and Pop Culture
by Bruce Lanier Wright
Let's open with a newsreel, "Citizen Kane"-style, at the beginning that wasn't the beginning, with the saucers that weren't saucers.
June 24, 1947: Afternoon skies over the still-unspoiled Washington Cascades. Kenneth Arnold, a private pilot from Boise, ID, takes in the view. Suddenly, he sees nine silvery, crescent-shaped objects flying in tight formation. Later, he estimates their size at 40 to 50 feet wide, their speed at a fantastic 1200 miles per hour. Yet they're moving like no jet, no airplane, would ever move: rhythmically, as if you were to skip a saucer across water, he tells the newspapers. A headline writer garbles the quote and coins a snappy tagline "flying saucers." And Kenneth Arnold earns his footnote in history.
We'll revisit some of the weirdest of those glorious days of our youth and examine some tasty souvenirs for the collector. But, as Bela would say, be varned. If you believe that a complete and accurate picture of our world can be obtained from Newsweek or, God help us, network TV, you will find this puzzling at best. If, on the other hand, you're a big fan of talk radio, you may move your lips when you read, but at least you've been exposed to, um, alternate belief systems.
Of course, people have been seeing strange things in the skies for a long time, globes, cigar-shapes and saucers, you bet; old English accounts mention Yorkshire peasants spotting a silver disc in the heavens in the Year of Grace 1290. Dozens of more recent stories can be pulled from the historical records, from the large saucer seen by a farmer near Dallas in 1878 to the "ghost rockets" reported over Scandinavia in the '30s and '40s. But in June 1947, the phenomenon achieved critical mass, God knows why. A philosopher of history once remarked that it steam-engines when it comes steam-engine time, and 1947 manifestly was Saucer Time.
After Arnold's initial report, UFO sightings in our skies exploded. On June 26, four witnesses including a doctor saw a "huge silver globe" moving along the rim of the Grand Canyon; two days after that, an Air Force pilot reported a flight of six discs over Lake Meade, NV. Within days, reports were pouring in from localities as widely separated as Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, Louisiana, Quebec and Prince Edward Island in far-north Canada.
And then there was the Roswell Incident.
Another newsreel: Midnight on Friday, July 4, 1947, near Roswell, New Mexico. During a thunderstorm, a rancher named Mac Brazel hears an explosion. The next morning, he discovers an enormous debris field in his pastures, so thick he has to route his sheep around it to drive them to water. The debris is odd: plastic-like beams, wire, scraps of a metal light enough to flutter in the breeze, but impervious to hammer blows and flame. Some foil-like pieces, when bent or twisted, reassume their original shapes without a mark.
The next day, Brazel reports his discovery to the sheriff, who contacts Roswell Army Air Field, headquarters for the 509th Bomb Group. Major Jesse Marcel, an air intelligence officer, visits Brazel's field to investigate. He quickly concludes that the material is literally unearthly. On Tuesday, July 8, the air base releases a story to the AP newswire that begins: "The Army Air Forces here today announced a flying disc had been found." All hell breaks loose.
Just what happened next will always remain murky. The air base is sealed off, and military police close some roads. The FBI squelches a radio station's report. Every scrap of the mysterious wreckage is removed. Roswell receives a series of visitors from Washington and other military installations, and some very unfriendly statements are made to the sheriff and other locals, encouraging them to forget various things they've seen and heard. Mac Brazel spends over a week in military custody. After his release, he doesn't say anything to anyone for a long time. And a little more than 24 hours after the first news report, the world learns that the so-called saucer was only a weather balloon. The nation has a good laugh at Jesse Marcel's expense. Marcel, a good soldier, keeps his mouth shut until near the end of his life. Roswell drops out of the news for 30 years but not forever.
UFOs remained headline fodder throughout the late 40s, to the increasing irritation of the United States Air Force and at least some members of the scientific community. The 1947-49 sightings constituted what came to be called a "flap," an unusually active period for UFO activity. As in all flaps, a "me-too" factor was at work; a hard core of genuinely unusual sightings were surrounded by a great deal more misidentification, wishful thinking and general flakiness. For awhile it seemed as if flying saucers were crashing every week, judging from the regularity with which any shiny metal found in a field was put forward as a saucer remnant.
