Here’s my letter-to-the-editor suggested by, and sent to, Harper’s in early December.


Jason Chupick


Dear Harpers,

I would like to address two areas of my work that were not clearly reported in Thomas Frank's piece on the Maya 2012 date in December's issue. First, my work was discussed at length, citing passages from my twelfth and latest book on Maya cosmology. The title of this recent book, which is a comprehensive study of the 2012 topic from all relevant angles, was not mentioned, whereas the titles of six or seven other books and movies, which were more briefly treated and often not even quoted from, were cited. The title of my book is: The 2012 Story: The Myths, Fallacies, and Truth Behind the Most Intriguing Date in History (Tarcher/Penguin 2009). Second, Mr. Frank alluded to my "2012 alignment theory" as an "invention." My approach since the early 1990s has been to reconstruct what the ancient Maya thought about 2012, and I have utilized primary sources with a main focus on the evidence at the early site of Izapa, which is credited by many scholars with having been involved in the formulation of the Long Count / 2012 calendar. That was a rational approach to the effort, with meaningful results that have nevertheless been largely overlooked by reactionary professional scholars and an under-informed media fixated either on doomsday or simply treating 2012 as a joke. My work should be correctly identified as a reconstruction rather than an "invention." And the 2012 date should be treated as a true artifact of ancient Maya thought, which can be and should be investigated on its own terms. Sincerely,

John Major Jenkins


I probably should have framed my comments as a need correction of factual error and oversight (in neglected to correctly cite the several quotes he took from my book.) It was not published, and my follow-up inquiry a few months later was ignored. So much for the Fairness Doctrine. Oops, forgot … they already did away with that.


Sent this to Frank’s website “contact form” on August 23, 2014:


Dear Mr Frank, this is long overdue but since Harper's didn't publish my corrective letter-to-the-editor, as they said they would, here it is for your consideration. It's regarding your Easy Chair editorial from December 2012, on the "2012" topic. In insinuating that my work was part of some anti-intellectual know-nothingism, I think you utterly misrepresented it. You're free to disagree with my work, but I offered the following two corrective observations in my letter. Feel free to email with your thoughts. Best wishes.


[and I repeated my letter-to-the-editor, see above]


No response by September 10, 2014.