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The UFO Experience as Theatre


The solution to the teleology of the UFO phenomenon has in the past tended towards two hypotheses, when it has tended anywhere at all: learning and teaching. I reject both these alternatives on the grounds of non-contact. All good education is based on interaction between student and teacher. If they want to sway us they would not display themselves furtively and seek to create fear and paranoia. If they want to learn from us they should come among us and ask questions. If they want us culturally unchanged as an experiment in sociology, they would disguise their activities better.

The irrationality of the UFO phenomenon has been commented upon frequently by ufologists. The alien way of doing things has frequently gone beyond the inscrutable into the totally dumb. Toying around with patterns in UFO behaviour one day, I realised that, for all its irrationality, the UFO phenomenon nevertheless did possess a logic. Not the logic of education, the logic of theatre.

The tip-off was all the chases. Chases are staple items in our fantasy lives. It is a formula element in most action-adventure television. Where would film-makers be if there were no screeching tyres and rising speedometers to maintain the illusion something is happening? Half the block-busters of recent years have chases in them: Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost
Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and appropriately, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

The reliance on chase sequences is understandable: it is a quick, easy way of heightening tension and accenting the conflicting relationships between characters. The kinetic imagery and the hint of danger excites the senses.

The frequency of chases in movies and TV contrasts outrageously with their frequency in real life: few people ever witness such a chase, let alone participate in one. The audience presumably realizes that this is unreal, but forgoes criticizing that illogic since they recognize fiction operates by conventions only occasionally having to do with real life. Reality, after all, is not as exciting as entertainment. That's why entertainment exists. Those conventions are excused by one phrase - dramatic licence.

In ufology it is a simple matter of observation that chases are absurdly commonplace. In a relatively small sample of 80 cases drawn from the Uintah region of
Utah by Frank Salisbury, no fewer than six chases were in evidence. Salisbury felt this constituted a pattern which forced the question of why UFOs should want to follow cars on to ufologists.

George Fawcett in a wider study of the repetitive features of the UFO phenomenon determined the pursuit of UFOs by planes in the sky and by cars on open highways is a feature which must be explained if we are to solve the flying saucer mystery. For the year of 1967 alone, Fawcett tallied 81 UFO car chases worldwide.

What is more, the chases involve every dramaturgical gimmick that can be seen in mass entertainment. The UFO phenomenon rivals the James Bond series in its attempt to yield every permutation of vehicular mayhem. Consider if you will an incomplete tally I have compiled of vehicle-related motifs culled from the literature: saucer chases car; saucer bumps car; car controlled by alien force; saucer forces car out of control; vehicle becomes airborne; car lifted up on two wheels; car made to do 180ø turn; car teleported; saucer crashes into car; police chase saucer; saucer chases ambulance; saucer chases train, plane, hitchhiker, snowmobile; saucer fires at car; man jumps from car before crashing into building; saucer blocks road; saucer plays chicken with plane; saucer rescues 'copter; saucer swallows plane; saucer blows up plane; and plane disappears after reporting trouble involving saucer.

The existence and character of these cases lack any plausible explanation outside the realm of theatre. What possible rationale could chases serve for an extraterrestrial piloting a souped-up aerial dragster which, if some reports serve as a guide, could fly rings round a dragonfly? If it wanted the Earth vessel it could latch on to it in seconds and not spend a great deal of time curling the hairs of the drivers of the vehicles. The spectacle of cars, including police cars, chasing vessels with the implicit ability to achieve escape velocity from Earth itself has to be viewed as pure farce if we aren't meant to accept these episodes under the proviso of dramatic licence.

The theatre of the UFO phenomenon is a manifestation of the drive for creative expression.


John L. Caughey in his illuminating study of the prevalence of fantasy in everyday life, Imaginary Social Worlds, points out that recognition as a media hero is one of the Great American Vices and a repeated theme running through the fantasies of most people. Even if UFO percipients are merely ghost-writing for the ufologists and retain their customary anonymity, the knowledge that their stories received acceptance could safely fill the needs of such a fantasy.

The creative urge can exist in a vacuum. John Rimmer's recent essay "Levels of Mystification" points out how novelists and artists continue to create in the face of scant rewards, virtual silence, and even critical rejection. Artists themselves attest to the primary role of pleasing their own aesthetic sensibilities as a measure of greatness. The work comes from deep inside, sometimes fully formed, sometimes fighting to shape itself as it finds expression in the outer world. Rimmer conjectured that abductions might be a manifestation of this compelling drive to create.

Like chases, abduction is a staple item in action-adventure drama: the disparity of the frequency of abductions in drama compared to real life is again striking. The essence of all drama is conflict; for conflict to take place one requires a pretext to bring antagonists together. Ideally a moral dilemma must exist. Kidnapping sets up such a clear moral dilemma and at the same time inevitably brings the hero into interaction with the villain.

We know abduction was not a necessary feature of extraterrestrial contacts. Originally the novelty of the contact was enough to capture the interest of its audience. Problems arose in such contacts: the choice of the contactee and the aliens' chary attitude to giving quality gifts commensurate with their benevolent talk. After a number of embarrassing incidents like the Adamski photos and Howard Menger's recantation, the fate of contactees was declining audiences. 

The advent of abductions represented a fortuitous turn of dramaturgy. Abductions brought aliens and humans together, and then overlaid an element of conflict and power. It excused the lack of contact and gifts and, by diminishing their friendliness, permitted a larger measure of inscrutability in their acts.

Abduction is plainly unethical in the failure to obtain consents and, more significantly, in its flouting of the conventions of the host culture. It is at least problematic that a culture possessing the rationality and co-operativeness necessary to build the technology implicit in saucer sightings should engage in abduction. It is more probable, in my view, that it is a dramatic convention underlying the frequency of abduction among contemporary UFO contacts. Most of these abductions interestingly involve another dramaturgical gimmick - amnesia. Sometimes called the common cold of the soap opera, it is an extreme rarity in real life, but its dramatic possibilities are very seductive to TV writers. The victim is confronted with the mystery of a chunk missing from his life along with conflicts in the shifted relationship of the victim with his friends and enemies. The solution usually involves a climactic resolution of a traumatic character. There are also elements of sympathy and tension which can be played upon. Writers can hardly be faulted for returning again and again to this device.

In ufology likewise, amnesia is common. It is generally limited to a small period of missing time and is not associated with physical or emotional trauma. Rather it is considered an erasure of events from the mind by the abductors. What gives away the dramatic intent of this event is the recoverability of the memory. Without recoverability there would of course be no plot. Permanent erasure would seem to be a feat more fitting of a super-technology.

Explosions and crashes are the punctuation marks of adventure shows. Again there is an exaggerated frequency among UFO reports which seems to speak more to a shared function of entertainment rather than to an aspect of technological realities.

Immunity to weapons is an often seen gimmick in movie monsters and conveys a sense of alienness and power. It does the same in ufology and doubles to keep evidence from slipping into the possession of individuals on Earth.


Violating scientific sensibilities are a number of science fiction scams which have found their way into UFO lore: things like anti-gravity/ personal levitation, invisibility/matter interpenetration, mind reading, force fields, and time travel. No scientist could be faulted for disbelief in the anything goes quality to alien technology; some of these devices have been part of the stage magician's bag of tricks for centuries. And as they did for such performers, these illusions produce the desired quality of awe when seen in UFO reports.

The force field is a more recent invention of SF writers - I know of no SF apologist who grants the slightest plausibility to the concept. The use of force fields is one of the strongest arguments that UFO reporters borrow from SF in constructing a dramatic vehicle for their observations.

Mind rays are equally suspect, given the complexity of the human brain. Their visibility speaks for their dramaturgical origin: light is unlikely to effect highly specific changes in brain function. The possibility of light being an incidental function of a programming radiation suggests energies more likely to fry a brain than modify it.

These examples of dramaturgical gimmickry are but the most distinctive examples of a whole pattern of behaviour displayed by the UFO phenomenon which can only be accepted under the shelter of dramatic licence. Realising ufology is shaped by such conventions, it can come as no surprise that there are dozens of parallels of these gimmicks in science fiction films incorporating themes of alien contact and invasion.

In saying this I do not imply that there is a conscious plagiarism. Most of the parallels arise simply by the necessities of dramatic licence. Exposure to cinematic aliens may set up an understanding of dramatic logic which is drawn on at a later date, but the role of that form of inspiration is probably not extensive.

If there is one case of parallelism which seems to involve plagiarism it would have to be the similarities between the messages of the alien in the notorious Plan Nine from Outer Space and the message of Valiant Thor of Venus as presented in the 1967 book Stranger at the Pentagon. I must say, however, I cannot believe anyone would have the chutzpah to consciously model their story on material from that monumentally bad film. It could be coincidence!

Science Fiction and the Alien Agenda

Has popular entertainment been used to prepare us for First Contact?