Hastily prepared attempts to explain away the phenomena were two- a-penny. In July 1947, for instance, an Australian physiologist confidently stated that flying saucers were merely "the effect of red corpuscles in blood passing in front of the retina." Cloud formations, ball lightning, and the planet Venus were trotted out regularly as well. The Air Force mounted an official study effort that in 1949 grumpily concluded the investigation of UFOs should be curtailed. The UFOs may have felt snubbed as saucer reports seemed to taper off for awhile.
Then came the extraordinary Saucer Summer of 1952, when for months, it seemed, you could scarcely leave your house without getting your hat knocked off by a gleaming messenger from beyond. UFO sightings piled up for months, with an impressive number of reports from airline and military pilots. The flap reached its peak in the Washington, DC area in July; an Air Force report declassified in 1985 describes radar sightings involving up to 12 unidentified "targets" at a time near Washington National Airport. At its largest peace-time press conference in history, the Air Force attributed the radar activity to "temperature inversions." Local meteorologists said: no way.
Kooky Kontactee Kults
I don't want to get all Freudian on you, but it's clear that flying saucers answered a deep need in a lot of lonely souls. People were in the market for reassurance. Nuclear terror was in the air. They wanted help. They wanted Space Brothers.
Enter George Adamski, the Grand Old Man of saucer religion, who in 1953 published Flying Saucers Have Landed, an account of his meeting with a Venusian named Orthon (!) near Desert Center, CA. The book, illustrated with his own photographs of various flying saucers and "mother ships," sold well and gave him a group of followers who have not entirely dissipated to this day. Adamski prospered on the lecture circuit, assuming the title "professor" and talking up his connections with Mount Palomar observatory (actually, he'd been a fry cook at a nearby tourist cafe). Adamski's aliens were spiritually advanced and conveniently handsome and Nordic-featured. They took him on joy rides to Saturn and Jupiter.
Adamski's success spawned a series of copy-cat space gurus, each waving his own book of revelations from aliens whose names all sounded like new synthetic fibers. These included Aboard a Flying Saucer (1954), by Truman Bethurum, who chatted with UFO captain Aura Rhanes from the planet Clarion; Secret of the Saucers (1955) by Orfeo Angelucci who once met a space-babe named Lyra in a bus station; and Howard Menger's From Outer Space to You (1959), which reveals, among other mysteries, the alien approach to organic farming. The kindly aliens of 1950s contactee literature came from a bewildering variety of planets, but the message of all these "space brothers," as they were dubbed by their followers, was essentially the same: our earth is a backwater, a dangerous slum on the outskirts of a benign sort of interplanetary U.N., and we must Get Our Act Together.
Space Brotherism is a little starchy for my taste, but the movement produced at least one series of events I would have given a lot to attend, the Giant Rock Spacecraft Conventions held each year in the Mojave Desert from 1954 to 1977. Hosted by George Van Tassel yet another Venusian contactee (and founder of the Universal College of Wisdom and the Cosmic Brotherhood of Christ), in its mid-1950s heyday the annual get-together attracted crowds of up to 10,000 enlightened and out-there folks with vital messages to share (and, on at least one occasion, packages of "genuine Venusian dog hair" to sell). One of these celestial proto-Woodstocks was attended by fantasy filmmaker Ray Harryhausen, who was then planning his own UFO epic, "Earth Versus the Flying Saucers."
The movie business was quick to pick up on the cinematic potential of the UFO phenomenon, and the drive-in screens of the 1950s soon were flooded with a dazzling array of unearthly visitors. The first of these was a fully dressed 1950 turkey called "The Flying Saucer"; its "saucer" is a Russian secret weapon, and about its only other point of interest is that producer/director/"star" Mikel Conrad promoted the film by hinting that his lame saucer shots were actual top-secret government footage.
Better saucer flicks were forthcoming. To make sense of what followed, it helps to remember just how paranoid things were at that time - and not just because of flying saucers. The McCarthy era was in bloom and Cold War jitters spilled over into saucer cinema. In 1951, two sci-fi classics helped to trigger the decade's science fiction movie boom while marking the opposite poles of a distinctly ambivalent attitude toward alien visitors.
April 1951 brought Howard Hawk's "The Thing from Another World," the story of an Arctic military base under siege by an intelligent and hostile alien. "Classic" isn't too strong a label for this claustrophobic and genuinely scary movie, in which the hard- headed Average Joes of the Air Force successfully battle the beast despite the misguided notions of the base's head scientist, who thinks any spacefaring creature must be susceptible to sweet reason. Robert Wise's "The Day the Earth Stood Still," released in September, argues the opposite case with a conviction and forcefulness that seems fairly astonishing considering the nation's mood. "The Day" concerns Klaatu, a wise, saintly alien emissary who lands his saucer in the middle of Washington DC - every saucerhead's dream during the 50s - and warns us that nuclear weaponry and our own natural aggression may lead to our extinction.
