What do UFOs have to do with it?

I’ve noticed recently how those sincerely interested in the UFO mystery can at the same time dismiss the idea that the phenomenon might possess a more general import. Here and elsewhere I’ve read comments such as, “the UFO culture is now purely entertainment,” “the number of people who actively engage with the UFO topic on a frequent and regular basis (go beyond merely occasionally watching a video clip, listening to a sound bite, or scanning an article) represents a small percentage of the US population,” and that the “real UFO conspiracy [is] why the UFOs have become a joke and such an embarrassing subject in ‘serious’ conversation,” all in stark contrast to the unabashed and breathless enthusiasm of those fascinated by the idea of  Disclosure (that at least one of the world’s governments has been in contact with extraterrestrials (ETs) for decades and has been gifted or back-engineered their technology).

“The UFO topic” that that “small percentage” of the population engages with is approximated by, for example, recent stories concerning U.S. Navy encounters with apparently anomalous aeroforms and History’s latest series Project Blue Book and Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation. As has been the case since Donald Keyhoe wrote his books, in this arena the UFO is invariably imagined to be either an extraterrestrial spaceship or maybe a domestic or foreign aeronautical breakthrough, even for those not unacquainted with Jacques Vallée’s Magonians, John Keel’s ultraterrestrials, or even Mac Tonnies’ crypoterrestrials, or more recent speculations concerning other dimensions and times. The demographic represented by this “small percentage” is imaginably very slight (though one does wonder just what empirical research would in fact show).

On the other hand, since 1947, consistently roughly half the population in North America and Europe believe “flying saucers are real” (however seriously), and, over the same time, the UFO and the ufonauts have invaded and colonized popular culture, so that the UFO as a cultural phenomenon now has a higher brand recognition than, say, Odysseus and Ulysses. It is precisely this liminal ubiquity—being both everywhere but hardly at the centre of attention—that empowers the UFO and ET to express something of, and thereby illuminate, if not overtly influence, the culture at large.

The UFO-as-sign (as a vehicle of meaning) functions both factually and fictionally, regardless of whatever reality the UFO might ultimately turn out to possess. As something taken as real, it has clearly reflected the anxieties of the times. Jung, as is well-known, argued the flying saucer functioned as a compensatory mechanism for the anxieties provoked by the Cold War. On one hand, its circular, mandala shape symbolized the unity absent from a sundered world, while, on another, its seeming a spaceship from a technically-advanced society made it a deus ex machina, an otherworldy, salvific intervention into what seemed a perilous, humanly insoluble crisis. His insight was confirmed by the pacifist messages delivered by the Space Brothers of Adamski and the other Contactees of the 1950s. Decades later, with advances in reproductive technologies, such as the Human Genome Project, the potential for human cloning, and in vitro fertilization, little wonder the hypnotically-induced fantasies of women who believed they’d been abducted by aliens should express the anxieties proper to their time and gender, or that abductees in general sometimes claimed they were shown images of global, often ecological, catastrophe by their abductors just at the time ecological consciousness was dawning toward the glaring near-noon zenith it has reached today.

Given the spontaneous significance attributed to “the visionary rumour” of the UFO and ET contact, it should come as little surprise, likewise, that the creative imagination should find in it an endlessly fecund figurative resonance. Cinema (as Robbie Graham would likely agree) and to a lesser extent television perhaps more than any other media have made the most of this material, as, for example, a metaphor for race (in the films The Brother from Another Planet, Alien Nation, or District 9), global warming (The Arrival), mass extinction (The X-Files episode “Fearful Symmetry”), and the insatiable rapaciousness of capitalism (Independence Day).

For example, the remake of the classic The Day the Earth Stood Still twists together the anxious and the hopeful. On the one hand, the alien Klaatu is sent to earth to oversee the destruction of every trace of humankind and its civilization that are rendering the planet uninhabitable for complex life; however, nonhuman, animal organisms are taken up by spherical craft that serve as arks to preserve them from the cleansing process so they may be reintroduced after its completion. Fortunately, Klaatu is persuaded to avert the eradication of human life and, instead, brings to a standstill the technology whose destructive effects brought about the crisis. (The credits roll too soon, though: the results of a global cessation of mechanical technology would doubtless prove catastrophic, resulting in, among other things, mass starvation, with the paralysis of transportation, food processing, and agriculture, a far more cruel, drawn-out process of eradication than the one initially proposed by Klaatu’s civilization!).

