UFO

Take Me To Your Laughter

By | Movies, Ramblings, Reviews, Science Fiction, UFO, Video | No Comments

TV aliens have always been funny, which is not to say the shows were always very good.

We had My Favorite Martian, Mork and Mindy, and the Great Gazoo, and while they were entertaining to some degree, the aliens were little more than wish-fulfillment props that could just as easily have been genies, witches, or superheroes.

But I’m seeing a new trend: humorous aliens who could only be aliens.  No longer props for funny line delivery and wacky fish-out-of-water stories, they are specifically linked to the true-life tales of alien contact.  Take, for example, this short from Chris and Jack:

 

And then there’s People of Earth, an underrated show with a quiet brilliance.  The plot revolves around reporter Ozzie Graham (Wyatt Cenac) as he travels to upstate New York to report on an alien abduction support group called StarCrossed.  At first, he is completely baffled by the stories the group tells him, until he starts to remember his own experiences.  Though not hilarious, the show is consistently charming.  The creators are clearly familiar with what actual Experiencers describe, exploring topics like screen memories, alien implants, multiple alien species, positive vs. negative encounters, and even the fact that “experiencer” is the preferred moniker, as opposed to “abductee.”

As Executive Producer David Jenkins says, it’s the Larry David version of The X-Files.  Here he is discussing his idea behind creating the show:

While The X-Files wasn’t (usually) humorous, it introduced pop culture to the Grays and alien abduction, giving aliens their own distinctive TV mythology.   Some credit is also due to Twin Peaks, with its explorations of Project Blue Book and the idea of screen memories.  The famous line “The owls are not what they seem” echoes stories Experiencers tell of seeing giant owls, deer, or rabbits after abduction encounters.  People of Earth uses a screen memory of a talking deer as a regular motif.

The aliens of PoE are not ethereal or otherworldly, but quite human in their tendencies to be deeply flawed and petty.  Jeff the Gray is all about procedure and getting things done.  Don the Nordic is innocent and loving. Jonathan the reptilian is manipulative and obsessed with his looks.  While these characterizations are funny on their own, they have their roots in typical abduction tales: grays are the worker bees, Nordics (as described my many Contactees) spread new age messages of peace and love, and reptilians are menacing shapeshifters who secretly control the world.

The Experiencers, ironically, are more alien; ostracized from society because of their bizarre beliefs in aliens, they struggle to maintain relationships in a world that doesn’t believe them.  The show portrays them sympathetically and never mocks them or trades compassion for cheap laughs.  PoE is unique in alien television in that it mines the real life stories of alien encounters for its humor, rather than just saying “aliens can do ANYTHING”.

Great show?  No, but eminently watchable.  I’d much rather watch this than a little green be-helmeted Martian granting wishes.  I am sure there are many who would argue that there are better comedies with aliens in them, but I feel this is the first one that stands on its own as an alien comedy.  Let me know if you agree or disagree in the comments.

 

 

Contact in the Desert and an Anti-Contact Conspiracy?

By | Contactees, Ramblings, UFO | 5 Comments

One feels that anything can happen in the Mojave Desert, making it the perfect setting for the increasingly popular UFO convention Contact in the Desert.

CITD is nestled between key landmarks in Contactee lore: 13 miles south of Giant Rock and the Integratron (the lands of George Van Tassel), and 70 miles northwest of Desert Center, the site of George Adamski’s famous encounter with the Venusian Orthon in 1952.  It’s also a who’s who of UFOlogy.  This year, I met Giorgio of Ancient Aliens, reconnected with Mike Bara and Kathleen Marden, spoke with Richard Dolan on the subject of Edward Ruppelt vs. the Contactees, and watched a couple of fascinating lectures by the legendary Jacques Vallee.

I’m not saying it’s Giorgio, but it’s Giorgio.

Jacques Vallee

But other than those Vallee lectures, I didn’t attend many of the talks.  I was more interested in meeting and talking with the researchers and with attendees who’ve had experiences.  However, I’ve noticed a pattern over the years that bothers me: Whatever happened to these guys?