The philosophies expressed in "The Thing" and "The Day the Earth Stood Still" can be found at war throughout the era's saucer movies. Sometimes the viewpoints are embodied in opposing characters, often, as in 1959's "The Cosmic Man," a scientist and a hot-headed military officer. In terms of sheer volume, though, 1950s saucer cinema comes down firmly on the side of paranoia. In film after film, otherworldly life is simply a menace to be battled and stamped out. Sometimes the aliens arrive in force, like the flying-saucer fleet that ravages Washington in Ray Harryhausen's "Earth Versus the Flying Saucers" (1956). More often, though, they infiltrate quietly as commie-style fifth-columnists and saboteurs, as in Gene Fowler's excellent "I Married a Monster From Outer Space" (1958).
Movies weighing in on Klaatu's side were relatively rare during the 1950s. Space Brotherists weren't a big population segment, after all, and it just wasn't a trusting era. The mistreated alien in Edgar G. Ulmer's "The Man From Planet X" (1951) and the benign interplanetary castaways of "It Came From Outer Space" (1953) were exceptions to a rule of de facto antagonism between Us and Them.
As the Populuxe years of the 50s and early 60s progressed, UFO sightings continued to pour in from around the world. On August 13, 1956, for instance, a flight of objects buzzed the joint RAF/USAF base at Bentwaters in Suffolk, England and were tracked by three different ground-based radar stations at speeds of up to 4,000 mph. The UFO phenomenon began to seep into society's subconscious in a number of ways. The saucerist movement even mounted a bid for the presidency in 1960, when one Gabriel Green ran with the full backing of the Amalgamated Flying Saucer Clubs of America. (Fraud at the polls!) Flying saucers became totems, an enigmatic addition to the celebration of conventional speed and technology embodied in the era's atom symbols and tail-fins. You can see saucers everywhere in the era's landscape, if you pause to look, from the glorious one atop Seattle's Space Needle to those astonishing lamps that sell for way too much in chic junk stores. (The last rental house my wife and I occupied had not one but two fab early-60s hanging saucer lamps, and like idiots we didn't steal them.) Roadside architecture borrowed from UFO imagery, and many cities are lucky enough to have at least one or two saucerish hamburger stands left.
Inevitably, people began to consider the notion of building our own saucer-shaped flying craft. The December 1950 Science and Mechanics speculated that enormous prop-driven saucers might serve as public transport; "Will 'Flying Saucer' Buses Lick Traffic Congestion?" its cover asked (answer, as you may have noticed: no). In the late 1950s, the Air Force developed the Avro air car, a piloted flying disc lifted by large fans. Despite various hints that the Avro might be behind some saucer sightings, the thing could scarcely get off the ground. With a few tweaks, the Avro could have been the first hovercraft instead of a really large paperweight. In recent years, the Air Force has developed successful saucer-shaped drones, which may explain some recent sightings; but as far as we know, man-piloted saucers have remained in the realm of fiction, like the elegant star cruiser of "Forbidden Planet" and the Robinson's sturdy Jupiter-2 from "Lost In Space."
While a lot of people clearly were enjoying the UFO phenomenon, in their different ways, governments seem to have regarded it as a migraine.
The 1952 flap prompted the Air Force to revive its UFO investigation. The new effort, Project Blue Book, began in March 1952 under the guidance of Captain Edward Ruppelt. Blue Book seems to have begun as a serious investigation, and by the time Ruppelt left the project in 1954, he was personally convinced that UFOs were extraterrestrial craft. The program he left behind, however, quickly degenerated into a public relations exercise whose "explanations" became a byword for idiocy among students of the subject. A typical case was one in which an Air Force wing commander was guided by radar to intercept a UFO over Japan. The official account ascribed the incident to the planet Jupiter, an object not often tracked by ground radar.
As Blue Book began, other efforts were going on behind the scenes. In 1953, the Central Intelligence Agency convened a secret scientific advisory body, the Robertson Panel, to examine the UFO question. The panel didn't break much new ground in researching the subject; a participant, astronomer J. Allen Hynek, later characterized the effort as cursory and close-minded. More interesting were the panel's conclusions about the effects of UFO belief. They took a dim damn view of saucer-heads, recommending that all UFO sightings be debunked to preserve public peace of mind, and suggesting that UFO groups be monitored by the government as potentially subversive elements. Subsequent events made it clear that Washington and some other national governments took this advice to heart. A cozy silence settled over the topic, at least on the official level.