The ecological focus and critique of “development” are clear; the imagined solutions, however, are, ironically, hopeless:  humankind itself is incapable of collective action to avert ecological destruction; it, therefore, stands in need of an external, overpowering intervention, whose only proposed solutions are the elimination of homo sapiens (in line with the biocentric ideology of EarthFirst! or the more recent philosophy of anti-natalism) or of the technologies of the so-called developed world. The film’s solutions to our very real problem are less acceptable than the premise of the film as a whole, framing the urgent crisis at its heart as insoluble, inspiring either a resigned fatalism, or, more charitably, a reflective search for alternatives to the unacceptable dilemma posed by the film itself.

The cinematic versions of 2001:  A Space Odyssey and 2010:  The Year We Make Contact develop the theme of the deus ex machina, but along a slightly different trajectory. Both are stories about the guided development (mental or spiritual if not morphological) of anthropomorphic life, from the proto-, to the human, to the meta- or hyperhuman. The genius for tool-use, from a bone-as-club to interplanetary spacecraft and AI, is sparked in the genus Homo by an extraterrestrial agent, represented by an enigmatic, black monolith. One such monolith discovered on the moon, prompts an exploratory expedition to Jupiter, where astronaut Dave Bowman is “evolved” to a superhuman being. In the sequel, a subsequent expedition to discover what happened to the first sets in motion the transformation of Jupiter and its moons into a miniature solar system, a supplementary space for human habitation and resource extraction intended to ease tensions on an overcrowded earth that narrowly escapes nuclear war.

In this fictional universe, the Promethean spirit of technological ingenuity (and power) is posited as a kind of divine spark. Striking it in the protohuman creates a being in the image of the mysterious makers of the black monolith, who guide and shape humankind to ever higher technological achievement and biological/spiritual development ultimately, one might suppose, with the goal of having us attaining their level. It is difficult not to detect a value system underwriting this narrative. Ironically, technological sophistication (e.g., the capacity to invent and build weapons of mass destruction) is not accompanied by a moral or social sense equal to governing the species-suicidal potential of our technical know-how, so, otherworldly intervention is needed. Two problems present themselves. First, if technological savvy is not accompanied by the collective intelligence necessary to control it, then how did the makers of the black monoliths survive this impasse? Secondly, the solution they provide is stop-gap: the essential problem of infinite growth in a finite environment that characterizes the economic system of capitalism, whose advent underwrote the Industrial Revolution, is only temporarily solved by adding more Lebensraum and exploitable resources. The solution to earth’s problems in 2010 seem in hindsight a metaphor for the planned exploration and resource extraction within the solar system and the asteroid belt, the setting for the television series The Expanse and an important assumption in Aaron Bastani’s manifesto, Fully Automated Luxury Communism. In this case, the imagined solutions to our real problems amount to either faith (indistinguishable from the Christian’s that all works out in God’s plan for humankind) and/or more of the (doomed) same.

In both fact and fiction, then, the UFO and ET appear within the horizon of, and expressing, the existential crises of our time, solving by means of their superiour technology the dire problems the development and deployment of our own have brought to pass. The human being, moreover, plays a singular, special role:  the ufonauts spontaneously recognize homo sapiens as their earthly counterpart among all the other species of life on earth, because of a shared Promethean character, due either to their having implanted it in us or to its being natural to intelligent life:  intelligence implies tool-use, which is merely nascent technology. In the real world, even in arguments offered for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), the mere fact of an existing, vastly more advanced technological civilization is evidence that ours can navigate the impasse that threatens to destroy our own, either by following their example or, as in the cinematic examples above, through their direct intervention.