George Adamski, George Hunt Williamson, George King, Orfeo Angelucci, Dana Howard

Contact in the Desert is, as the name suggests, a convention about making contact with ET intelligence.  Every year, there are lectures about the Annunaki creating the human race to mine gold; conspiracy theories discussing UFO coverups; the latest evidence of bases on the moon or Mars.  Generally, they’re great lectures, but at no point is there a mention of Adamski, King, or the other mid-century Contactees–save one: George Van Tassel.  His Giant Rock Spacecraft Convention of the 1950s-1970s provided a template for CITD, and his Integratron is a draw for many of the attendees.  But even then, Van Tassel is referred to only in relation to Giant Rock and the Integratron; no recognition is given to the messages he conveyed as a Contactee.

And it doesn’t seem to be an oversight.  I’ve heard several complaints from the representatives of the classic Contactees that they’ve been shut out of CITD: their requests for booths or lectures are rejected.  While it’s possible this is part of a larger trend, CITD is the only convention I’ve heard such complaints about, and perhaps that is because it is the most similar to the old Giant Rock Conventions.  If these allegations are true, one wonders why a contact convention that hearkens back to the original contact convention would shrug off any identification with the very individuals who started the movement.

Rejecting the Contactees is a well-worn tradition in UFOlogy, started by the likes of Edward Ruppelt of Project Bluebook, Donald Keyhoe of NICAP, and Isabel Davis of CSI.  Keyhoe was irritated by the lack of evidence from the Contactees, while Davis flat out accused them of being “mentally imbalanced.”  But many UFOlogists have a different take: Greg Bishop, host of Radio Misterioso and author of a number of books on the broader subject of UFOs and the paranormal, has made the point that the Contactees were an important movement in UFOlogy because they were mavericks who dared to think outside accepted UFOlogical dogma.  Richard Dolan said he was glad I was making this film because it is a subject of historical interest that has been largely ignored.

This year’s convention, as is the case every year, focused primarily on conspiracy theories, modern day contact/abduction encounters, and above all, Ancient Aliens (both the show and the concept).  This year, I got to meet this guy:

That’s Erich von Däniken, the man who created the ancient astronaut theory in 1968 with this book Chariots of the Gods?.  Except…wait a minute…

In the early 50s, George Van Tassel spoke of the “Adamic Race” of ETs who colonized the Earth and created modern humans.  George Hunt Williamson published Other Tongues–Other Flesh, focusing on his discoveries of ancient ET contact in 1957.  George King of the Aetherius Society claimed that our great religious figures, such as Jesus, Buddha, and Krishna were ETs sent to Earth to guide us through our spiritual evolution.  All of this happened years before von Däniken wrote a syllable on the subject of ancient astronauts.  As hundreds of people sat in the amphitheater listening to lectures about astral projection and channeling ETs, I imagine very few were thinking about King encountering the Logos of Mother Earth in his astral form, or his channeling of the Cosmic Master Aetherius.  At workshops on various conspiracy theories like government cover-ups, I imagine very few thought about Van Tassel’s concern that we were being kept in the dark about the impending catastrophic flip of Earth’s magnetic field.  And while the overall message of the conference was largely love one another, I suspect very few attendees were familiar with the principles of Universal Law espoused by George Adamski.  For all the love of the Giorgios, why no love for the Georges?

It certainly doesn’t appear that there is an objection to the original contactees based on content alone.  So what’s going on?  Is it just general ignorance of the subject matter?  How aware are people of the original contacts in the desert by Adamski and Van Tassel?  Contacts that allegedly occurred a short drive from this very conference.

So, I asked a number of attendees if they had heard of the Contactees of the ’50s.  A few people were savvy, but most had only a vague idea of “that guy in the desert”, or “the people who talked about Venus”.  No one had heard of George King, or Hunt Williamson, or Dana Howard, or Orfeo Angelucci, or Dan Fry, or any of the others who laid the groundwork for the very convention they were attending. Whether there is a concerted effort to pretend Adamski et al never happened, I cannot say.  But whatever the cause, it seems to justify one of the key reasons I’m making this film: to fill a gap in the popular awareness of UFO history, and to let people make up their own minds about the subject, instead of brushing the Contactees under the rug the way UFOlogy has been doing for decades.

 

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.

Fear the Flying Saucers

By | Contactees, Ramblings, UFO, Video | One Comment

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.

