An Open Letter to the Producers of UFO TV Shows and Documentaries
To all television show producers and documentary filmmakers who create and produce content concerning UFOs; I am officially putting you on notice. Like it or not, you are the cultural gatekeepers to the discourse that surrounds the UFO phenomenon. The consistent ideological push for extraterrestrials and aliens from other planets as being the source of the UFO phenomenon is old, tired, and, much like a Hopkinsville goblin, needs a good shotgun blast to head. To all you folks at the History Channel or OLN, or any production company for that matter; it might be time to explore other avenues, as your work does not adequately or properly portray UFO discourse, nor the phenomenon itself.
In previous posts, I have explored the construct of the extraterrestrial hypothesis when it comes to the UFO question, and attempted to posit a few philosophical points which problematize it. I wish to explore the construct of the ET hypothesis further, and the inherent issues which are generated by its constant use in media, primarily, UFO documentaries and reality television shows.
To begin, we must appreciate that the vast majority of people who exist outside of the UFO subculture have not done appropriate research or investigations of UFO sightings or events. Those within the mainstream cultural milieu only experience the UFO phenomenon via television or film, and apart from being occasional tourists within UFO community circles, consume the messages within those programs wholeheartedly without further reading. In other words, “a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.”
The women and men who produce and create these programs, such as Ancient Aliens, UFOs: The Lost Evidence, Hangar 1, and UFO Hunters, just to name a few are, in effect, the gatekeepers of the phenomenon to the broader popular culture. Their messages permeate the mainstream cultural fabric and generate the ideological illusion that the people who study, research, and investigate the UFO phenomenon all believe that aliens are visiting Earth in their technologically superior space ships. Any producer or editor worth their salt should know this is an oversimplification of the phenomenon and the discourse.
The German philosopher Theodor Adorno, in his essay, The Stars Down to Earth, explores the influence of belief in the paranormal upon modern society. While his focus is on astrology, New Age beliefs, and occultism, it is easy to bootstrap the extraterrestrial hypothesis and the belief in aliens to his philosophical framework. He suggests that modern day belief in the supernatural, and by extension, extraterrestrials, is a “secondary superstition” (49). He writes,
“They [the public] participate largely through the mediation of magazines and newspapers...and frequently accept such information as reliable sources of advice rather than pretend to have any personal basis for their belief. The type of people we are concerned with take astrology [or UFOs and extraterrestrials for that matter] for granted, much like psychiatry, symphony concerts or political parties; they accept it because it exists, without much reflection, provided only that their own psychological demands somehow correspond to the offer. (49)”
In other words, the vast majority of people interpret the UFO phenomenon in a ‘secondary’ way, not directly, such as seeing a UFO or having a close encounter, but via documentaries, television shows, YouTube channels, etc. that portray those events.
“...the individual’s own primary experience with the occult, whatever its psychological meaning and roots or its validity, rarely, if ever, enter the social phenomenon to which our studies are devoted. Here the occult appears rather institutionalized, objectified and, to a large extent, socialized....people responding to the stimuli we are here investigating seem in a way ‘alien’ to the experience on which they claim their decisions are based. (49)”
Adorno points out that the effect of mediating the paranormal via popular media sanitizes the phenomenon. It becomes part of the social and cultural system of ideologies, and simplified in order to be consumed by popular audiences.
The problem lies in this process of negotiation into mainstream ideologies. While many would argue that it is good to bring the message to the people, that is a flawed argument. The UFO phenomenon as presented via popular media, particularly on television, is inauthentic. It is an altered message, removed from its genuine state, washed and stripped of its originality, and sanitized for palatability. The result is that mainstream culture interprets the UFO phenomenon, and the subculture which studies and engages that phenomenon, as being ‘alien.’ It becomes a sideshow of freaks, rather than a portrayal of human beings who have experienced something anomalous and strange.
Furthermore, and perhaps more problematic, is that this oversimplified message only pushes UFO discourse further into the fringes of culture, reinforcing the already established taboo. Rather than portraying the UFO subculture as a community of people with varying beliefs, hypotheses, and rationales that continuously debate with one another, the media presents a single interpretation; an interpretation that forces the mainstream public to assume all who are interested in the topic believe in alien beings from other planets. Much like any group of people with disenfranchised belief systems, the mainstream ‘alienates’ the members of the UFO subculture. It paints them with the brush of the “Other.”