A GRADUAL CONDITIONING PLAN would seem necessary if the UFO Cabal wishes to avoid the worst possibilities of everyone totally freaking out — as so many did during the celebrated Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds (1938) broadcast which terrorized large sections of the East Coast the day before Halloween, though that probably had more to do with pre-war fear of the Nazis than fears of things celestial. Perhaps, as some have speculated, the history of science fiction in cinema reveals the Cabal’s changing attitudes. Certainly the course of sci-fi flicks through the latter part of the twentieth century follows the rumored developments of our relations with extraterrestrial species surprisingly well.

Classic, intelligent science fiction film released in 1952, directed by Robert Wise, and starring Michael Rennie, as the alien Klaatu, and Patricia Neal. In it, radars pick up a fast-moving object in the atmosphere. A flying saucer sets down in Washington, DC, and is immediately surrounded by the military – the heavy-handed response to the arrival of all interplanetary travelers since The War of the Worlds radio play in 1938. A man-alien emerges holding a device that, unfortunately for him, looks indistinguishable from a Buck Rogers ray-gun. Encircled by tanks and other artillery, he then makes the awesomely crass mistake of pressing a button on the gadget (a gift, it turns out, intended for the President). Cue a nervous young soldier to open fire. Cue Gort, a giant ponderous robot, to emerge menacingly from the saucer, vaporize a few of the heavy artillery pieces and carry his injured companion back into the spaceship.

The man-alien's mission, it transpires, is to try to make world leaders see sense and abandon their nuclear brinkmanship before it is too late. But when he fails he reveals that the Earth will effectively be put under house-arrest until it is mature enough to join the wider community of space-faring worlds. As a final twist, the robot emerges as the real master – an indestructible, interstellar police-officer built to keep the galactic peace.

Barely had the film been released when it seemed it might come true. In July 1952, unidentified blips were reported to have appeared on radar screens around Washington, DC.

This program of slow, indirect indoctrination is said to have begun with the classic science fiction film, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) which first revealed the godlike Nordics and their worries about our nuclear playthings.

 That there could actually be some sort of real basis for the movie might have been indicated by a peculiar statement the producer of The Day the Earth Stood Still in a “making of” documentary included on the recent DVD release. There, producer Julian Blaustein, interupts his own story of how Spencer Tracy (!) wanted to play the part of the Christ-like alien, Klaatu, a/k/a "Mr. Carpenter". Blaustein says:


"We already had the design of the spaceship, based on [sighs audibly] known facts about space travel, which were limiting facts, but you know, like flying saucers and the physics of levitation in space, getting it off the ground. So that's where we got the design."


"The physics of levitation in space?" This sounds strangely like the film-makers were almost more interested in how saucers flew than their appearance. Perhaps the movie's Einstein-like character of Dr. Barnhardt had the right equations after all, or could there have been someone leaking something somewhere in Hollywood?


The Day the Earth Stood Still, coming at the height of the Korean War, was unashamed in suggesting a super-national authority, a UN on steroids with control of military resources to which all nations must surrender sovereignity, a New World Order to guarantee the peace of the planet.Yet even this anti-war movie played on popular fears of the Red Menace. On some versions of the poster, for instance, the wrinkled hand shown grasping the world across the North Pole is colored a distinct scarlet.


But as the Cold War got frostier, despair over the growing potential of atomic doom deepened. Yet according to the evolving myth, however, the sea-change in sci-fi movies was not due to the threat of Commie invasion, but the appearance of another alien race.

After the Nordics' supposed rivals, the Greys, supposedly contacted Eisenhower later on in that decade, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) was released. Along with memorable scenes of saucers crashing into Washington landmarks, this remarkably paranoid but overlooked film includes abductions, a landing at a desert launch facility suspiciously like the Holloman encounter mentioned below, mind control, the development of anti-saucer raygun technology, even night vision, and oh yes, a briefly-seen alien which is extremely Grey-like. Though the invaders are ultimately defeated and the hero-scientist and his beloved secretary finally get to take their honeymoon, the movie jarringly ends with the bold banner, “WATCH THE SKIES!” as if a celestial Pearl Harbor could happen at any moment.


The Strange Case of Steven Spielberg

Of all the directors in Hollywood, few have been involved in as many projects involving aliens as Steven Spielberg. His visions have done more to define the images of extraterrrestrials in popular culture than virtually anyone. Beyond the well-known "classics" Close Encounters and ET, Spielberg was also the producer for the Men in Black movies, the mini-series Taken (2002), about multi-generational abductions, *batteries not included (1987), about benign mechanical aliens, and the recent remake of War of the Worlds (2005). His career illustrates a clear arc from hopefulness to horror, which, if the rumors of his inside knowledge are true, might not be a good sign. Especially as it also includes debunking the largest mass sighting of a UFO in modern times.


Sometime after the supposed treaty with the Greys came the hopefulness of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) with its depiction of a secret first contact with Greys both small and large. Interestingly, the little boy central to the plot is identified by covert agents BEFORE his abduction.


Not only is the Cabal's coverup and collusion with private industry illustrated, but hints are given as to the nature of the Cabal. Their logo, for instance, is a device very reminiscent of the Illuminati "eye in the triangle" bearing a starburst and the word "MAYFLOWER". A play on "Majestic" perhaps, or just a reference to the heavenly pilgrimage of Roy Neary? In any case, it is the only logo at the "Dark Side of the Moon" landing spot — no American, or for that matter, UN flags in evidence, just a solitary white banner sporting a black triangle...


Disney references, of which Spielberg is famously fond, in this film come from Pinnochio. The haunting alien musical phrase seems to have been derived from the first notes of the song, "When You Wish Upon A Star", which seems appropriate enough. However, since the fairy tale is one where a wooden puppet is transformed by a preternatural power connected with a star (the Blue Fairy) into a real boy, what is Spielberg trying to tell us? That the species will only be fully human when we finally confront the alien reality?


This movie has a number of curious clues, such as programming cues into abductees and the Cabal's use of biological weapons as cover, as well as very accurate depictions of the effects of brushes with alien spacecraft, including electical anomalies and radiation burns. This is not too surprising as the late Dr. Allen J. Hynek not only advised the director, but has a cameo appearance during the climactic encounter sequence.


Perhaps this was based on the same rumored landing at Holloman Air Force Base as the one in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. There’s an apocryphal story that President Reagan commented to Spielberg during a White House screening of Close Encounters that only a few people in the room knew how true the movie actually was.


In Spielberg’s later ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), humans are the bad guys menacing the peaceful space creature. This, however, marks the end of a very optimistic period when many ufologists believed that the long-awatied revelation was nigh.


Yet, in between these two films, something had already changed. Spielberg went directly from the success of Jaws and Close Encounters to his first – by comparison – flop, a comedy so expensive it took two studious to produce. The movie, 1941, was about post-Pearl Harbor hysteria, made in 1979. In a 1995 featurette, "The Making of 1941" included on the DVD, Spielberg says that he agreed to make the movie while he was working on Close Encounters. He, Bob Gale, and Robert Zemeckis, the writers, recounted how they reworked the screenplay during the production of CE3K in an office in the very hanger where Spielberg was filming the mothership scenes. "1941", as the writers acknowledge, was based in a large part upon the "Battle of Los Angeles". This was an incident that occurred on February 25, 1942, when lights over Los Angeles were thought to be a number of incoming Japanese bombers. There was a blackout and a lot of antiaircraft fire was expended, but no Japanese planes were shot down.


The Army defended the action, though soon it was attributed to "jittery nerves" when no wreckage was forthcoming. In 1974, a memo was revealed that Chief of Staff General Marshall wrote to President Roosevelt, saying it was real and that as many as15 aircraft might have been involved.


Curiously, neither Spielberg nor the writers make ANY mention of UFOs whatsoever in their discussion of the "air raid". Not even a single joke. Yet they were working on the script while literally surrounded by "Close Encounters"! How could it be that they didn't make a connection?


It does seem peculiar that Spielberg would go directly from making arguably the greatest UFO movie of all time to one that essentially debunked the biggest sighting of the modern era, and appear to be blithely clueless about the link all the while.


By the way, the Disney reference in 1941 is to Dumbo, the cartoon about a flying elephant. Though the movie was indeed released around the time of Pearl Harbor, could this be a reference to things seen in the air that should not be there? In any case, the Battle of Los Angeles has been blamed on "lost weather balloons". Why not? It worked so well for Roswell...


A few years later, Spielberg then went on to film ET: The Extra-Terrestrial with its grim vision of a ruthless, frightened humanity hunting down the gentle alien. Since then, his vision — and that of movies in general — has only grown darker. In the mini-series "Taken", the Christ-role, like that of man-child Roy Neary, is fulfilled by a little girl, taken away by the aliens at the end because of the misunderstanding of humanity, much like Klaatu was. Yet even this was hopeful, compared to what was to follow.