It is precisely, however, the way ET mirrors ourselves, is a projection of ourselves, that gives the game away and reveals an important, if not the primary way, the UFO mythology works in society at large. As I have argued repeatedly and at length here and elsewhere, positing anthropomorphic intelligence, tool-use and technology as natural (universal) propensities to life-as-such is to treat as universal one very geographically and historically local and contingent social formation, namely that of the so-called “First” or “developed world”. This megalomaniacal projection of the aleatoric trajectory of one portion of the population of one form of life on earth finds a mythical legitimation in, for example, the book of Genesis wherein God creates Man in His own image and a science-fictional one in the universe of 2001 and 2010 wherein an extraterrestrial agent plays both a Promethean and parental role. In either case the destiny of humankind is imagined to be fated, necessary, and, divinely or otherwise, ordained.

The solutions to humanity’s problems proposed in both The Day the Earth Stood Still and 2010 drive this point home all the harder. Either humanity and all traces of it need disappear, or its technology must cease operating, or it must stay the course. None of these are workable. This apparent impasse however results from the assumed inalterability of the status quo:  the unspoken (because unspeakable) solution is social change. As Fredric Jameson put it so well:  “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” In its affirmation of existing society, in both its factual and fictive forms the UFO-as-a-sign functions ideologically, maintaining the status quo by occluding the possibility of imagining that things might be otherwise.

Ironically, cinematic pop culture performed this ideology critique already in 1988, in John Carpenter’s They Live!. In this film, the earth has already been colonized by a malevolent alien race that maintains its power by means of a technology that creates an illusory world, that of North America in the late twentieth century. The protagonist has his eyes opened to this reality when he dons a pair of sun glasses with the power to reveal the subliminal messages of advertising and entertainment, etc. that keep humanity in its virtual chains. The deliciousness of this plot is double: the capitalist ruling class is shown “in reality” to be a repulsive, cowardly alien race, thereby inverting the motif of the ET-as-benevolent-saviour in Jung, the Contactees, and 2001 and 2010.

[Interested parties are invited to hear philosopher Slavoj Žižek present his reading of They Live! as ideology critique in his own, inimitable manner!]

Because the UFO mythology is both ubiquitous and liminal, the actual percentage of the population that might admit to consuming either documentary or fictional UFO material is beside the point. The myth is “in the air”, vaguely familiar to everyone, but hardly considered by anyone, a status that enables it to function just below and at the edges of conscious thought. When it does intrude on consciousness, as either fact or fiction, the UFO-as-sign mirrors back to us after its fashion not an Otherness but an insidious Identity. It signifies in this way through no fault of its own; a mirror can only reflect what is in front of it, and, in this case, that is the world capitalism and technology, industrial or otherwise, have made. That the UFO should appear in this way, enlisted in the maintenance of an ecocidal order, is a crime against humanity in particular and life in general, that something that should be out of this world and therefore throwing that world into relief, estranging it through difference, revealing it in all its contingency and alterability, becomes something pitifully, pathetically human, all-too-human.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Unreal Reality and Real Unreality of the UFO: redux, or “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate…”

There has been lately, understandably, some miscomprehension about what I’m up to here at Skunkworks or what I’m on about in my comments at other ufological blogs (mainly UFO Conjectures). The Anomalist (31 July 2019) takes my critique of the view that for some ufophiles fragments of UFOs function like sacred relics of old as turning the question of recent claims made by To The Stars Academy that it has acquired unidentifiable metamaterials “into a philosophical disquisition”, while Rich Reynolds insists on believing I’m trying to “use the ‘techniques’ of philosophical thought to get at the UFO problem” (which for him is only the question of the reality and nature of UFOs).

One of the earliest posts here was titled “Concerning the Unreal Reality and Real Unreality of the UFO”. There I distinguished Scientific Ufology (concerned with the reality, truth, and nature of the UFO) from what I called “Phenomenological” Ufology (that brackets the question of UFO Reality to focus on the UFO Effect, the varied and various ways the UFO is meaningful in culture). The discerning reader will grasp that the latter includes a study of the former, i.e., Scientific Ufology, as an activity carried out by human beings, is one aspect of the UFO Effect, but, more compellingly that the attempt to grasp the reality of the UFO comes up empty-handed, while holding the question of UFO Reality in abeyance is rewarded with a plethora of concrete phenomena for investigation.