It is easier to taboo and alienate an idea when it appears unified. Take, for example, the all too common, and discriminatory, portrayal of Islam in the media. The current ideological bend is to portray the entirety of the Islamic religion as being linked to fundamentalism and terrorism. This ‘othering’ of Islam creates an attitude, a feeling, an ideology, within mainstream society that all Muslims are somehow linked to extremism. This is obviously an absurd and abhorrent construct purposefully designed to dehumanize a certain group for political and economic gain (primarily to justify continued military and corporate footholds in the Middle East).
This tactic is ultimately used on many groups, and while the severity of Islamophobia, and other religious and racial based discrimination is much greater than the alienation of the UFO subculture, the end result is the same.
It leaves the UFO subculture having to defend itself against a powerful ideological mechanism. The power of TV networks and production companies greatly outmatches the individuals within the community who interpret the phenomenon from varying places. In other words, the voices of actual members of the UFO community, and the people who have had authentic experiences with the phenomenon itself, are unable to have their voices heard when it counters the ideological framework portrayed by producers, editors, directors, and the corporate production companies that fund them.
While I do not have an answer on how to fix this, I would begin by asking those production companies to adjust the message and look carefully at the stories they tell. However, this is like asking the fox to watch the chicken coop. Rather, the UFO community should push its own members who appear on these programs to tell authentic and varying stories. This is no easy task. As with any field of study, one has to deal with ego and the desire for one to ‘make a name for themselves.’ However, it must be made perfectly clear that there are no ‘experts’ in the UFO field, and those who sit on their Ufological pedestals are only there because the community has placed them there. As the philosopher Thomas Hobbes reminds his readers, the collective is the true “Leviathan” ready and able at a moment's notice to depose anyone who opposes them.
Philosophy aside, one must ask themselves what truths they create by the stories they tell. When producing a television show or documentary about the UFO phenomenon, or anything for that matter, are these men and women duty bound to tell the whole story, no matter how nuanced or complex, or just a piece of it? Is omission a lie in this case?
This is not easy, I understand that. However, I challenge those behind these programs to explore the many variations of the phenomenon, and that the subculture that generates the UFO discourse does not wholeheartedly buy into one single theory. I challenge the production companies to tell these other stories, and to push for honesty rather than the lining of corporate pockets. Finally, I’d ask that the directors, writers, and creators of these programs do their research, and actually have a legitimate desire to understand the content of the discourse, and the people who engage with it. UFO discourse is complex, awkward, absurd, rich, and beautiful.
On a personal note, these shows are what got me interested in UFOs as a teenager, and I know they are necessary. If you are spending significant time and treasure in the production of a program to explore the subject, you must do so with love and honesty, otherwise, stay the hell away from it.
Continue the conversation below. What do you think of current UFO TV and Documentaries? What would you rather see? Are we running over the same old ground, or are these shows essential to the survival of 'Ufology?'
Terra Obscura is proud to welcome its first guest contributor. While this blog has traditionally been more focused on the philosophical aspects of UFO discourse, this article takes on a political and cultural tone which fits into the general mandate of Terra Obscura. The views of this post are not necessarily the views of the Terra Obscura blog nor its owner.
-MJ Banias, Curator
Human behavior sometimes takes us on unexpected journeys. While we like to consider ourselves rational beings, our actions often indicate otherwise. A perfect example of this has been the populist wave that has swept across America over the past decade, culminating (or at least burgeoning) with the election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States.
However, no matter which end of the political spectrum you are on, it is clear something is amiss. If you come from the Left, you are likely wondering why so many people would vote for someone whose policies are very much out of touch with what we know to be true about modern day governments, science and economics, and who also supports bigotry and prejudice as part and parcel of American rhetoric. Supporters of the administration from the Right, though, are equally flummoxed, for Trump seems virtually incapable of putting through his agenda despite a majority in the House and the Senate, and any attempt at forming policy is being blocked by investigations into collusion with Russia, or, as these individuals would put it, by unfair media treatment and “fake news.”
It doesn’t really matter who’s correct in this situation, though. Both sides can agree something isn’t right. While many would like to simply chalk this phenomenon up to tense times brought on by decades of income inequality, labor commodification and pro-corporate/pro-wealthy policies further entrenching these unfavorable conditions, this might be denying a more profound truth. The government has been engaged in covert actions almost directly against the will of the people for decades (supporting coups throughout Latin America, fighting needless wars, negotiating free trade agreements that offer little benefit to the average American businessman, etc.), so it is not a total leap to think someone else is calling the shots. If we entertain for a moment the idea of a co-creation hypothesis, it is well within the realm of possibility that some extraterrestrial body is working behind the scenes to manipulate reality without us even knowing it. Let’s travel down the path this curious thought presents and see if we can’t detect evidence of alien manipulation of the U.S. government.
