A speculation on the making of a modern myth

Decades before our era of fake news and the bots who disseminate it, I once half-jokingly pitched a book idea to an old English teacher and friend. I imagined writing a tell-all exposé by a creative writer who had been drafted on graduation into a secret government project whose purpose was to produce cultural materials, novels, television and movie scripts, and so forth, with the intent of tweaking and guiding the culture at large. The UFO mythology, of course, played a central role. But recently having had the opportunity to view Corbell’s Bob Lazar:  Area 51 & Flying Saucers, it strikes me I may well have been beaten to the punch.

Corbell’s documentary omits some very telling details of Lazar’s story, but includes one I hadn’t known, that early in his tenure at Area 51, Lazar was shown a number of briefing documents concerning UFOs and their extraterrestrial pilots. To the cognoscenti, Lazar’s experience is not unique:  Bill Cooper and Bob Dean both tell similar stories of being given materials that deal with crashed saucers, recovered and back-engineered technology, and captured and autopsied ETs. What Lazar, Cooper, and Dean claim to have read seems pulled from the same filing cabinet as the MJ-12 documents. If we refuse to take these at face value, then we need to imagine their possible significance and purpose.

There are a number of potential uses. One not too out-of-this-world is as a kind of test. Given that since the postwar advent of the phenomenon roughly half the general population believes that “flying saucers are real”, it follows roughly half of military personnel will hold similar beliefs. Imagine a junior intelligence officer is up for promotion. You present them with materials like those shown to Lazar and ask them to prepare a brief for a superior. A candidate whose critical faculties fail to filter such material as highly questionable if not outright disinformation is surely unreliable. The all-too-credulous might even be tempted to leak the world-shattering information they’ve been shown, and, when they are, understandably, demoted or dismissed, they can point to their discharge as proof of their claims and start a new career as a ufological whistleblower….

An important inspiration for my unwritten novel was the speculations of William Burroughs’ lifelong experiments on how to destabilize and destroy the reigning control system of image and association. Since, I’ve read Frances Stonor Saunders on how during the Cold War the CIA sought to weaponize the arts and learned about the related, farther-reaching Operation Mockingbird. Robbie Graham has explored ways the cinematic presentation of flying saucers and ETs was possibly spun in similar ways. Given the persistence of reports of the kinds of documents Lazar claims to have read, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that some version of the stable of writers I imagined actually exists.

This Gnostic-paranoid speculation concerning the manipulation if not outright fabrication of our collective imaginarium also brings to mind Jacques Vallée’s proposal that the UFO phenomenon itself might operate as a kind of control system, inspiring and guiding belief. If we combine these ideas, a compelling if somewhat giddy vision suggests itself,  that collective consciousness is a battlefield fought over by human and nonhuman players. In this context, the thought, whether Elon Musk’s or Nik Bostrom’s, that we might be living in a computer simulation appears a cheap rip off of The Matrix.

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5 thoughts on “A speculation on the making of a modern myth

  1. Not only am I not THIS paranoid, I never have been nor am I capable of being this paranoid.

    Yeah, the UFO myth likely has been useful to the military in covering up all manner of classified activities that might accidentally have been witnessed, And the military might goose the myth occasionally so it doesn’t lose it’s usefulness as a cover. But I simply don’t buy into any of the rest of this hypothesizing.

    Those who are deeply “into” UFOs tend to believe the rest of the world takes them just as seriously.

    Nope. Mostly they’re “killing time at the water cooler” talk or cocktail party filler, after everyone’s a drink in the bag. Oh sure, people are interested in UFOs . . . for their entertainment value, just like they’re interested in DJ Khalid or the Kardashians or The Bachelor or Steph Curry’s shooting average, for example. But how many of us, who are well adjusted, allow these to deeply influence our lives on a daily basis?

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    1. purrlgurrl, thanks for another lively intervention.

      I’m pretty sure you detected the tone of self-deprecating irony that runs through my post, there to underline the _speculatlve_ and–especially at the end–playful and imaginative dimension of the post.

      That being said, I remain persuaded of the possibility that, if we take those who claim to have read documents like those Lazar claims to have read at face value, then they do indeed seem to have been drawn from the same drawer as the MJ-12 documents. On the one hand, either all these people feed off each others stories to weave their lies, or, on the other, there are indeed such documents, which serve some disinfo function. The case of Lazar is interesting: if we take his story at face value, someone was having him on, but why? And since we’re talking about UFOs, there might very well be a third hand…

      I think we kind of agree of the point above. But I must take exception about the potential societal place of UFOs. That they are not taken seriously by the majority of people is exactly the feature of the myth that enables it to function. It is not of the same ephemerality as pop music or the lives of celebrities: since the end of the Second War, half of folks believe or at least will entertain _without too much thought_ the ETH, governments around the world have investigated and probably still do in some way the phenomenon, and SETI and exobiology, etc. are funded and have institutional homes. It’s precisely because it is not taken seriously that it can have an even more powerful effect. The pickpocket works by distraction, if you’re unpersuaded by the psychoanalytic insights into such matters.

      What, then, is the societal impact of the nonserious taken-for-granted belief in the ETH? Well, Vallée, Strieber, Kripal, et al. have some voluminous thoughts on the matter. For my part, at the very least, the myth functions ideologically, reifying the technocapitalist status quo and the anthropocentrism that underwrites it with all the grave consequences we increasingly witness around us, such as the mussels being cooked in their shells off the coast of California these past few days…

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  2. Yep, you are way more paranoid than me. Smile.

    Life has taught me that people make up stuff for as many different reasons as there are people on Earth making up stuff. Nobody is immune from doing this (not even thee or me). It happens almost unconsciously when we tell a story over and over again and improvise a little on the details each time (the fish gets bigger and harder to land).

    Okay I did say I think the military from time to time ensures the UFO myth stays alive in order to continue to use it as a cover. My suspicion is that Bob Lazar and MJ-12 are instances of this.

    I also think the same of TTSA’s Navy pilot footage. There’s a new threat of incursion into the airspace near or over our sensitive military operations, and it ain’t coming from little gray men, unless they have little gray men in Russia or China. Could it be possible that the US isn’t the only country with highly advanced aircraft that can elude the most sophisticated radar systems?

    If a civilian does happen to spot a foreign intelligence aircraft over US soil, let’s hope he believes it’s a UFO and doesn’t suspect that despite the trillions of tax dollars spent on defense, we can’t keep the buggers out.

    Sidebar: The trauma of Pearl Harbor continues to haunt the US collective unconscious, with the more recent horror of 9/11 overlying it — terror comes from the sky.

    If there’s a military/government UFO conspiracy it’s probably more along these lines.

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    1. I’m uncertain just where my paranoia might be said to lie, unless old-fashioned quasi-Marxian ideology critique can be described as paranoid…

      That being said, I am of multiple minds about the whole TTSA fiasco. Tyler Rogoway over at The Drive seems the most perspicacious of commentators, bringing to light, for example, the similarity between radar reflecting balloons and the “cube-in-a-sphere” UAP reported by at least one pilot.

      But, yes, surely the USAF likely exploits the mythos in various ways. And, it has to, given that half its personnel are “believers” seriously or otherwise in the ETH… I remember reading that the fall of the Eastern Bloc caught American intelligence by surprise, because so many of them were fundamentalist Christians, who believed that the USSR was the Gog/Magog of Revelations.

      Aside from all that, I find some of Vallee’s speculations of imaginative (i.e., creative) if not theoretical value.

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