The Men in Black comedies (1997 and 2002), which Spielberg produced, showed the Earth as a galactic port of call and refuge, a fact which must be concealed from human society to preserve our comfy illusions. Whereas the first film was disturbingly bleak with its tacit premise that no mortal could long withstand the stress of knowing our cosmic insignificance, the second was slightly more optimistic about our abilities to handle it all.


In any event, the real MiBs must have gotten quite a chuckle out of them, for with these films, those sinister figures of UFO-lore have been transformed from evil agents of repression into the enlightened guardians of Humanity. Trying to improve their image before they finally have to go public, perhaps?


Finally, in 2005, Spielberg recast H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds. Here, though, the human-devouring aliens do not come from the sky, but from under the Earth. But other than that, it is as if the optimism of the late 70s never happened.


The Return of Space Invaders

What followed in the movies was more invasions by ruthless monsters, with the Alien series and above all, Independence Day (1996). In this blockbuster, ET arrives with extermination in mind, and proceeds to methodically incinerate cities. Turns out that the aliens, once again with Grey-like faces, did indeed crash at Roswell, with the wreckage and bodies stowed at Area 51, unbeknownst to all but the CIA. Finally, through a good old computer virus (thus updating The War of the Worlds) and American gumption, humanity prevails. Though the movie is set during the 4th of July weekend, which is also the timeframe of the Roswell crash, and judging by the President’s speech just before the big battle scene about how it will be the Independence Day of our entire species, is quite possibly the real reason for the title.


This film would thus correspond to the fallout from the failure of our alliance with the Greys, when their evil deceptions were at last revealed. In UFO lore, there was a gun-battle between military guards and the Greys in their deep underground base near Dulce, New Mexico, where many human scientists were killed. At the same time, supposedly, it was discovered that the aliens were lying about the numbers of people they were abducting and the purpose. As a result, the whole plan was thrown into disarray. There was a serious split in the Cabal, it is said, with different factions (like the "Roosters" and "Owls" of the Millennium TV series mentioned below?) struggling over disclosure and strategy. Maybe nobody's running the show anymore. It could well be that the Cabal's leadership is paralyzed, and the entire operation is stumbling along on autopilot.


Television would also necessarily be part of this grand plan, of course. And as a popular medium which is broadcast into space, it could not only help reprogram our culture but deliver human propaganda straight to the starry powers themselves.


Thus we have the enduringly popular Star Trek franchise, set in a galaxy filled with beings differing from us mainly in their cranial protruberances and interior design sense. Some, like the Talosian from the original pilot shown here, have a somewhat Grey-like appearances and telepathic powers, while the starship Enterprise and most other interstellar craft are basically flying saucers with external engines strapped on.


In this universe, Humans are depicted as generally decent, upstanding, responsible citizens of the Galaxy, able to defend ourselves but out there to learn and trade peacefully. The take-home message for ET here is that Humanity equipped with starships and deathrays would not pose a danger to them, thus hopefully answering the concerns voiced by Klaatu way back in The Day the Earth Stood Still.


The other possibility, that aliens have wicked designs upon us and our world, has also been probed. In such programs as The Invaders in the 60s and V in the 80s, where, in human guise, either like Commie infiltrators in the first or like Nazi occupiers in the latter, the evil aliens insinuate themselves into human society. Note that in V, the baddies turned out to be those nasty, snake-like Reptoids, believed by some to be the Greys’ true masters.

In the 90s, The X-Files took up the paranoid position, boldly proclaiming that “The Truth Is Out There”, through nine seasons and a feature film (1998). This series developed an extensive (if often confusing) storyline about the cover-up engineered by devious, sleazy, chain-smoking MiBs conspiring to sell us out to alien shapeshifters to save themselves from a genetic invasion.


In the climactic scene of the very last episode, since once-FBI spook Fox Mulder won’t explain it all to his partner/lover Dana Scully, his long-time nemesis, the evil MiB Cigarette-Smoking Man obligingly does. The Truth That Is Out There is simply this: the final ET invasion will take place December 22, 2012, the very day the Mayan calendar ends, and nothing on Earth can stop it. (Not that it seems to matter, because in the series, alien super-soldier hybrids already seem to be running the Shadow Government...)


A rather sad and sobering conclusion to such a provocative and entertaining series. One can only wonder why creator Chris Carter chose that resolution. (Another series of his, Millennium, may also have sought to deal with certain uncomfortable truths and being eviscerated for its trouble, ended in much the same way, but that’s another tale... as is the eerie prefiguring of 9/11 in the pilot for yet another series of his, The Lone Gunmen.)


Was it merely convenient closure, or something more? Not that long, folks, before we know for sure...

Entirely Unpredisposed: the Cultural Background of UFO Abduction Reports

Martin Kottmeyer


Culture is an admixture of repetition and variation, convention and creativity, signals and noise. It is ever new and forever old as humanity relives old dreams and nightmares or forgets and forges new ones. Part of the delight of history is the recognition that however new a given event appears, traces of the past can generally be discerned.


If the UFO phenomenon is an artifact of culture one would reasonably expect that cultural antecedents could be recognized for the major features it presents. Extraterrestrials, however, should be independent of culture and if they are newly arrived their characteristics should represent a discontinuity with the past. Abduction phenomenon students have recently offered some provocative claims that such discontinuities exist. Implicitly they are claims for the weakness of the sociopsychological paradigm and the converse power of the ETH.


David Jacobs argues that the imagery of the UFO phenomenon sprang up ex nihilo in 1947. Budd Hopkins states that the complex, controlling, physically frail beings of abduction reports bear no similarity to "traditional sci-fi gods and devils". Thomas E. Bullard makes the rather more modest claim that the keystone of the abduction mystery, the interrupted journey of Betty and Barney Hill, had no cultural sources from which to derive the experience they reported. They were, to quote him, "entirely unpredisposed" since they were the first. These are forceful challenges to the proponent of the cultural origin of UFO phenomena. They have "Falsify me, I dare you" plastered on them. Can it be demonstrated that culture predisposed people to have these experiences?

The boldest claim is the one by UFO historian David Jacobs. Jacobs states "there was no precedent for the appearance or the configuration of the objects in 1947" in popular science fiction films, popular science fiction or popular culture in general. They did not resemble the fanciful rocketships or earthly space travel contraptions in the SF literature. [1]


There is a trivial sense in which this is simply wrong. Disc- shaped spaceships have a number of precedents in popular culture. They appear in Buck Rogers as far back as 1930. [2] They appear in a Flash Gordon comic strip in 1934. [3] The science fiction illustrator Frank R. Paul was drawing saucer-like craft as early as 1931 and did so repeatedly. [4]


Other SF illustrators also utilized the disc form long before 1947. [5] But these are inevitable coincidences in a large body of artistic creativity. The saucer form was not the dominant shape of spaceships in the culture; it was the rocket. In this larger sense Jacobs is correct that one would expect an outbreak of ghost rockets over America if the images of SF were the determinant of what people should be imagining. They weren't.


The cultural source of the UFO lies in a journalistic error. Kenneth Arnold's report of mysterious supersonic objects flying near Mount Rainier was a sensation that made front-page news across the nation. The speed was far beyond that of the planes of the era and no one publicized the flight in advance. It was an exciting puzzle.


The shape of the objects Arnold saw is hard to describe in a word or two. It wasn't like a plane or rocket, or even a disc. When the newsman Bill Bequette wrote the story up for the news services he recalled Arnold's describing the motion of the objects as like a saucer if you skip it across the water. Jumbling the metaphorical intent of the description, Bequette labeled the objects "flying saucers", Arnold said the term arose from "a great deal of misunderstanding". The public, however, did not know that. No drawing accompanied the story. People started looking for flying saucers and that is exactly what they found. They reported flat, circular objects that look like flying saucers sound like they should look like. Equally important: no one reported objects like the drawing in Arnold's report to the Air Force. [6] The implications of this journalistic error are staggering in the extreme. Not only does it unambigu- ously point to a cultural origin of the whole flying saucer phenomenon, it erects a first-order paradox into any attempt to interpret the phenomenon in extraterrestrial terms: Why would extraterrestrials redesign their craft to conform to Bequette's error?


This paradox is especially bad news for abduction reports. By Bullard's tally 82% of craft descriptions fit the flying saucer stereotype.[7] This is far in excess of the approximately one- third portion saucers and discs make up in a more general population of UFO reports. [8] If imagination and cultural expectations play a larger role in abductions than in more reality-constrained misinterpretations of mundane stimuli, then this fact makes sense. The flying saucer mythos perfectly predisposes us to include flying saucers in our fantasies and nightmares about extraterrestrials.