The UFO story has been compared to an onionskin. Peel back a layer and you find another layer. One observation, however, is incontestable: many national governments, including our own, have consistently lied about UFOs for nearly 50 years. Much of what is known is due to the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and its counterparts in other countries. Since its July 1974 inception, patient investigators have used FOIA to sloowwllly pull documents out of the federal government's maw. It hasn't been quick or easy. Note that few of the folks who confidently assure you our government can't keep secrets have actually tried to obtain one.
When the CIA was first approached for UFO-related documents, for instance, it claimed to have none at all. With continuing pressure, the agency squeezed out 400 pages; after some years, 40,000 pages of reports came to light. In 1973, then-FBI director Clarence Kelley stated that "the investigation of Unidentified Flying Objects is not and never has been...within the investigative jurisdiction of the FBI." Three years later, an FOIA request yielded some 1,100 pages of FBI documents on UFOs. And the Feds are allowed to hold back anything deemed vital to "national security." The plucky UFO researcher is quite likely to receive a juicy memo only to find everything blacked out except the words "To" and "From."
Despite these hurdles, some have expressed disappointment that no smoking gun has emerged from the declassified records - no photo of Harry Truman with an ET at a White House smoker, say. This is missing the forest for the trees. Literally hundreds of compelling visual and radar sightings by military personnel have come to light, along with tantalizing hints of study efforts conducted behind the Blue Book window dressing. In all, the sheer weight of evidence points to an interesting conclusion Time magazine may feel there's nothing of interest in UFO sightings. You may feel that way. Governments don't seem to agree.
Paranoia Strikes Deep
Something was bubbling beneath the surface, all right. Stories abound of UFO witnesses being visited by government types and having film confiscated or "borrowed," never to be seen again. A lot of these tales may be fiction; some may not. The government rarely tipped its hand in any public way, other than in an interesting 1958 incident in which a live TV program was blacked out by the Feds "in the interests of national security," as Major Donald Keyhoe, a prominent UFO researcher, discussed the need for a Congressional investigation.
Keyhoe, by the way, was a long-time director of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), the most widely respected private research organization of its kind. NICAP was founded in 1956 and operated until 1979, and at various times its board included the ClA's first director and the head of the CIA's psychological warfare staff. After Keyhoe left, he was succeeded by two former CIA agents in a row (although some say you never really quit that fine organization). Company fingerprints are all over NICAP. Why so many spy-boys? Beats the hell out of me. Maybe they all simply had a private interest in UFOs, although the CIA doesn't seem a Space Brotherish sort of place.
The deepest plunge into paranoia was taken by saucer buffs who believed they'd run into the mysterious Men in Black. MlBs, as they came to be called, entered saucer mythology in October 1953, when Albert K. Bender, editor of a flying saucer rag called the Space Review, announced that he'd learned the secret of the UFOs - but couldn't tell anyone, because he'd been threatened. He warned others investigating saucers to be "very cautious" and folded his publication. Later, in an interview, Bender said "three men wearing dark suits had silenced him. Later still, he published a fairly incoherent book called Flying Saucers and the Three Men in Black describing his experience.
Pretty soon, other people were encountering these strange men, and an elaborate series of folktales grew up around them: always traveling in twos and threes, driving dark cars and wearing impeccable dark suits; vaguely "foreign" in appearance, and closed-mouthed except when issuing cryptic warnings and threats to UFO witnesses. Sometimes they appeared to witnesses who'd told no one of their experiences, so the tales go. Reports of MlBs peaked in the 60s. Some saucerheads thought MIB stories were malarkey, and others just assumed they were J. Edgar's boys; but John Keel, a respected if gonzo paranormalist, had dealings with them and he thought they weren't even human.
Of course, little of this weirdness was making headlines. For decades, the American mainstream media have, with few exceptions, ignored the UFO phenomena or played it for laughs without investigation or follow-up. People like Gore Vidal have written far more eloquently than I could of the remarkable unanimity of opinion, shall we say, that exists within the U.S. press establishment. But you needn't assume a conspiracy; American journalists are an overworked and harried tribe who are forced to rely on conventional wisdom, and it's a helluva lot easier to turn in a silly-season piece than to conduct an actual investigation.