It was of course Carl Jung whose own justly-famous thoughts on flying saucers as A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies operated under just this distinction. Since, the UFO-as-cultural-effect has been the subject of study from a wide range of disciplines, from what today is most readily recognizable as Cultural Studies (including anthropology and sociology) in works such as M. J. Banias’ The UFO People, Bridget Brown’s They Know Us Better Than We Know Ourselves:  The History and Politics of Alien Abduction, Jodi Dean’s Aliens in America, Brenda Denzler’s The Lure of the Edge, and the scholars collected in Deborah Battaglia’s ET Culture, to Folklore (e.g., Thomas Bullard’s The Myth and Mystery of the UFOs and David Clarke’s How UFOs Conquered the World:  The History of a Modern Myth), Religious Studies (e.g., the scholars represented in James R. Lewis’ The Gods Have Landed:  New Religions from Other Worlds, Christopher Partridge’s UFO Religions, or Diana G. Tumminia’s Alien Worlds:  Social and Religious Dimensions of Extraterrestrial Contact, the dual-authored The Supernatural:  Why the Unexplained is Real by Whitley Strieber and Jeffrey J. Kripal, or the single-authored volumes Aliens Adored:  Raël’s UFO Religion by Susan Palmer or American Cosmic:  UFOs, Religion, Technology by Diane W Pasulka), Art History (e.g., In Advance of the Landing:  Folk Concepts of Outer Space by Douglas Curran and Picturing Extraterrestrials:  Alien Images in Modern Mass Culture by John F. Moffitt), and even Philosophy (e.g., Evolutionary Metaphors:  UFOs, New Existentialism and the Future Paradigm by David J, Moore). Many other approaches and examples are possible.

One might term such studies, variously, “Meta-ufology”, “cultural ufology”, or even “philosophical ufology” if it extends, in the manner of the philosophy of science, to the assumptions and implications in the self-understanding and methodology of Scientific Ufology in particular, and the concepts underwriting or implied by the UFO Effect, in general. Surely, those concerned especially or exclusively with the question of UFO Reality-as-such, as well as the majority of ufophiles or ufomaniacs, will be unmoved and uninterested by the bookshelf I haphazardly list above, but this judgement is hardly any evaluation of the worth of the work. Ironically, not only is Scientific Ufology an object for (let’s call it) Cultural Ufology, i.e., it is subsumed by it, but the cultural ufologist is closer in spirit to the believer, witness or experiencer, as for none of them is the reality of the UFO ever at stake(!).

But most importantly for myself, as any persistent reader of Skunkworks will grasp, it is precisely the teasing and evasive significance of the UFO no less alluring and ungraspable than the thing itself (whatever in fact that may turn out to be) that’s at issue here. Skunkworks is a workshop labouring to design a working version of The Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky (or what the German Romantics called for as “a New Mythology”, or William Burroughs as “a mythology for the Space Age”). As a poet, I look to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, for example, for inspiration, which did for classical mythology what might be accomplished for this one. In the meantime, one can only brainstorm, take notes, draw up blueprints and build working models in the hope that one day to get something off the ground.

You can read a copy of one of the prototypes for this project here, and hear it being performed by the author, here. Others I’ve posted here are readable under the “poems” tag.

 

 

 

 

Banias, Adorno, and UFOs in the news

Among the few ufophiles I engage with, the one easiest to talk to is M. J. Banias. He, like me, is less concerned with the nature, truth or reality of UFOs than with the kind of thinking that goes into that question and with the people who do that thinking (hence the title to his latest book, The UFO People). We might, at times, fundamentally disagree, but at least we’re on the same page.

One thinker we both engage, as far as possible, is Theodor Adorno (if you’re at all acquainted with Adorno’s thought, you’ll know what I mean). Banias brings to bear Adorno’s notes on astrology as it appeared in the American press during his exile in the United States to the analogous case of UFOs in the news today, whether History, Fox, The New York Times, or The Washington Post.

Check out what he’s got to say on the matter. I’ve already registered some of my reservations in the comments. And if what he has to say piques your interest, subscribe to his YouTube channel:  he’s aiming at 1,000 subscribers before the end of June and, last I checked, he’s nearly there.

Anyone with the nerve (or gall) to bring Derrida and Adorno into the conversation about and around UFOs is worth a listen.