This takes care of the craft, but what of the entities? Budd Hopkins emphasizes that they are complex, controlling, physically frail beings who are forced by survival needs to search out and abduct earthlings. This is quite unlike the godly aliens of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the kindly, spiritual alien of The Day The Earth Stood Still , or the aliens of War of The Worlds who "mindlessly devour and conquer us", as Hopkins sees it. Nothing by his abductees "in any way suggests traditional sci-fi gods and devils", he wants us to know. [9]


Hopkins's descriptions leave something to be desired. The godly aliens of CE3K trash the home of the little boy Barry and they terrorize his mother as they abduct him. The disrupt the life and mind of Neary. Kindly and spiritual Klaatu happens to have a robot with him who is all business. His offer to leave a police force is eminently pragmatic. The comparison is frivolous in either case since any UFO aliens matching these descriptions go into the contactee file. Hopkins professes it is instructive that his abductees are not devoured like in War of the Worlds, but how would a myth devour a person?


That Hopkins is ignorant of science fiction would be apparent to any fan by the fact that he used the repellent phrase "sci-fi' - a sure sign of an outsider to the genre. [10] War of the Worlds is one of the recognized masterpieces, yet it is grossly evident Hopkins never read it or he would be co-opting Wells as an unconscious abductee. Far from "mindlessly" devouring us, Wells endowed his aliens with "intellects vast, cool and unsympathetic. The did not devour people but took the fresh and living blood of other creatures and injected it into their own bodies. His aliens had "no extensive muscular mechanism". The invaders also brought along for provisions bipeds with flimsy siliceous skeletons and feeble musculature. [11]


There are multiple similarities to other abduction narratives - an immense pair of dark eyes possessing an extraordinary intensity, a mouth without lips, greyish colour of skin, the skin glistening like wet leather, telepathy. They are also "absolutely without sex". Add to this that the alien craft was circular, made a peculiar humming sound, and when they flew the sky would be alive with their lights. In fact Wells's aliens more resemble Hopkins's abducting aliens than most abduction reports,


Hopkins further errs in thinking the Wells aliens are mere "satanic monsters". [12] Their motivation is survival. Their world is dying and Earth is their only escape. Ironically, just a couple of pages before Hopkins mangles War of the Worlds he quotes the impressions of an abductee that the aliens are from a society millions of years old that is dying. They desperately need to survive. This places UFO aliens squarely in the main tradition of aliens in SF films.


Dying worlds are commonplace in alien invasion movies. It leads the aliens in "This Island Earth" to borrow Earth scientists for their expertise in atomic energy. It motivates the aliens in "The 27th Day"  to give Earth people the means of destroying human life. It motivates the "Killers from Space"  to operate on a man, extract information from his mind, and compel him to become a spy saboteur. It leads the "Devil Girl from Mars" to abduct healthy males. It similarly motivates the aliens in "I Married a Monster from Outer Space", "The Mysterians", and "Mars Needs Women"  to procure females for breeding stock. An astronomer in "Invaders from Mars" theorises the secret operations aliens engage in are motivated by the fact that Mars is a dying world. The aliens in the popular TV series "The Invaders"  were also escaping a dying world. [13]


The fact is most film aliens have some implicit motivation to their activities. One of the few exceptions I could find was the "so thin - so fragile" aliens of "Target Earth!"  and even they don't seem particularly satanic or monstrous. [14] It seems more sensible to flip Hopkins's allegation around. He says nothing about the aliens of UFO abductions resembling "sci-fi". I ask, is there anything about UFO aliens that does not resemble science fiction?


An abductee in the 1954 movie "Killers from Space" has a strange scar and a missing memory of the alien encounter that caused it. The mysterious impregnation of women, including virgins, and the subsequent birth of intelligent hybrid children is the theme of the 1960 film "Village of the Damned". Brain implants are featured in the 1953 movie "Invaders from Mars" [15]


Take a look at the creatures of the 1957 movie "Invasion of The Saucer Men".  The bald, bulgy-brained, googly-eyed, no-nosed invaders match the stereotype of UFO aliens delineated by Bullard to an uncanny extent. It prompts worries that abductees are not only plagiarists, but have bad taste as well. [16]


"Earth versus the Flying Saucers" (1956) also precedes UFO lore in featuring an abduction in which thoughts are taken. Saucerians abduct a general, make his head transparent, and suck out the knowledge to store it in an Infinitely Indexed Memory Bank. Though the frequency of the motif in abduction narratives can be laid to psychological factors in the personalities of abductees, one cannot rule out the movie enculturating the association. Years from now we may have an epidemic of implanted parasites, potential chest-bursters, due to the influence of the movie "Alien" starting such an association. Presently such a report would be too suspect, but eventually some puzzling medical oddity might be associated with such a delusion and the UFO lore would evolve in new directions. It could just as easily never happen because of the vagaries of social factors.


In a more esoteric vein even abduction narrative structure has science fiction predecessors. Thomas Bullard has discovered a consistent structural order to events within abduction reports. There are eight types of events and they are preferentially ordered in this manner: (i) capture, (ii) examination, (iii) conference, (iv) tour, (v) otherworldly journey, (vi) theophany, (vii) return, (viii) aftermath.


No abduction has every event, but events avoid appearing out of this sequence. Abductees aren't generally given a tour of the ship before examination or conference and so forth. Bullard considers the arrangement occasionally arbitrary from a rational standpoint. The fidelity of reports to this arrangement seems, to Bullard, to indicate these are real experiences. He would expect the elements of the story to get jumbled if they were subjective. [17]


What, then, are we to make of the 1930 comic strip story "Tiger Men of Mars" in the series "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century"? It adheres to Bullard's structure most excellently. Wilma experiences:


(i) capture by a giant clamp leading into a spherical alien spaceship,

(ii) examination while lying on a table in an electro- hypnotic trance,

(iii) conference with a subordinate and then a leader,

(vi) theophany while gazing at the Earth from an off-world vantage point,

(vii) return,


In the aftermath there is an instance of what Bullard calls "networking" in the aliens abducting Wilma's sister, Sally.


There is also an apocalyptic finale in which the Martian moon Phobos crashes on Mars. [18]


Some idea of the structural impressiveness of this narrative can be gained from observing that only one abduction in the UFO literature has a greater number of these elements in the correct order. Two abductions have the same number of elements. The other 163 correctly ordered abductions have 5 or fewer elements in them. [19]


Obviously the presence of structure does not prove the cartoon is objectively real, and it must be granted that a long-forgotten cartoon is not a credible influence on present-day abductions. It is more likely they share an intuitive ordering principle subconsciously acquired from exposure to drama. A relabeling of Bullard's elements should make the logic clearer: (i) character introduced, (ii) peril and conflict, (iii) explanation and insight, (iv) good will and attempt to impress, (v) excitement, (vi) climax, (vii) closure, (viii) sequel.


Examination, as the peril, is the downer part of the story and would ruin a happy ending if sequenced late. Even in deviant cases the examination is never put near the end. Pragmatically, putting theophany before examination might instill trust in the abductee and make testing go better. Dramaturgically, however, such an order would be stupid since it ruins the intensity of the peril and spoils the joy of the ending and the sense of closure.


Faceless terror makes for more primordial fear. Dramatically it would be unwise to reduce the alienness before the peril by conferring with the aliens or have them host a tour. It is also bad behaviourism to place aversive stimuli after sending one's signal - the message and information in the conference, tour and theophany.


The otherworldly journey is a form of excitement and can appear any place between the capture and climax. Most of Bullard's deviant cases involve the otherworldly journey not staying in the place he deemed correct, To put it simply, Bullard's correct order is the right way to tell a story. At the very least, his evaluation that "Objectivity wins a big one" on the issue of structure is problematic.[20]


The capture event in "Tiger Men of Mars" features an incredible kid-inventor-type gizmo - a giant mechanical clamp which grabs the whole body of the victim. It's a grand cartoony contraption appropriate to its venue in a Buck Rogers situation. How odd, then, to note that such a thing appears in the Steven Kilburn abduction in "Missing Time". It seems such a ridiculously impractical thing for a technologically superior culture to bother with, yet Hopkins includes it with not an indication of amusement. One can understand it in a 1930s cartoon, or even in an early script draft of "War of the Worlds". At least someone realised it should be deleted. But in a real abduction? Lawson's suggestion that Kilburn was reliving a forceps-aided birth makes tons more sense. [21]


I could have more fun demolishing Hopkins's claim, but it really doesn't deserve more attention than this. Time to turn to the last of our three historical allegations.