World UFO Day

By | Ramblings, UFO, Video | 3 Comments

Apologies for the long silence on this here blog.  I’m back in the saddle, and so these posts will come with better regularity now.

Today is World UFO day.  You can see a video summarizing the history of this day, as well as a summary of the UFO phenomenon in general here.

It’s always interesting to see what happens when the UFO subject goes public, as it were, beyond the realm of the specialty blogs and into the mainstream media.  Generally, there is X-files music and lots of puns about things being out of this world.  That’s why today, when I saw this article, I was pleasantly surprised.

In that article, Cambridge University Professor Simon Conway Morris suggests what I was postulating in an earlier post myself.  Namely, that the concept of humanoid aliens isn’t necessarily all that far fetched, because evolution works via principles of efficiency and physics.  When you take that into consideration, a lot of the same patterns come up over and over again.  He puts it well when he says:

Certainly it’s not the case that every Earth-like planet will have life let alone humanoids. But if you want a sophisticated plant it will look awfully like a flower. If you want a fly there’s only a few ways you can do that. If you want to swim, like a shark, there’s only a few ways you can do that. If you want to invent warm-bloodedness, like birds and mammals, there’s only a few ways to do that.

In other words, if a creature is evolving the ability to fly, odds are likely that it will evolve a symmetrical wing system.  There are other possibilities, of course, but the point is that we shouldn’t be surprised when we see it.  This is a phenomenon called convergent evolution; the idea that various complex characteristics can evolve independently and in a nearly identical form in different species.

Contrast this with Carl Sagan, famed astronomer and author of the book Cosmos, in which he says:

But the Darwinian message is clear: There will be no humans elsewhere.  Only here. Only on this small planet. We are a rare as well as an endangered species.  Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious.  If a human disagrees with you, let him live.  In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.

An amazing sentiment from an amazing thinker.  And curiously close in many ways to the Contactee message, which I think is fascinating because he is in that short quote rebuking the notion that humanoid aliens could exist elsewhere in the universe while simultaneously saying something that could have come out of Orthon’s mouth.

So who is right?  I don’t think it’s important if there is a convergent line of human evolution somewhere out there in the cosmos.  What is important is that wherever it is and whatever it is, it is precious.

Contact in the Desert, again

By | Contactees, UFO | No Comments

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been writing this blog long enough to attend TWO Contact in the Desert conferences, but it’s true.  Granted, this year’s conference was moved up a few months to avoid the searing August heat in the Mojave, but it’s still been nearly a year.  I saw a lot of lectures, met a lot of people, including Travis Walton and Mike Bara of Ancient Aliens.

2015-05-30 13.36.39

The highlight of this year’s conference for me was the excursion out to Giant Rock with Barbara Harris, who runs the Giant Rock Project.  She’s a knowledgeable lady with fascinating tidbits from the area, and about the incredible history of Giant Rock specifically.  But what happened that night at Giant Rock was what made the night for me.

After hiking up Crystal Hill (a large mound made entirely of quartz crystal), we stood under the blaring desert stars looking skyward.  According to Glenn Steckling, director of the Adamski Foundation and co-host of the tour this year, as the terminator (the delineation between night and day) moves around the earth, it causes the magnetic field of the earth to shift in such a way as to be useful to alien craft that sail those fields like ships in the wind.  So, about an hour after sunset, it is not uncommon to see a number of craft moving in a north-south direction.

Indeed, there were a number of points of light moving due north.  My immediate thought was that they were satellites, and it is quite likely that they were.  What is interesting, however, is that there were at least two of them in relatively close formation.  I’ve seen many satellites in the night sky, but never so close to one another.  They moved at the same rate of speed, which suggested to me they were at comparable altitudes.  And they faded into visibility, and then back out within the space of thirty seconds or so.

But then all of a sudden, and with a shout from many of us in the group, there came a brilliant, large, completely silent light blazing out of the west.  It shot over us, at an angle of about 60 degrees, and flew in a wobbly pattern toward the distant mountains, where it stopped, and then faded to invisibility.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

But Glenn knew.

To my surprise, he informed us that it was the International Space Station.  After a quick search, I verified that he was in fact correct.  I think this was an important lesson for me and others who seek flying saucers in the night sky.  Perceptions cannot always be trusted.