This pattern of neglect was broken only infrequently, and never with more impact than in the great Swamp Gas Debacle of March 1966, which signaled the beginning of the end for Project Blue Book. In America, 1966 was a flap year, with many sightings and some unusually high-profile witnesses, including the governor of Florida. March brought a series of reports from Ann Arbor, Michigan that caught the attention of the national press and put pressure on the Air Force for yet another explanation.
J. Allen Hynek, who was working with Blue Book from time to time, was approached for what we now call a sound bite. When pressed for an explanation, Hynek said some people might have seen glowing clouds of swamp gas. The press, surprisingly, greeted this notion with a loud and nearly unanimous hoot of derision. It was as if a dam had burst. Reporters who had slept peacefully through more than a decade of equally absurd stories from the Air Force became indignant and demanded "the real facts" about flying saucers. UFO reports began popping up in the mainstream press again. Suddenly, it was almost respectable to believe.
Within a few months, though, interest began to wane again. Klaatu didn't arrive on the White House lawn. A widely seen TV documentary reinforced the official line; scientists tut-tutted and a representative of the military said UFOs had never been tracked on radar, a lie pure and simple. Ufology was represented by the maddest-sounding Space Brotherist the producers could locate. Even so, the Air Force remained stung and embarrassed by the swamp gas fiasco and apparently resolved to wash its hands of the topic.
In November 1966, a federally funded committee convened under the leadership of Dr. Edward Condon, a University of Colorado physicist, to produce a "definitive" study of the UFO question. Condon openly mocked the phenomenon, while the project staff split between the genuinely curious and a debunking faction. When the pro-saucer group produced evidence that the committee had never intended to produce a serious study, they were simply fired. Condon's December 1968 final report concluded that the UFO phenomenon was not worthy of further study. This solved nothing - the Christian Science Monitor called the Condon report "a hatchet job...rarely equalled in the field of scientific scholarship" but it gave the Air Force the excuse it needed to fold Blue Book in 1969 and get out of the explanations business entirely.
A few months later, an American Airlines flight from Phoenix to Washington sighted four UFOs looking like "burnished aluminum." A nearby United Airlines flight and a National Guard plane also reported the objects, which were also tracked by air traffic controllers. But by then, few people were paying attention anymore.
Onward to the Present
And that's pretty much where things stand today. In America, official silence on UFOs is still near-total, although some other governments, including France's and Belgium's, have been relatively forthcoming with radar reports and the like.
The phenomenon rolls on, as various and puzzling as ever, and even after the usual easy misidentifications and lunatics are filtered out, hundreds of interesting new cases pop up each year. In the 90s, there have been spectacular flaps in Belgium and Mexico, and as this is being written, others are under way in Australia and Scotland. These receive almost no coverage in the U.S. mainstream media, because we already know there's no such thing as flying saucers, right? It's one of those things Everyone Knows because, well, because Everyone Knows. And God knows the whole thing is easy enough to ignore. Tabloid TV provides most of what little coverage we do get. Space Brotherism was unfashionable for awhile, but with the coming of the "New Age," credulous UFO religionists are as thick on the ground as ever, and a ripe butt for the usual jokes and sitcom gags.
Some scientists are researching the phenomena, but for obvious reasons they play their cards close to their chests. J. Allen Hynek, the world's most respected UFO researcher, liked to joke that the handful of scientists seriously studying saucers constitute an "Invisible College." Since Hynek's death in 1986, his position has more or less been assumed by Jacques Vallee, who will probably go to his grave best known as the model for the Francois Truffaut character, "Lacombe," in Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." In general, though, science remains a field dominated by careerism: rather pleasant for the tenured and respectable, rather unpleasant for the impoverished grad students and associate profs who do most of the actual work With these stakes, few of the lab-coat set have much time for heresy. You want to make a name in UFO studies, Mr. Budding Scientist? Pack warmly - I hear winters at Moosejaw Community College are nippy.
This void has left ufology almost entirely to self-taught researchers and the hardest-core saucer buffs, or, as they call themselves, the UFO "community." Although "barrelful of snarling hyenas" might be a more apt description, considering the comic-opera wars and vendettas that divide the field. (I won't single people out because they're a prickly bunch, and I don't remember John saying anything about a legal defense fund.) Their dispositions aren't improved by the fact that the Feds still seem to be up to their old tricks. At present, many members of the UFO community spend most of their time accusing each other of being CIA agents.