Thomas E. Bullard opens his massively impressive study of the abduction mystery with a discussion of the legendary status of the "interrupted journey" of Betty and Barney Hill. It was the most sensational UFO story of its time; a nasty little horror story which engraved itself on the unconscious of a generation. The growth of UFO abduction reports subsequent to their appearance on the cultural scene is unsurprising. The thing that puzzles Bullard is how they got the idea. He points out that occupant reports were obscure items known only to the initiated in 1961. He believes the Hills had no knowledge they could construct a nightmare of this sort from, so he asserts "the odds are strong that the Hills went to their interrupted journey entirely unpredisposed." It is a "continuing mystery" how they originated it and as long as it is unaccounted for "the cultural tradition explanation starts off handicapped."[22]


Part of the mystery is solved by a careful reading of "The Interrupted Journey." It is on record that Betty Hill had read Donald Keyhoe's book "The Flying Saucer Conspiracy" shortly before she be an having nightmares of abduction. Keyhoe's book cites nearly a dozen occupant cases. Most of them are outright rejected by Keyhoe. These include such farces as zebra-striped spacemen, an elephant-faced entity, 6- armed, 13-ft tall entities, space-man monster tales and contactee hoaxes. Keyhoe practically endorses, however, a Pearl Harbor report of a flyer who frightfully proclaimed "I actually saw him" - the saucer pilot. Note the pronoun is him, not it. No doubt this would have impressed Betty as similar to Barney's experience of seeing the saucer's occupants. [23]


Keyhoe also expresses a measure of acceptance of a series of UFO stories from Venezuela involving hairy dwarfs. One of these serves as a closer starting point of Betty Hill's nightmares. Two peasants first spot a bright light like a car on the nearby road. Hovering a few feet from the ground is a round machine with a brilliant glow coming from the underside. "Four little men" come out and try to drag Jesus Gomez toward the object. There is a struggle and the evidence of that struggle gives it a special credibility in Keyhoe's eyes. Keyhoe next cites the experience of Jesus Paz who was found unconscious after being set upon by a hairy dwarf. He follows this with Jose Parra's sighting of six small hairy creatures by a saucer and their transfixing him with a bright light. [24]


In Betty Hill's nightmare she must fight for consciousness and she finds herself surrounded by four short men. Barney is unconscious and is being dragged by another group of men. They numbered eight to eleven when standing in the middle of the road. They are taken from the car to a glowing saucer-shaped craft. The behaviour of the aliens is very professional and businesslike and they are dressed in somewhat military style. They are not frightening per se. This is very much in keeping in tone with Keyhoe's speculations that aliens were making a scientific study of the planet out of "neutral curiosity' or as a prelude to a mass landing. [25]


This takes us up to the saucer, but it doesn't give us much idea what should take place inside. Neutral curiosity would probably lead to some sort of examination or questioning and this pretty much does happen. Yet there is that terror of the needle in the navel and the business with the star map. Nothing in Keyhoe predisposes one to those sorts of things.


Movies provide another cultural source of expectations and imagery. Bullard himself notes a pair of movies from the fifties have medical motifs in an alien abduction setting: "Invaders from Mars" (1953) and "Killers from Space" (1954). Though he understands the significance of the second one on some abduction cases subsequent to the Hills, he overlooked the significance of "Invaders From Mars" "Invaders from Mars". [26]


Near the climax of the film a woman and a boy are abducted by mutants from Mars and taken to a room within a saucer. The woman is placed on a rectangular table which slides into the scene. She struggles briefly till a light shines on her face which causes her to relax and lose consciousness. A needle surrounded for part of its length by a clear plastic sheath is aimed at the back of her neck. A device at the end of the needle is going to be surgically implanted there. [27]


In "The Interrupted Journey" we are dealing with a woman and a man abducted by aliens described as mongoloid - itself a type of mutation. In the original nightmare Betty compares the noses of the aliens to Jimmy Durante. This is a very apt description of the noses of the mutants in "Invaders from Mars". Barney, oddly, didn't see the Durante noses of the aliens. Perhaps it was in deference to Barney's on-the-scene memories that this detail was edited out by Betty in her hypnosis sessions. It may also be that the big nose prompted jokes after the speeches she gave and her unconscious took the opportunity to remove the annoying detail when Benjamin Simon unleashed it. [28]


There are some preliminary tests of a routine sort. Betty then lies down on an examining table. Needles are placed on various parts of her body including the back of the neck. Then appears a very long needle, longer than any needle she's seen before, and it is placed into her navel. She experiences great pain. The examiner puts his hand over her eyes, rubs, and the pain stops. The parallel to the calming light in "Invaders from Mars" is readily apparent.


I am indebted to Al Lawson for calling attention to the fact that the needle-in-the-navel motif owes its origin to imagery appearing during the Martian operating room episode. Shortly after the operation begins, the camera cuts to a high-angle view of the surgical theatre. At least, that is what it is supposed to be. The image has an ambiguous character in terms of scale and content. You are supposed to interpret it as a view of the architecture of the interior of the saucer with the dominant structure being a tubular metal beam or conduit connecting ceiling to floor. It bears a stylistic similarity to the neck implanter in having a clear plastic sheath surrounding the upper half of its length. The ambiguity of the image, however, admits an alternative interpretation. The tubular metal beam and plastic sheath becomes a hypodermic needle. Lighting of the floor suggests the curvature of an abdomen. The place where the floor and tube intersects is surrounded by a round indentation. It's the navel. In the brief snatch of time the image is seen, some people will miss the intended interpretation and see a huge hypodermic needle has been thrust into the woman's navel.


Some have seen Betty Hill's needle-in-the-navel incident as revealing a medical procedure that did not exist at the time of the encounter. In fact the aliens' reference to the procedure as a pregnancy test is quite contemporary for the period. Amniocentesis has existed as a medical procedure since the late l9th century. Back then the needle was inserted in the abdomen to draw off amniotic fluid when there was too much pressure during a pregnancy. In the late 1950s, however, it became a testing procedure to monitor preganacies of women with Rh-negative blood who might have blood group incompatibility. Subsequent to 1966 amniocentesis became a genetic screening procedure. Comparison of Mrs. Hill's ordeal to laparoscopy procedures suffers in the details. [29]


There is no conference with the aliens in "Invaders from Mars" and you might not expect the star map scene to originate there, but dreams have an odd penchant for distortion and condensation of memory materials. Earlier in the movie the boy and woman have a meeting with a scientist at an observatory. This character, Dr. Kelson, has a large star map on the wall behind him. He points at the map during this meeting and discusses the proximity of Mars to Earth. The most striking thing about this discussion, to the alert movie-goer, is that, while he points to the map as though these two planets are represented on it, in fact there is nothing there where the Earth should be. Kelson is faking it.


Any similarity between Kelston's star map and Betty Hill's is almost purely accidental. The paradox they share, however, is not. Betty's sketch has the two planets Kelston's lacks. (Marjorie Fish treats them as stars, ironically. Stars don't have terminators.) But when the alien asks Betty where on the map the Earth is, she relives the movie-goer's puzzlement. She has no idea. The sizes of the planets bear comparison to the planets in the star field in the credits of the film, incidentally.


Parenthetically, the script of "Invaders From Mars" has Kelston present a large scrapbook with newspaper columns about saucer activities to the boy before the star map discussion. This was not in the 78-minute video I saw, but an 82-minute "European" version exists that has a longer observatory scene. Does anyone know if this scene was filmed? It might explain the presentation of the large book in Betty's account.[30] [When this film was shown in Britain several years ago there was indeed a scene showing Kelston's UFO scrapbook - John Rimmer]


The match between "Invaders from Mars" and Betty Hill's nightmares is imperfect and obviously has none of the rigor of a mathematical equation. Dreams and nightmares by their nature are almost never veridical memories. Even if Betty Hill was really abducted, it would be unusual for her nightmares to be a photographic reply of her trauma. The felt emotions would resurface, but it would bear only a metaphoric similarity in its dramatic content. The most one would generally expect is snatches of unique imagery to help in piecing together of the sources the dream spun off from. It is something of a wonder that enough elements exist of this character - the Durante noses, and the navel-needle, and the optical tranquilization idea, and the star map - to make an identification that can be called convincing.


Barney's version of events probably owes much to what Betty said in her speeches, but there is one facet which was clearly Barney`s own contribution - the long wraparound eyes of the aliens. Donald Keyhoe emphasised it was "the worst feature" of their ugly faces. It gave them a sinister look. Their hideousness prompted Keyhoe to wonder what could have caused the Hills to imagine such creatures. It was "never fully explained". [31]


Wraparound eyes are an extreme rarity in science fiction films. I know of only one instance. They appeared on the alien of an episode of an old TV series "The Outer Limits" entitled "The Bellero Shield". A person familiar with Barney's sketch in "The Interrupted Journey" and the sketch done in collaboration with the artist David Baker will find a "frisson" of "deja vu" creeping up his spine when seeing this episode. The resemblance is much abetted by an absence of ears, hair, and nose on both aliens. Could it be by chance? Consider this: Barney first described and drew the wraparound eyes during the hypnosis session dated 22 February 1964. "The Bellero Shield" was first broadcast on " 10 February 1964. Only twelve days separate the two instances. If the identification is admitted, the commonness of wraparound eyes in the abduction literature falls to cultural forces. [32]


Wilder Penfield once proclaimed, "It is far better to be wrong than to bc without an opinion." Penfield showed himself to be a wise scientist in formulating that maxim. Errors are much more fruitful than silence. They goad one into research and discovery. Had Jacobs, Hopkins, and Bullard been cautious and reserved, some of the surprises in this paper would never have surfaced. There are things here about the cultural nature of the UFO phenomenon I would never have suspected. The origin of flying saucers in a journalistic error, especially, is the most deeply cosmic joke to have ever fallen into my life. It may not be the ultimate refutation of the ETH in the minds of everyone, but it will do for me. For that am forever indebted to these fellows.