What I perceived was a moderate sized disc-shaped craft at a relatively low altitude, perhaps 4000 feet.  It wobbled in its path, perhaps because it was following lines of magnetic force.  It stopped in the distance, because it was at that point over a marine base and was observing the military exercises that we could hear taking place.  Or something.

But, my perceptions were completely wrong.  What I actually saw was indeed a spacecraft, but one of human design, flying in a razor-straight orbit several hundred miles straight up.  Since it was up so high, it was still catching sunlight, which reflected brilliantly down to us in the dark desert skies.  As for the wobbling…anyone who’s ever looked at an LED alarm clock in a darkened bedroom is familiar with the effect in which the brain, lacking the detail to “ground” the image of the lighted numbers, gets confused and interprets the saccadic motion of the eyes as motion of the object being observed.  That is effectively what was happening there.  The apparent stop and fade was just the ISS getting so far away that any further motion was imperceptible.

In the moment, many of the people in the group, myself included, were convinced we were seeing something amazing.  And we were, just not in the way we thought.

Flying Saucers and Pop Culture

By | Contactees, Movies, Science Fiction, UFO | No Comments

Imagine if you will, a world without science fiction.  A world that doesn’t re-create or re-imagine the events in front of them in a far-fetched, entertaining manner.  Would that world still have flying saucers?

A while back, I interviewed Bill Warren, the author of Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties . He observed that film (and pop culture in general) not only can influence culture at large, but in fact cannot help but do so.  Which is to say, there is a healthy back-and-forth that occurs from real world to pop culture back to real world, and on and on and on.

Which makes me wonder about the nature of flying saucers.  Back in the ’40s, no one saw UFOs.  The term wasn’t invented yet.  They saw “flying saucers.”  Though there was variation, they were typically saucer-shaped flying objects.

Prior to this phrase being used, the mainstream idea of a spaceship (though, granted, the idea of spaceships was still relatively rare in the ’40s) was a rocket.  And even more strangely, the sighting that triggered the modern era of UFO sightings, the famous Kenneth Arnold incident of 1947, did not feature saucer-shaped objects at all.  They were crescent-moon shaped, but flew “as a saucer would” (i.e. like skipping stones on a pond).  The media stamped the term “flying saucers” on it, and suddenly, “so-called” flying saucers were seen everywhere. (They almost always prefaced it by saying “so-called”.)

Why the sudden shift?  Was it this term that suddenly made UFO sightings go saucer-shaped?

Santa arrived on a flying saucer.  There was even a pin-up of Miss Flying Saucer.

What were they?  Where did they come from?  Who was in them?  Clearly, aliens! Well, actually, that didn’t come until later, either.  In 1950, a movie called The Flying Saucer was released.  But this saucer was a top-secret military experiment, not an alien spacecraft.

But somewhere along the line, the extraterrestrial hypothesis became popular, and Hollywood jumped at the chance for a new villain.  We had Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and others.  In the public’s mind, saucers became spaceships.

But beyond the craft themselves, what of the occupants?  Was it George Adamski’s best-selling story of the beautiful blond haired Venusian named Orthon the incident that made sincere, credible people report similar, if not nearly identical encounters?  The idea of beautiful blond-haired aliens persisted for a long time, until it was ultimately overcome by more monstrous, less human creatures, like the Grays.

As the Grays became more popular in pop culture, so too did the stories of experiences with them.

And so on, and so on.

My point is, as these concepts enter the popular consciousness, do we have a role in creating them in reality?  Perhaps as some kind of mass hallucination.  Maybe we create them as physical “thought-forms”, which have an external reality that is derived from our collective consciousness.  Or, maybe there is a real intelligence out there that is able to tune into our popular ideas and use them for their own benefit.  These aren’t satisfying answers, because they’re just as mysterious as the common idea that they’re just aliens.

But neither are the more conventional answers given by skeptics that UFOs and contact experiences are the result of misidentification, drunkenness, craziness, or outright lies.

I’m not in the camp that we will someday come to the answer; that the government knows more than it’s saying and will eventually disclose everything to the public; that the beings will land on the White House lawn and explain themselves.  In fact, I don’t think the answer is the important part.  Rather, it’s the questions that these phenomena raise about ourselves.