1ad86-adorno

Remarks Re: M. J. Banias’ “The UFO Community; a Counter-Cultural Movement”

Over at  Terra Obscura M J Banias finished off 2018 and began 2019 with a bang, probing the nature of the UFO community and the implications of its more-or-less shared beliefs (read Part I here, and Part II here).

The social and political features of the UFO myth is an important topic, one too often overshadowed by speculations around the mystery of the phenomenon itself. Consistent with the intent of Skunkworks, Banias brackets the question of the truth, nature, or being of the UFO phenomenon to inquire into its, here, social meaning.

And it’s the resonance of that topic and approach that inspires my attempts to come to terms with Banias’ thoughts. I must admit up front I find much of what he writes  obscure and his conclusions often unwarranted, but I have done my best to present what I take to be his positions as strongly as I can and to use them more as jumping-off points for further reflection on the matter than as targets of criticism, though I will register my points of disagreement. (I’ll gladly send him my annotated version of his posts on request!).

Banias’ thesis seems to be that the UFO community is a subculture, some of whose defining beliefs are so at odds with mainstream culture they constitute a kind of critique of that culture, making the UFO subculture thereby into a counterculture.

There is a tension in just how the UFO subculture is to be delimited, a tension not without interesting consequences (that I pursue, below). On the one hand, the subculture is nebulous and ill-defined, to the point that it is “difficult to pin down, [difficult] to be able to clearly ascertain who is a member and who is not,” while, on the other, one can identify certain beliefs with sufficient clarity and force making it possible to claim that this sub/counter-culture “challenges every major established power system” in mainstream culture.

The starkest example in this regard is the belief in nonhuman intelligences, an Alien Other, “whether it be the Greys from Zeta Reticuli, Blue Avians, or a complex and intelligent overarching control system.” The single, and exemplary, example provided are the conclusions John Mack draws from his research into the Alien Abduction phenomenon, that “we participate in a universe or universes that are filled with intelligences from which we have cut ourselves off…”

How is that the Alien Other “challenges every major established power system”? On the one hand, by being above and therefore free to ignore political and legal orders, national sovereignty or laws that protect the person or property:

The UFO as object does not obey laws regarding sovereign airspace or national borders, nor do the extraterrestrial beings apply for visas before landing on foreign soil to scoop up plant samples, mutilate cows, or abduct people.

Moreover, “the events that seem to present themselves throughout the UFO and contactee narrative indicate extreme technological and/or intellectual abilities,” i.e., the UFO and ET are possessed of a technology and intelligence or wisdom that equally ignore our present physics and philosophy in their transcending them. And underwriting these challenges are, perhaps more importantly, the ways the UFO and the Alien Other are an affront to the mainstream view of reality, which, more reflexively that reflectively, denies their reality in defense of its own.

What’s important here is that, regardless of the ontological status of the Alien Other, the very idea proposes that our consensus reality, the self-evident validity of our social order, of our scientific knowledge of nature, and of our understanding of ourselves as human beings and of our place in these orders, is relative and questionable, i.e., in a certain sense, unreal. Of course, what gives the Alien Other this critical purchase is its possessing precisely an ontological ambiguity, an uncertainty as to whether it is merely a fictional delusion or not, its being, in this sense, mythological. That such phenomena may be true in a manner so at odds with what passes for the way things are is what irritates orthodox minds to react with such violent, irrational denial in place of sobre, inquisitive curiosity.

In some regards, Banias is in good company in holding these views, if I have understood him correctly. In terms of the challenges observations of UFOs or UAPs pose to our current knowledge of physics, no less than Jacques Vallee and collaborator Eric Davis state in a paper published 2003 that “continuing study of reported UAP [Unidentifed Aerial Phenomena] events is important: It may provide us with an existence theorem for new models of physical reality.” An important caveat, however, is that UAP or AAP (Anomalous Aerial Phenomena) can challenge our current physics only if they are in fact real phenomena whose behaviour and characteristics are at odds with our theories.

