Government

Why I Prefer “Flying Saucers” to “UFOs”

By | Government, Ramblings, UFO | 2 Comments

Words are important.  In 1947, after pilot Kenneth Arnold claimed to have seen several crescent-shaped objects flying like saucers skipping on the surface of a pond, sensationalistic journalists coined the term “flying saucers.” (Notwithstanding the evidence that the term “flying saucers” was in use for years prior to that to describe clay pigeons used in skeet shooting) And a phenomenon was born.  Reports of flying saucers soared, leading up to the 1952 “summer of the saucers”, in which thousands of reports hit the news.

Despite journalists having originated the phrase, most journalists back in the day seemed unable to utter it unironically, and usually added “so called” before it, as in “Mr. Jones saw a so-called flying saucer over his house.”  The phrase rolls so easily off the tongue now, after sixty years of cultural programming, it’s easy to forget that it is actually conjuring an image of dishes soaring through the sky.  That said, it is usually said in reference to 1950s sci fi movies, because it’s not a term that people use much anymore.  It is, really, a silly term.

But the US government was compelled to investigate. Obviously they can’t investigate flying dishes, so they had to look at it from a more distanced and one could say distinguished perspective.  Thus, Edward Ruppelt, director of the USAF’s Project Bluebook, coined the term “UFO”, for Unidentified Flying Object.

Ruppelt sought a new term that could be used to describe objects that were of any shape and size (not just saucer-shaped), as well as to describe objects which were completely mundane but just not readily identifiable. After all, a weather balloon is a UFO if you don’t know what it is.  But if you hear someone use the term “UFO”, you know they are talking about a spacecraft that carries little green men.  It will still be a UFO if it’s on the ground, and it will still be a UFO if it’s ethereal and not a solid object.  Though the term UFO was intended to distance these sightings from the sensationalism and foregone conclusion that they were aliens from space, it now means exactly that.

To address this, the term UAP for Unexplained Aerial Phenomena has come into vogue. Even Hillary Clinton, on the Jimmy Kimmel show, corrected his usage of “UFO” by saying “You know there’s a new name….unexplained aerial phenomenon.”

So “flying saucers” was a joke, and “UFO” became saddled with cultural baggage.  Will “UAP” be any different, or will it too become a perjorative?

“UFO” does not describe the craft the Contactees saw.  UFO is (literally) a military term, a clinical way to describe some unknown other.  In the book pictured above, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, Ruppelt begins with a story of an F-86 fighter that opened fire on a UFO because the pilot didn’t know what else to do.  Consider how Ruppelt pronounced “UFO”, as well:  “You Foe.”  It means these things are to be feared, to looked at with suspicion.

In other words, precisely the opposite of the Contactees.  They regarded these craft and the beings within them as objects of wonder, things to be in awe of, things to revere.  They also knew that these things were not “unidentified” at all.  Adamski knew that the scoutship he saw was Venusian.  Menger’s similar, but slightly different scouts were Saturnian.  Aura Rhanes came to earth on a ship from the planet Clarion.

“Flying saucers” evoke a simpler time, and while it isn’t the most precise of descriptions (as it can be attributed to disks, crescents, triangular, or cigar-shaped craft), it doesn’t leave room for mystery.  These are vehicles that bring our alien visitors here.

Some UFOlogists could arguably be called saucerologists, as they’re more interested in proving that these phenomena are alien visitors, rather than coming up with other things they could be.  Stanton Friedman, for example, frequently uses the term “flying saucer”, presumably for similar reasons to mine.  I would argue that Friedman is the spiritual successor to Major Donald Keyhoe, the former head of NICAP, who used the term “saucers.”  Both of these men would be horrified to be lumped in with the Contactees, and that’s not what I’m attempting to do; rather, I’m just saying that, basically, if you know what something is, and you know it’s a spaceship, why would you call it “unidentified”?

I, for one, think it is time we bring this back into the lexicon.  When modern UFOlogists talk about “UFO disclosure”, aren’t they really talking about flying saucer disclosure?  They’re not looking for the government to release the secret files of weather inversions or swamp gas…they want acknowledgement of the existence of alien visitations.  The Secret of the Saucers, as Orfeo Angelucci put it.

Hanging out at Area 51

By | Filmmaking, Government, UFO | No Comments

A few weeks ago, I finally got around to doing the one thing that all UFO-interested folks must, at some point, do: make the pilgrimage to Area 51.

As this film is about the Contactees, Area 51 doesn’t factor directly into the main storyline, so it has always been a low priority for me.  And, honestly, I’m much less interested in top secret military aircraft than in silver flying discs bearing beautiful Venusians.  That said, this was a surprisingly fun trip.  Since you’re reading this blog, I will assume you already know what Area 51 is, and what it’s all about and won’t bore you with explanation.

Personally, I was excited to see the infamous “Black Mailbox”, despite knowing that it was only the mailbox for a nearby ranch, and was saddened to hear that it had been removed.  But lo and behold, some intrepid someone put up a replacement…this one being actually black. (The removed one was not).  I was somewhat surprised by the sheer amount of detritus left there; some of it was just trash, but most were offerings, turning this into a shrine: pleas for the aliens to abduct them and take them to a better planet, “Jack was here” along with drawings of aliens, pleas for the ETs to give their souls to Jesus, etc.

blackmailbox-001

I didn’t know what to do next, really.  There’s not exactly a tourist center.  Well, OK, there is, and I went there, but I didn’t ask specific directions, because I thought it would be fairly obvious.  Turns out that when there’s only one road that dwindles into nothing on the horizon and you’re on a half tank of gas, complete knowledge of a situation is comforting.  Fortunately, that lone road was the right one.  And so, we plunged onward through a surprisingly dense Joshua Tree forest, dodging the occasional free-roaming cow.

area51_cow-001

And then we saw the sign, with the accompanying white pickup on top of the hill.  To this point, the trip was scenic, but uneventful.  Something about seeing that sign, with its dire warnings and legends of authorized lethal force, exhilarated me with the overall sense of menace.  Which was made more pointed by the imposing and silently watching pickup on the nearby hill.

area51_sign-001

I know, I’m a nerd.  But I love it.

There was no real danger, other than an uncomfortable talking to and hefty fine.  But the sheer drama of the signs and the razor wire and the hours of driving through nowhere to get to this point were exciting enough; it conjured a story in my head, full of aliens and spaceships.  Often, in the Mojave Desert, I’d felt a sense of magic laying just under the surface, a sense that anything could happen.  Here, in Groom Lake, I felt a similar sense of endless potential, but this time at the hands of dark but human forces.

And maybe that’s why people are endlessly fascinated with Area 51.  In a time when people are losing all sense of control over their daily lives, perhaps traveling to this zone of strangeness (to borrow Peter McCue’s phrase) and looking that lack of control in the face gives us comfort.  In that way, looking for secrets at Area 51 reflects our modern fears and concerns.  Much like how meeting beautiful Venusians reflected our fears and gave us hope in the mid-century.