Why do we care about these things in the sky?  Why do we persecute and ridicule those who claim to have seen them?  Why do we turn our eyes skyward in hopes of salvation, when we could save ourselves here on the ground?

The stories of the Contactees are fascinating nuggets of humanity at its most entertaining, though we shouldn’t let that entertainment obscure the fact that there is something of value being discussed in them.

Just like in science fiction and popular culture, in fact.

Book Review: Communion

By | Reviews, UFO | No Comments

Whitley Strieber’s Communion was, for me, my introduction to the bizarre world of alien contact.  I remember walking into a bookstore one day years ago and seeing this face staring back at me:

 
 
I found it profoundly unsettling.  Something about it was difficult for me to look at.  Then, when I saw “A True Story”, I was thoroughly confused.  How could anything involving that face be a true story?
 
On the surface, this book is about acclaimed sci-fi and horror writer Whitley Strieber’s experiences with what he called “the visitors.”  They are today known more popularly as the Grays.  This book, published in 1987, was largely responsible for propelling the notion of alien abduction, with its anal probes and bug-eyed doctors, into the mainstream.
 
I had heard of alien abduction before, via a movie called The UFO Incident, starring James Earl Jones as Barney Hill.  I was similarly disturbed by that film, but I set that one aside as just a movie.  But this book, with that face on the cover…
 
That face…
 
…I couldn’t ignore it.  I had to delve into this world.
 
Strieber eloquently describes how world-shaking his contact experience was, and makes it all vividly real and yet also dreamlike.  It’s like a David Lynch movie that makes little sense at first, but sticks with you all the same, and seems to have a simmering logic underneath the high strangeness.
 
It’s that aspect of the meaning being hidden underneath the surface instead of out in the open that led me to be initially disappointed with this book when I first read it all those years ago.  I greatly preferred books that were more descriptive of actual events, such as the Budd Hopkins offerings Missing Time and Intruders.
 
But now, I see that this book has a lot more to say than just descriptions of events.  Strieber admits his own confusion at the experience, and says that he is not certain who the “visitors”, as he calls them, are.  He acknowledges extraterrestrials as a possibility, but seems to favor the theory that they are some sort of earthly intelligence that changes form in order to communicate with us. 
 
I was struck upon rereading the book at how closely it parallels what I am attempting to do with They Rode the Flying Saucers…demonstrate that this phenomenon says more about us, culturally and psychologically, than the visitors ever say about themselves.  While this book gives some hints and ventures slightly into the events that transpired, it focuses much more on what it could possibly mean.
 
And that’s what makes this much more a story of contact–not abduction. The title of the book suggests communication, an attempt to join with humanity.  An attempt at contact could appear as abduction without cause if the message is not received.  The purpose of this book seems to be to make an attempt to determine what that message really is. 
 
Spoiler: He never figures it out.
 
Something seems to be going on, something that is tantalizingly just out of our grasp, and it changes with the ages, as if trying to adjust to our way of understanding.  In the middle ages, people spoke of being taken by fairies and goblins.  Before the turn of the 20th century, people described seeing airships dropping literal anchors.  After we became a more technical society, these morphed into flying saucers.  At first, these beings were beautiful humans from planets we knew.  Then they became more alien, in more ways than one.
 
This is a great simplification, but gets to what I mean when I say that this experience seems to be telling us something about ourselves, and whether that message originates from outer space, on this planet, or from within our own minds is irrelevant.  I think it is a valid point of study for any scientists or sociologists brave enough to take it on.
 
As for Strieber, while he seems to consider his story one of attempted contact, he would bristle at being called a Contactee:

There is no real intellectual difference between the haughty psychiatrist or physicist and his refusal to accept the truth, and the nervous “contactee” eager to see the phenomenon as a dimensionless cartoon of space friends.

 
I think his point is that there is a happy middle ground in which the truth lies.  I would argue, however, that to ignore the haughty psychiatrist OR the nervous contactee is to ignore portions of the truth as well, because we have met the truth and it is us (to paraphrase Walt Kelly).  Whether or not you accept Whitley Strieber’s stories, or those of the Contactees, I think they tell us something interesting and profound about ourselves.