This past weekend, my California friends were peppering my Facebook feed with videos and photographs of a UFO in the sky. It hit the national news as a comet-like object coursed over the skies of Los Angeles and beyond. In the absence of any definite information, it was in fact an unidentified flying object.
You can hear the confusion in the video above: “it’s a star or something” and “a blimp.” A truck driver is concerned about a “bright light hovering in the area.” Seeing something like this, without any context or expectation, is a terrifying thing. I know this, because it happened to me a few years ago in Los Angeles, but back then, the fears were totally different.
It was 2001, not long after September 11. For several days, the only airplanes in the sky were the fighter jets that occasionally flew over the city, and in the months following, the fear of the next attack was in the back of everyone’s mind. And then one night, I heard a commotion outside my apartment, and stepped out into the courtyard to see what everyone was talking about. Then I saw it: an iridescent blob hanging in the western sky, slowly changing shape. The group gathered there nervously threw ideas out there, much like the nervous voices in the video above. “is it a gas attack?” “What about a dirty bomb?” Some of us wondered if it could have been a nuke out at sea. Like those people in California this past weekend, we had no idea what it was, but we were fairly sure that the only reasonable explanation was that the terrorists had struck again. No one said anything about UFOs.
Then, as now, the military came out and said “Oh, uh, whoops, our bad. That was just a missile test. I guess we should have mentioned something. Sorry guys!” Sadly, I don’t have a photograph of this, because we were all too stunned to think of taking a photo. (Which, interestingly, is a phenomenon often reported by UFO and bigfoot witnesses.) However, I came across this article which has a photo that is somewhat similar (though far less dramatic) to what I saw all those years ago.
Now, while this new missile test looked a bit different, more comet-like and less cloud-like, it also reminded me of the “Norway spiral”, which people went nuts over in 2009.
Unexpected celestial events tend to highlight the sharp divisions between the various factions of believers: the hopeful will say it is the opening of a new age; the fearful will say it’s an alien invasion; the conspiratorial will say it’s Project Bluebeam. Some can’t seem to make up their minds and say it’s all of the above; but ultimately, the answer is almost always what would be exciting in any other context: A missile test, bolide, or other celestial phenomenon.
Our fears often dictate what conclusions we’ll jump to, and with time, narratives form. In the wake of 9/11, strange lights in the sky meant that the terrorists were back, but 14 years later, the immediacy of the Twin Towers collapsing has diminished, and we look outward to the stars for our bogeymen. A similar effect happened in the late ’40s through the ’60s. Immediately after the war, strange lights in the sky signaled atomic bombs or secret Soviet weaponry. But by the 50s and 60s, when the immediacy of the war had died down, the explanations deepened; strange lights became alien spacecraft. As years went on, the logical progression followed, and narratives appeared around those alien spacecraft: Beings came from those craft to speak to humans on Earth. The Contactees were born.
Whatever you think of the Contactees, whether you think they made it all up or they had real experiences or somewhere in between, their stories reflected the fears that people felt back in the day. Or rather, their stories reflected the hopes that people had back in the day. We as humans were on the brink of destroying ourselves, and the Contactees offered a narrative that there were powers far greater than our own that were here to help. It’s a reassuring thought, much like the idea of the Norway Spiral being an announcement of the coming of Maitreya. Even the theories that declare these lights in the sky to be the result of government conspiracies offer us a chance to seize our freedom.
These narratives, true or not, are reflections of our fears as human beings. The Contactees, like the frightened teens uploading videos of this latest missile test to Youtube, were seeking comfort.