If extraterrestrials were in fact working within the United States government, this would mean they have made their way to Earth with the intention of colonization and conquest. Since the formation of the U.S. in 1776, expansion has been at the center of government policy. Manifest Destiny dominated much of the 19th century, and this exacerbated slavery-driven sectionalism, resulting in the Civil War, which consolidated power in the hands of the federal government. From here, the reinstatement of the Central Bank and the establishment of the federal income tax in 1913 gave the government, and the aliens, the means to manipulate large groups of people, accumulate resources and entrench themselves as the world super power. This is a position that after WWII would only intensify. What has happened since has been a systematic takeover by U.S.-based ideologies, largely free-market capitalism and liberal democracy, which are both incredibly effective ways to
implement large-scale control. This is because they provide acceptable levels of micro-level freedoms while providing governing bodies with tools to carry out macro-level manipulation.
This strategy would make sense. Any outright declaration of war from an alien entity would have instigated a more unified response from humanity. Instead, by assuming control of a young country, securing its hold of vast resources and using these resources to establish a world order relatively easy to manipulate through the control of capital flows and communication is a much more subtle and effective way of gaining control over the entire planet. Additionally, this type of “slow-play” conquest seems more likely since a species with the foresight to seek out new planets to inhabit would be willing to play this century-long waiting game for total control.
We live in a world where wars no longer make much sense, yet they wage on, and this somewhat inexplicable continuation of fighting could be the result of a foreign entity using the world’s most powerful country as a tool for global domination.
This historical-trajectory approach to uncovering alien control of the U.S. government helps set the framework, but looking at some of the more day-to-day activities of those in Washington could help provide further proof. For example, the Snowden leaks proved to both U.S. and global citizens that government surveillance is very real. While government agencies justify this as part of the fight against terrorism, no one really buys this argument. What could possibly be the purpose of spying on individuals and tracking their activity when the vast majority of people do absolutely nothing to threaten state power? There are only two genuine explanations (which complement each other): to learn about human behavior patterns, and to generate fear.
By keeping tabs on people, the government, and those really running it, can gain detailed insight into human desires, fears, interests and habits. This proves to be very valuable at the hour of manipulation, as the government can use this information to direct people’s actions or to advance certain ideologies which serve to help advance their agenda (think Capitalism). While tools exist to help protect against this type of spying, very few people actually use them and mainstream culture considers these individuals, much like those in the UFO/extraterrestrial community, crackpots or paranoid, only furthering the extent and effectiveness of surveillance.
Additionally, the fact the government continues to monitor its citizens after the Snowden leaks made it widely known what is going on shows how it values this tool for creating and inciting fear. By both supporting the terrorist storyline and also by giving people the feeling they are being watched (which has been shown to change how people behave), the government is able to subdue the population and prevent unmanageable dissent. Again, these tools for domination are subtle and play out over time, which is the strategy most likely to be employed by extraterrestrials (as mentioned earlier).
The obvious counterargument to all this is that this slow conquest driven by inexplicable wars, information manipulation and surveillance is simply the result of human vice and folly. Greed, power and xenophobia drive us to do terrible things to each other, but this explanation seems too simple. Plus, the countless sightings of UFOs and other evidence of extraterrestrial life provides too much proof there is some other entity among us, interacting with us or watching us.
However, the co-creation hypothesis, as well as other theories as to why humans choose to reject the reality in which they live, means that even if this was the case, we may never really know for sure. The only thing we can do is speculate and do our best to improve communication and cooperation amongst people so that in the event these foreign entities do indeed reveal themselves, we can be prepared to protect the only home we’ve ever known.
Do you think extraterrestrials are behind the actions of the U.S. government? Why or why not? Join the discussion by leaving a comment below.
About the Author: Sandra O'Hare is a blogger who focuses largely on government surveillance. She used to consider the idea of extraterrestrial interference in human affairs nothing more than a thing of science fiction, but her investigations into the inner workings of the government have led her to believe something else is at play. She now spends most of her time raising awareness and trying to stimulate discussion about this oft-neglected topic.
The Collective Unconscious and Engaging A Non-Human Intelligence
An Exophilsophical Exploration of Alien Existence