When in comes to potential social repercussions, Banias makes a strong claim:  “alien visitation…would call into question the concept of nationalism, state loyalty, and even citizenship itself. It would call into question the very nature of society and culture.” Ronald Reagan in a famous speech delivered before the UN in 1987 would seem to echo this sentiment:  “…how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.” But, in this case, unlike that of the challenges AAP pose to our physics, widespread public acceptance of an Alien presence, i.e., the mere belief in its reality and its thereby becoming part of our consensus reality, would be sufficient to catalyze the changes Banias imagines, if his claim is true in the first place. Those members of the UFO subculture worried about a false-flag alien invasion staged to usher in a New World Order would, I imagine, agree (not that I take Banias to be among their ranks).

And it’s just at this point that the tensions in Banias’ definition of the UFO subculture become salient. Who might be said to be a member, and why? Membership seems to be, to borrow Banias’s expression, a question of ideology, here, what someone thinks. After addressing the difficulty in delimiting membership, Banias goes on to essay some tentative commonalities:

…one common motif that runs through these communal moments is the notion of the extraterrestrial, the alien Other. Regardless of one’s personal beliefs regarding the notion of aliens, the history and mythology of the UFO narrative has fused the ET construct to the subculture….one ought to be clear on the fact that not everyone in the UFO community interprets the idea of the alien in the same way…

Notions, beliefs, discourses (such as history and mythology), and interpretations are all, in what I take to be Banias’ sense, or at least one of his senses, ideological. Membership in the subculture, then, depends upon one’s beliefs and concerns.

Banias is at great pains to argue that this set of beliefs and concerns is marginal to mainstream society; how else could it be counter-cultural? However, because, I would argue, of its ideological character, an interest in, fascination with, or concern over the Alien Other is, in fact, ubiquitous to, at least, North American society. Banias himself quotes anthropologist Debbora Battaglia in this regard:

…the alien Other is a “lived experience.” It is a construct that is everywhere. The alien, the flying saucer, UFOs, and various other paranormal symbols, appear in film and television, video games, corporate logos, beverage containers, laptop stickers, smartphone cases, and much more. These mythological realities are entrenched in popular culture, and perhaps more interestingly, under the control of human economic and social systems [or at least circulate within these systems…].

If “the alien Other is a ‘lived experience'” in this way, then who counts as a member of the subculture? Those fascinated by the mystery, who consume the videos, movies, books (all the commodities Battaglia lists above), who maybe attend conferences, whose obsessions and beliefs and products are too flaky for the mainstream? Those innocents whom the mystery touches, witnesses and Experiencers? Those who study the mystery in orthodox manners (e.g., David M. Jacobs as a historian or John E. Mack as a psychiatrist) or who, like Vallee or other members of the Invisible College, bring to bear the research methods of the physical sciences? Academics and others, like myself, who may not be focused on the UFO mystery itself but are more puzzled by the social phenomenon, from the point of view of religious studies, sociology, cultural studies, etc.? Members of the police, armed forces, and intelligence communities who themselves are either Experiencers or are tasked with dealing with the mystery or even using the mystery for their own ends, (e.g. the infamous Richard Doty?). Journalists who investigate and write on the mystery, whether a one-off article or a book or books? And, further out, what of those fans of UFO/ET themed fictions, regardless of media, e.g., the X-phile or even Trekkie? And those artists who produce the variegated UFO/ET themed works the members of the “subculture” consume? The subculture seems to run deep in the mainstream.