It is my opinion that culture predisposes people to have the sorts of UFO experiences they do to a degree we have yet to fully appreciate. If I'm wrong, my pontifications still won't be in vain.




1. Jacobs, David M., "The New Era of UFO Research", Pursuit, no. 78, 1987


2. Dille, Robert C. (ed), "The Collected Works of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century", Chelsea House Publishers, 1969


3. Lundwall, Sam J., "Science Fiction: An Illustrated History", Grosset & Dunlap, 1977


4. Sadoul, Jacques, "2000 AD: Illustrations from the Golden Age of Science Fiction Pulps", Henry Regnery, 1973


5. Ibid


6. Steiger, Brad, "Project Blue Book", Ballantine, 1976. Arnold, Kenneth, "How it All Began", in Fuller, Curtis G., "Proceedings of the First International UFO Conference", Warner, 1980


7. Bullard, Thomas E., "UFO Abductions: The Measure of a Mystery. Volume 1: Comparative Study of Abduction Reports." Fund for UFO Research, 1987


8. Story, Ronald D., "Encyclopedia of UFOs", Dolphin, 1980


9. Hopkins, Budd, "Intruders", Random, 1987


10. Nicholls, Peter, "The Science Fiction Encyclopedia", Dolphin, 1979


11. Wells, H. "The War of the Worlds"


12. Hopkins, op. cit.


13. Warren, Bill, "Keep Watching the Skies: American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties" (2 vols), McFarland, 1982. Naha, Ed., "The Science Fictionary", Wideview, 1980; Hardy, Phil, "The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Movies", Woodbury, 1984


14. Warren, op. cit.


15. Bullard, op. cit. Naha, op. cit.


16. Rebello, Stephen, "Selling Nightmares: Movie Poster Artists of the Fifties", Cinefantastique, March, 1988


17. Bullard, op. cit.


18. Dille, op. cit.


19. Bullard, op. cit.


20. Bullard, op. cit.


21. Hopkins, Budd: "Missing Time", Richard Marke, 1981. Warren, op. cit. "Magonia", No. 10, 1982


22. Bullard, op. cit. 


23. Fuller, John G., "The Interrupted Journey: Two Lost Hours Aboard a Flying Saucer", Dell, 1966, pp. 45-9. Keyhoe, Donald E., The Flying Saucer Conspiracy", Fieldcrest, 1955


24. Keyhoe, op. cit.


25. Fuller, op. cit, Keyhoe, op. cit.


26. Bullard, op. cit.


27. "Invaders From Mars" (1953), video, Fox Hills Video, 1987.


28. Fuller, op. cit. Bullard, op. cit.


29. Friedman, Stanton and Slate, B. Ann, "UFO Star Base Discovered", UFO Report, 2, no. 1, fall 1974.  

Battle, John Tucker, "Invaders From Mars", Script City, n.d. p. 42


31. Keyhoe, Donald E., "Aliens From Space", Doubleday, 1973


32. Schow, David J. and Frentzen, Jeffrey, "The Outer Limits - The Official Companion", Ace, 1986 Bullard, op. cit.,.



The Relationship Between Science Fiction Film and UFO Mythology


Recently in Texas a drive-in cinema audience were distracted from the screen by a strange glowing object that passed overhead; the object apparently defied description,making it a UFO. The film was Independence Day. Many might say that such an occurrence was inevitable. It is late 1996 and we are currently undergoing a massive worldwide UFO flap, perhaps the biggest ever. UFOs and their occupants are being reported in America, Europe, Russia, Brazil, South Africa, New Zealand, Israel, Australia, Chile, in fact just about everywhere. Can it be mere coincidence that this fresh influx of mysterious flying craft should arrive just as the biggest alien invasion film of them all casts its mammoth shadow across the world? Is it simply the 20th Century Fox publicity machine going into overdrive or is there something else going on ? A Newsweek Poll taken before the release of the massively hyped film revealed that :

·           48% of Americans think UFOs are real.

·           29% think we have made contact with aliens.

·           48% think there is a government cover up of UFO knowledge.

Meanwhile the line between fantasy and reality was forcefully transgressed by the renaming of Nevada's Highway 375, which passes through the desert near the secret Air Force base known as "Area 51". The two lane road became "The Extraterrestrial Highway" in an event sponsored by 20th Century Fox to promote, once again, Independence Day. The film exploits much of the mythology surrounding Area 51, a base that allegedly contains recovered alien flying disks and even the aliens themselves, both dead and alive. Despite having been filmed and photographed, starred in an environmental lawsuit against the US government and featured in several films, TV programmes and advertisements, the US Government still denies that the base exists. The state of Nevada hoped the renaming of the road would bring tourism to a poor, barren area. Who knows what the US military thought. Something must have worked, however, as Independence Day looks set to become the biggest grosser in history and UFOs are being seen in the skies and on screens all over the planet called Earth.

It was a hundred years ago that America was first plagued by mystery flying objects; on 17 November 1896 an "electric arc lamp" was seen by hundreds of people as it passed over Sacramento, California. For the next few months lights were being reported all across America; there were searchlights, coloured lights, balls of light and light wheels, all attached to large, mysterious, dark objects that sound today like airships, though the first dirigible didn't fly until 1900 in Germany. Like today's "flying saucers", airships were a popular convention of fantastic literature, featured in the works of Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe [Poe's The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaal (1840) and The Balloon Hoax (1844) were inspirational to Verne's A Voyage in a Balloon (1851) and Around the World in Eighty Days (1873)]. Balloons and airships played a large role in 19th century science fiction art and writing. amongst others, and were very soon to become a reality. Some of these reports have since been discovered to be hoaxes generated on quiet news days by bored telegraph operators, but they cannot all be dismissed so easily. Were they prototype airships, hallucinations or something more mysterious? It is hardlly surprising then that as the sun sets on the current millennium, UFOs should once again light up the twilight skies of Western culture.


A century has passed and the technology has advanced, but nobody is any nearer to knowing the truth about UFOs, whatever shape they take. A lot of people make a lot of money out of saying they have the answer, whilst many more just quietly believe as they absorb the next edition of Strange But True?, Sightings, Out of This World, Unsolved Mysteries or any of the other television programmes that regularly cover the topic from both sides of the Atlantic. There are so many systems of unshakeable and self-perpetuating belief surrounding the subject that a satisfactory resolution of the mystery will most likely be impossible to achieve. From the Spielbergian angels of light who watch over the planet and keep safe their chosen few, to the paranoid, Kafkaesque world of the abductionists and conspiracy theorists, the aliens are very real, and they are here, now.


For the vast majority, however, UFOs are best relegated to the worlds of science fiction, regularly seen on cinema and television screens by millions of people world wide. Independence Day has become something of a phenomenon in America, eclipsing Hollywood in much the same way as its gargantuan flying saucers do in the film. Its largely anonymous visitors conspicuously reverse the trend of two of the other biggest grossing films in cinema history, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. , both directed by Steven Spielberg and both featuring gentle, benign entities. A scene in Independence Day in which gleeful UFO watchers form a welcoming party for the aliens only to have the honour of being the first to get fried is a direct retort to Spielberg and alien lovers everywhere. Numerous television programmes have also fictionally dealt with the issue, from the Quatermass series in the `50's to today's hugely successful The X Files, which can, in part, be held responsible for the recent upsurge in UFO mania.


The question of non-human life beyond our planet has fascinated mankind for thousands of years, so it is no wonder that it should be such a popular theme for our visual fictions today. Many supposedly factual television programmes also deal with UFOs, their frequency largely determined by whether such things are currently in vogue. Over the last year or so it would seem that they most certainly are; the furore over the "Roswell autopsy" film (purporting to show real alien bodies from a 1947 UFO crash) spread to just about every newspaper and TV Station in the world; a November 1994 episode of Strange But True? dealing with Britain's most famous UFO incident [At Woodbridge, a joint British and American airforce base in Suffolk, in 1980. Suspected by many to have been a covert military operation]. attracted 12.5 million viewers in Britain, half of the total audience at 8.30pm; whilst a Network First UFO special, aired in January 1995 at 10.30pm, was seen by 6 million, a high figure for that time. Another sure sign of UFOs' cultural significance is their use in advertising; in both the UK and the US they have helped to sell, amongst other things, fridges, cars, beer, soft drinks, banks and jeans. Spaceman, the song featured in a Levi's jeans commercial, was number one in the singles charts all over the world and featured a "Grey" 4 alien face on the record cover. In fact UFO and alien themes have been used in popular music since the 1950's, famously by the Beatles in the `60's and David Bowie in the `70's; today they are most visible in the "rave" or "techno" cultures, used by bands like The Orb ("UFOrb") and Eat Static("Abduction", "Implant") and appearing on a seemingly endless stream of tee shirts, necklaces and other club paraphernalia.