In the 70s and early 80s, for instance - around the time that Steven Spielberg was updating Space Brotherism with "Close Encounters" and his treacly "E.T." - a number of prominent researchers, including Hynek and Vallee, were approached by bona fide U.S. military personnel and summoned to meetings, at which it was hinted that some earth- shaking revelation about UFOs would be forthcoming from the government, ah, soon. Hynek and Vallee soon smelled a rat and withdrew; others didn't. Most "ufologists" are semi-ordinary men and women, after all, with the espionage talents of furniture. Several prominent saucerheads were strung along for months, waiting for the Big Secret to be revealed, down primrose paths that led nowhere.
Roswell blew back into the spotlight in the 1980s. A handful of researchers (who, naturally, seem to loathe one another) have spent some 15 years tracking down evidence for a 1947 saucer crash. Their efforts have uncovered more than 500 material witnesses attesting to various aspects of a story that, in its most elaborate version, involves the retrieval and inspection of a handful of alien bodies and even the possible recovery of a survivor. The testimony is particularly compelling because of the Norman Rockwell character of the witnesses - ex-airmen and officers, nurses; the guys and gals that whipped the Axis. Our parents, basically.
Of course, their word proves little except to those already disposed to believe, and already a truly bizarre belief pattern has sprung up around Roswell and its surrounding mythology, a nasty world in which our government has already sold us out to two-timing, cattle-mutilatin', fetus-lookin' aliens popularly called greys. Oh, and take a gander at two of the biggest drumbeaters for this depressing new religion: one's ex-naval intelligence, the other flew planes for the CIA in Laos. Hmmmm.
Governments play a lot of nasty games. That's the nature of their business. And one of those games seems to involve UFOs. Why? Probably not because they've made a deal with aliens living in underground bases in Nevada, as the more loosely configured minds on the saucer scene think. Although you never can tell. Maybe toying with the public perception of UFOs is just something a handful of bored Yalies in the Company do for kicks. Maybe it's an ongoing class project at the CIA training academy.
Or maybe they are tinkering with crashed UFOs out in Nevada after all, like some people fervently believe. Or maybe the secret is that, in a way, there is no secret. Maybe they've had pieces of an inexplicable puzzle locked away for nearly 50 years, and still can't make heads or tails of it. Maybe they've just been lying for so long that by now no one sees any percentage in coming clean.
Of course, most serious students of the UFO question don't really buy the idea that UFOs are spaceships from another world. (You don't hear that much on "The X-Files," do you?) The evidence for an inexplicable effect behind UFOs is out there, as Mulder likes to say. It's a mosaic of first-hand accounts, radar records, photos of varying reliability; of burns and radiation effects on soil, plants, animals, and people. But this evidence doesn't necessarily fit the so-called extraterrestrial hypothesis any better than the notion that it's all misidentifications of Venus.
The sheer number of sightings alone, as Vallee has pointed out, is far in excess of what would be needed to study us or our planet or to keep tabs on our activities. Furthermore, there's every reason to suspect that the phenomenon has always been with us. Close encounters and "abductions" occur everywhere in the world, throughout the historical record, as filtered through and interpreted by the moment's dominant cultural context. People saw plenty of dragons and fairies when people believed in dragons and fairies, and I don't think they were any more stupid than we are (go to the mall if you don't believe me). Polls indicate that, at present, half of us believe in space men.
So what is going on? I kind of like Vallee's take on it. Look at the whole saucer phenomenon in its entirety: an inexplicable technology that appears, at times, to contradict accepted laws of time and space. A phenomenon that appears intelligent and yet absurd, following the dictates of some dreamlogic. Tens of thousands of people, scattered all over the world, have an inexplicable experience that shatters their previous notions of reality. Representatives of ruling orthodoxies disapprove; enough ridicule is heaped on witnesses to ensure that most keep their mouths firmly shut. Committed saucerheads band together and some jockey for control of the subculture. New belief systems bloom. And maybe this has been going on for quite awhile, in different guises.
What does the UFO phenomenon look like? It looks like a conditioning mechanism. Who's behind it? Conditioning us for what? No one knows. Charles Fort, the crotchety granddad of paranormal research, once delivered a glum assessment: "I think we're property." And maybe that's the answer skeptic's old question. Why don't "They" just land on the White House lawn? For the same reason that the chemists at Parke-Davis don't introduce themselves to their rats. Neat, huh?
Photos by Bruce Lanier Wright
Strange Magazine contributing editor Bruce Lanier Wright is a pop-culture historian and avid, if puzzled, fortean living in Austin, Texas.