Nevertheless, one marginal, UFO subculture is, I think, definable, and amenable to much of what Banias says. Let me call its  members here for convenience “ET Fundamentalists”, those who believe UFOs are real vehicles for really existing nonhuman intelligences (Alien Others). Like their Christian counterparts, ET Fundamentalists share a core of beliefs that separates them from the nonbelievers in mainstream society but whose finer points are subject to differences in interpretation to the point of violent disagreement among believers. This space between the core beliefs and their nuances Banias, following Lorin Cutts, calls “the mythological zone,” which opens the way to schisms, sects, and denominations in fundamentalist Christianity or different “ideologies” in the UFO subculture. Both believe in a cosmos inhabited by nonhuman intelligences (angels and demons or Space Brothers or Greys) that take an active interest in the fate of individual human beings and the ultimate fate of humankind. Where Christians believe in the power of prayer and the suspension of the laws of nature (miracles), the ET fundamentalist believes in telepathy or channeling and the transcendence of our understanding of physics by ET technology. Both engage in a variety of pseudoscientific pursuits that mimic and sometimes engage with mainstream science:  think how similar much of ufology is to Creation Science that seeks to prove the truth of some particular, “literal” reading of the Bible. One might object that, where Christianity is essentially a religion of revelation, much of the fascination with the UFO is inspired by its mystery, but, for the ET Fundamentalist, the strip-tease of Disclosure takes the place of revelation, both the Christian and ET versions moving toward their own versions of Apocalypse, whether the millennium following the return of Christ at the End of Time, or the era “After Disclosure” of the truth and nature of the ET presence. Both subcultures create their own institutions, congregations or conferences, churches or groups, media producers and publishers. Nor should it need much pointing out how much intersection there has been between these two groups, whether Christian Fundamentalist interpretations of the UFO phenomenon or taking up of Christian themes and materials by the UFO subculture, e.g., the Ancient Astronaut interpretation of Biblical events that has been part of ufology from very nearly the beginning. Indeed, the parallels between American Fundamentalist Christianity and the American UFO subculture of ET Fundamentalists and their crossover suggest fertile ground for research by sociologists, scholars of religion, or cultural theorists.

This central problem with Banias’ essay, the character and scope of the UFO subculture, rises, in part, from how he (mis)applies (or so it seems to me) the cultural theory of Dick Hebdidge and his work Subculture:  The Meaning of Style (1979). Simply, Banias’ appropriation elides the materialist aspects of Hebdige’s analysis—class, race, socioeconomic conditions, etc.—in favour of the “ideological” (notions, beliefs, interpretations), which is why, once he brings to bear the work of more materialist anthropologists and political scientists, Battaglia and Jodi Dean, the subculture bleeds out into the mainstream.

That the beliefs of ET Fundamentalists are at odds with mainstream culture is well-taken, but the relation between this “subculture” (that awaits a rigorous characterization) is more nuanced than the ways it might be said to be marginal, critical, or counter. Indeed, mainstream culture takes up, envelops, or includes the subculture variously:  as kooky but harmless, as a market for goods and services, as personally dangerous (e.g., Heaven’s Gate), as a threat to national security (both because of the curiosity of its members and how membership might be used to cloak espionage), as a system of beliefs to be experimented with and perhaps exploited, etc. That the mythology, whether restricted or general, can function as a kind of ideology-critique (as I’ve outlined, above) is not uninteresting, but it need do more than merely contradict and thereby relativize mainstream notions (any fiction can do this); it needs to reveal as fictions those truths the powerful maintain as natural and given (“reified”), truths that serve to maintain power and privilege as natural and unalterable, e.g.. Margaret Thatcher’s quip that “There is no such thing as society.”

Indeed, as I’ve long maintained, the UFO myth tacitly repeats and thereby maintains and entrenches the reigning ideology of present-day, advanced societies, instrumental reason if not the commodity form. Banias himself seems to unwittingly agree when he writes in the concluding remarks to his posts: “To look deeply into the UFO phenomenon…we realize that we are staring into a mirror.” When we behold the humanoid-all-too-humanoid ETs and their technology, we do indeed gaze at distorted versions of ourselves. And it is in the failure to recognize ourselves in this distorted form that reifies, makes immediate and unconscious, everything we project there.

For all my points of disagreement with Banias, his brief foray opens interesting and rewarding vistas. The sociology of the community of UFO believers and the more general semiotics of the UFO and ET as a sign in society in general are fields yet to be surveyed with sufficient thoroughness and rigor. The UFO is, further, and more importantly, a site of social struggle, between experience and authority (witnesses and experiencers vs. skeptics and debunkers, official and unofficial), competing claims to knowledge and legitimacy (i.e. the UAP and nonhuman intelligence as topics of institutionally sanctioned research), access to information and political suppression or disinformation, and much more, all informed, if not formed, by class, gender, race, etc. Here, the analogy is not so much to Plato’s Cave as it is to scientists’ dismissing peasants’ claims to have witnessed meteors and finding meteorites. Let the prospecting begin!

truth