What I intend to explore in this essay is the apparently symbiotic relationship between the representation of UFOs and aliens on screen in films and television, and the way they are perceived and described in reality. That films can directly affect the way people think, particularly about things they do not understand, is beyond doubt; people today are still afraid to swim in the sea after seeing Jaws. I hope to show that the borrowing of themes and imagery is a two-way process; some times the fiction follows the perceived fact, and at others the reported fact is quite clearly rooted in fiction. A clear example of this, rare in its extremity, took place in England in the late 1980's. In the final episode of the Dynasty spin-off The Colbys, its main character, Fallon, was abducted by a UFO; she returned later in Dynasty and detailed what had happened to her. Soon afterwards a woman contacted BUFORA (British UFO Research Association) and related an abduction experience that was identical to the one on the programme; the date she gave for the incident was the night after the relevant episode had been shown and luckily the investigator recognised the connection. Though such literal transpositions of fiction onto apparent reality are uncommon, it is possible to trace many of the key elements of the UFO mythology, particularly those concerning abductions, back to images from science fiction film, television and artwork. The Dynasty case is interesting in that it shows the cyclical nature of this process; the programme's writers would most likely have been inspired by the success of two books dealing with abductions released in 1987, Intruders by Budd Hopkins, and Communion by Whitley Strieber. The woman who contacted BUFORA, whose story would echo those told in the books, was in fact describing a dream or fantasy inspired by a fiction, itself based on reported facts which may themselves be inspired by other fictions. Ultimately this is a classic "chicken and egg" scenario; it will be impossible to prove which came first; ardent believers can always argue that those who created the fictions in the first place were just unconsciously recalling their own real UFO experiences. However, I think it would be over simplifying the issue to assume that the whole UFO mythology has grown out of science fiction. Currently in our culture the concept of abduction by aliens is the prevalent paradigm, but perhaps in the past these people would have reported encountering faeries, gods or demons. In our secular, technology orientated world, the imagery and ideas of visual science fiction have replaced those of the ancient pantheons. UFOs are a living mythology for our times; by studying their role in the most dominant forms of popular culture, film and television, we can, perhaps, gain some insight into how such a mythology forms, grows and takes hold of the Western mind.



It is symptomatic of our post-modern age that if you talk about UFOs most people will immediately visualise flying saucers from another planet. UFO stands for Unidentified Flying Object, so technically anything is a UFO until it is identified and becomes an IFO (Identified Flying Object). The term was coined in 1952 by Edward J. Ruppelt, chief of the US Airforce's Project Bluebook, set up to investigate UFO phenomena in 1952. Since June 1947 these objects had just been known as "flying saucers" after civilian pilot Kenneth Arnold saw nine craft, brightly glowing blue-white, flying over the Cascade Mountains of Washington state. He calculated their speed at an amazing 1700 mph and described their motion as "...erratic, like a saucer if you skip it across water"; it was a reporter for the United Press, Bill Bequette, who turned this statement into "flying saucers", and the story was soon on front pages all across America. By August 19, 1947, a Gallup poll revealed that nine out of ten Americans had heard about flying saucers, more than knew of the Marshall Plan for Europe. That the objects Arnold described weren't round at all didn't seem to matter; within days new reports were coming in from all across the nation, describing flying "saucers", "discs", and "hubcaps", climaxing on July 4 when 88 reports were made involving 400 people in 24 states9. A second crucial moment in UFO history came just a few days later, on July 8, as the headline of the Roswell New Mexico Daily Record, authorised by the air base commander, announced: "RAAF Captures Flying Saucer in Roswell Region. No Details of Flying Disks are Revealed." The story was picked up world-wide, even the London Times ran a feature, but the next day the airforce revealed that the wreckage was that of a weather balloon and the story was closed. The case was forgotten for thirty years until Jesse Marcel, the intelligence officer who first analysed the wreckage, spoke out to say that it was, in his opinion, extra terrestrial, and that a massive cover up had taken place and the Roswell incident is now viewed by many as the Holy Grail of the UFO world, the key to it all. But until the early 1980's, rumours of crashed discs remained on the fringes of ufology.


At this point began what Ruppelt calls "The Era of Confusion".  Were these mystery objects some new military craft undergoing flight tests, perhaps the Navy's "Flying Flapjack"  which bore more than a passing resemblance to the objects described by Arnold?  When the military denied this, it was time to look elsewhere, the Russians being the prime suspects, but it was soon realised that the reported flight speeds and manoeuvres were far beyond any earthbound capabilities. A secret "Estimate of the Situation" was prepared by airforce investigators for the Pentagon, its conclusion, that the UFOs had to be of extraterrestrial origin, was deemed outrageous and the report was disowned by Pentagon officials.

The Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH), was first presented to the American public in a 1949 True magazine article by former US Marine Corps Major Donald Keyhoe, entitled, "The Flying Saucers are Real" . In the first paragraph Keyhoe concluded that the flying saucers were from another planet that was observing us because of fears over our development of nuclear weaponry. The military, by refusing to answer Keyhoe's questions, were assumed to be orchestrating a huge cover up. True had a reputation for being reliable and factual, and the story "hit the reading public like an 8 inch howitzer" 14, being considered at the time "one of the most widely read and discussed magazine articles in history." 15 So now, in less than two years, the two fundamental pillars of the popular UFO mythology were in place: that they were of extra terrestrial origin, and that the government and military were covering up what they knew. There was certainly some truth to this last element. The 1953 CIA Robertson Panel concluded that UFOs were only a threat in the amount of public hysteria they generated; the Air Force's role now was to convince the public that UFOs were nonsense, and to ignore those who said otherwise; as a result Project Blue Book effectively became a public relations exercise in dismissing the evidence for UFOs.


Almost fifty years later nothing has changed, the allegations have just become more extreme. Over the next decades the craft and their occupants got into closer contact with people whilst with each new astronomical discovery their origins got further away. In the early '50's, when the first Contactees, as they were known, met beautiful humanoids from flying saucers, they were from Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn and offered rides to the moon in their spaceships. Today if you meet UFO entities you will have been abducted by short, emotionless "Greys" from the Zeta Reticuli star system who are primarily interested in your blood, semen or ova for their genetic experiments.16 Interestingly both groups like to warn of mankind's (always) imminent demise through atomic or environmental self-destruction, and have a penchant for making predictions that don't come true.


Throughout this period there has been serious study of UFOs, by both the military, who tend to keep their findings very quiet, and civilians, who like to shout them out for all the world to hear. It is generally accepted by both groups that the vast majority of sightings can be explained away as misidentifications of various sorts- stars, planets, hoaxes, conventional and experimental aircraft, unusual atmospheric phenomena, even flocks of birds- but there remains a hard core of up to 20% that defy such casual dismissal and remain unidentified. Countless books, articles and papers have been written, and research groups have sprung up and died in every nation, but still there is no explanation for these stubborn few. Some liken the search to that of physics or cosmology; where the more you learn, the larger and more complex everything becomes. Others wonder if the whole point is that we will never find an answer, that the phenomenon is a psychic or cosmic riddle designed to encourage mankind's spiritual and technological development. The question, however, ultimately remains the same: who, or what, is behind the mystery? Some of the theories for the origins of UFOs and their occupants include:

·           They are all explainable in conventional terms, those that aren't must be hoaxes.

·           They are craft from other planets, solar systems, galaxies or dimensions.

·           They are human time travellers exploring the planet's past and protecting its future.

·           They are spiritual beings or souls, previously described as angels and beings of light.

·           They are psychic projections of the unconscious mind into objective space.

·           They are manifestations of the collective unconscious, Overmind, world-soul or anima mundi.

Roughly speaking the theorists can be divided into four groups; the "debunkers", who refuse to accept anything that falls outside of the boundaries of accepted science; the literalists, who are looking for "nuts and bolts" metallic craft and their flesh and blood (or, for the Greys, chlorophyll) occupants; the spiritualists, who look to the soul for answers; and the psychologists, who seek answers in the mind. The last two concepts were developed in the `70's and `80's by researchers who, while recognising that the phenomena were very real to those who experienced them, argued that the ETH was unable to support many of the "high strangeness" reports that form a large part of the literature, and seemed closer to meaningful visionary experience than alien visitation. Obviously there can be, and are, a lot of overlaps between the groups, and there is no reason why they couldn't all have discovered elements of the truth. In fact, such a range of experiences have been reported within the UFO context that it seems likely that we are dealing with several different phenomena. All these ideas, however, have been explored before, in the realms of science fiction.


Science Fiction Film


The history of science fiction (SF) film is intrinsically tied to the development of film itself. In 1895 Robert Paul conceived of using film to create an illusory voyage through time, inspired by H.G. Wells' The Time Machine of the same year. Soon after this George Melies began experimenting with his own cinematic illusions, culminating in 1902 with Le Voyage dans la Lune, a 21 minute epic featuring possibly the most sophisticated narrative structure yet seen in a film. Here the concept of space travel was presented for the first time along with the first aliens, based on the Selenites from Wells' The First Men in the Moon (1901). Since this point film and SF have enjoyed a long, successful, but troubled relationship; whilst film is the ideal medium for presenting visions of possible futures or "what if?" situations, it often lacks the ability to transfer some of the more complex ideas of SF literature into visual terms. Attempts to do so have ranged from Wells' Things to Come (1936) to Kubrick and Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), but for the most part SF films have been dismissed as lowbrow and unimportant, many pointing the finger primarily at the rash of invasion films of the fifties featuring Communists from outer space or giant radiation-spawned beasts, all intent on destroying American civilisation as we know it. Identifying the genre itself is also difficult: what elements constitute an SF film and differentiate it from the horror or fantasy genres? Both versions of The Thing (Nyby 1951, Carpenter 1982) feature crashed spacecraft and an alien, for example, but could be considered as much horror films as SF, the alien killing most of the cast in a claustrophobic environment; Ridley Scott's Alien (1979) and It! The Terror from Beyond Space (Cahn, 1958) pose similar problems.


Most people, however, will assume that if a film features UFOs/flying saucers and aliens it must be science fiction. Flying saucer shaped space craft had been a staple of pulp SF artwork since the early 1930's , though so had virtually any other shape (the rocket was still the most popular), and a wealth of non-saucer shaped UFOs have been reported over the years.The first invading alien arrived in 1945's Republic serial The Purple Monster Strikes. The first film flying saucers were projectiles rather than piloted craft and appeared in a Columbia serial of 1948, Bruce Gentry- Daredevil of the Skies , who successfully fought them off to great box office success. Like the saucers in 1950's The Flying Saucer, they were of earthbound origin, the work of an evil mad scientist; this reflects the fact that most Americans still considered flying saucers to be of earth bound origin, either secret US craft based on German technology, or Russian . In the latter film the saucer has been secretly manufactured by a Russian scientist in Alaska  who wants to sell it to the Americans. The Flying Saucer was actually viewed by the FBI before its release, and rumours of government involvement were spread about The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), some even taking it so far as to say the film was written by FBI or CIA agents in Hollywood. Whether the government was concerned about the representation of a Russian character in the first film and about the anti-war and anti-military message of the second, or whether flying saucers themselves were the concern we will probably never know. The extension of this idea is the theory that, starting with The Day the Earth Stood Still, certain films dealing with UFOs and aliens were put out by the government to test the public's response to the concept 20, or as a form of public education, getting them used to the idea of friendly aliens. Not surprisingly Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) is considered the next stage of the program, the rumour even being spread amongst cast and crew during production. And a tale concerning his E.T. (1982) takes the idea even further:


During a screening of...E.T. at the White House in the Summer of 1982, President Reagan is reported to have whispered to...Spielberg: "There are probably only six people in this room who know how true this is" .


The huge success of Independence Day, with its deeply anti-social aliens, has no doubt caused some confusion amongst adherents to this school of thought, though it probably won't be long before it is incorporated into the great plan.


Cinema science fiction has often been incredibly successful, with Spielberg's two films, the Star Wars trilogy and now Independence Day all ranking as amongst the highest grossing films of all time. Television, however, has had more difficulties in adapting the SF format to its smaller screen and budget, though there have been remarkable successes. High quality programmes such as the string of Star Trek series, which lasted only three years in its first run, and Dr. Who, which ran for 25 years and is now preparing for a return, tend to remain enormously popular posthumously. Nigel Kneale's three Quatermass series from the fifties, which were all later made into films, also stand out, as do anthology shows such as The Twilight Zone (1959-64) and The Outer Limits (1963-65). Quatermass and the Pit (1957) is interesting in that it features many of the elements that would later arise in discussions about aliens' involvement in man's evolution 22, as well as several aspects of the crashed UFO tale, exemplified by the Roswell incident. Whilst the Star Trek spin-off series have tended to be spacebound soap operas, others such as V (1983) and The X Files (1993) have played once again on fears of invasion and conspiracy, both proving to be highly successful. Many of the individual episodes of all these series dealt with ideas relevant to UFO lore, and some may have proved extremely significant in its development.


UFO lore can be traced back to various visual and thematic elements from science fiction. In my view, however, rather than being reason to dismiss the entire UFO problem as a fantasy generated in human psychology, the relationship demonstrates the overwhelming complexity of such phenomena. At most it shows that what people see in the sky is to some extent governed by the popular cultural motifs of the day, in our case flying saucers and little grey aliens, but it doesn't solve the problem of what is happening in the first place. I have shown, for example, that the rigid confines of the classic abduction scenario, developed in a vain attempt to make sense out of these baffling reports, have their basis in a case which is itself very shaky. But it is the CAS which is most visible and media friendly, its proponents attempting to standardise the abduction experience by pushing aside as "screen memories" those elements of reports involving the high levels of strangeness that constitute the bulk of most encounters with non-human entities Reports from countries other than America, and to a lesser though increasing extent Britain, feature an amazing variety of colourful creatures, often rooted in the cultural history of the area. But America's cultural dominance of the world is fast spreading into the realms of UFO experience and the Greys have started to proliferate elsewhere.


There is no doubt in my mind, however, that something extremely strange is happening to these people; the narrowing down and categorising of their experiences is just a human way of dealing with what we do not understand, and it is here that the influences of popular culture are felt most strongly. Many people who undergo these experiences want to be told what has happened to them, calling on the visible "experts" who appear on TV or write books to do so. Often they are referred to abductee support groups where beliefs are reinforced and memories reshaped; this is how the mythology becomes reality. Gradually the inherent flaws in the CAS are becoming more widely recognised; but while the media can still make mileage out of alien kidnappers, change is likely to be a slow process, especially when the alternatives are complex and undefined. That some UFOs are truly unidentifiable is beyond doubt. There have been too many reports from reliable and multiple witnesses, too many radar and visual correlations by pilots, too many films and photographs, too many blacked out military and government documents. For them all to be hoaxes, misidentifications and hallucinations seems more unlikely than most of the other explanations put forwards over the years.


The conspiratorial alliance of government and Greys is easily tracked back to the "Majestic 12" papers received by ufologists in the early 80's that were soon shown to be misinformation, albeit from military sources hoping to prevent the accidental uncovering of real secrets. The result was successful; the stories were elaborated upon by subsequent writers and ufologists still spend more time arguing amongst themselves over the authenticity of such stories than they do actually investigating UFOs. In these suspicious times hardly anyone trusts their government anymore, so it is not surprising that such ideas flourish, particularly in America where many civilian militia groups have worked UFO conspiracies into their anti government belief systems. An Arizona militia group is run by Bill Cooper, a shadowy figure who claims to have worked for U.S. Navy Intelligence and regularly used to speak at UFO conventions. Timothy Mcveigh, the prime suspect in the recent Oklahoma bombing, blames an implant in his brain for his actions and described several UFO encounters to police investigators. The phenomenal success of The X Files, which uses many elements of the UFO conspiracy in its story lines, is testament to the popularity of such ideas. It's tripartite credo; "I want to Believe; The Truth is out there; Trust No One" is a concise expression of the hope, faith and paranoia that drive the popular UFO industry. Many viewers still believe that the X Files stories are based on real cases, thus securing the conspiracy's hold on the popular imagination for a few more years and keeping UFOs in the public eye.


As more planets are discovered to be capable of sustaining life, so the potential reality of extraterrestrial contact will become more concrete; it is hardly likely then that aliens are ever going to disappear from the popular imagination. In fact just the opposite appears to be true as a fresh onslaught of big budget alien invasion films prepares itself for attack in the wake of Independence Day. Men in Black, Mars Attacks, Area 51: The Movie, The X Files Movie, Starship Troopers- all of these and more are set for release within the next year or so, and all deal with various aspects of UFO conspiracy theories. For the ardent believers, this is either the final approach towards the unveiling of the truth or the secret, inner government's way of making sure that such ideas are laughed out of fact and into fiction. But for most it is just an inevitability of the collision between popular consumer culture and the modern mythological process. Independence Day and, most likely, its successors are unlikely to create any new directions in the UFO mythology for they simply its children, its hybrid spawn. Ufology, like most of Western popular culture, has already begun to feed back on itself, rehashing old ideas for a hipper, harder to please audience; going nowhwere fast.


That 1996 marks a century of both UFO reports and cinema seems uncannily appropriate for both exist on the borderlines of fantasy and reality, and both work on the human mind somewhere between the conscious and the unconscious. As a wise man once said, a UFO expert is "a person who knows everything there is to know about UFO's except what they are, who's in them and where they come from"69. Solving the mystery is going to require as much time spent looking inwards at the vast expanse of the human mind, as it is staring out into the great unknown of space.


Until then, keep watching the skies.