TV Shows and Why We Can't Shake the ET Hypothesis
I recently watched an episode of “UFOs: The Lost Evidence”. For the uninitiated, it is a resurrection of the typical UFO TV show, with the main differentiator being that many of the cases, images, videos or audio “have never been seen before on television.” It’s your typical UFO ‘expert’ interviews blended with recreations and stock footage.
As I was watching the show, I began to consider other cable shows regarding the UFO question (Hangar 1, UFOs Declassified, UFO Hunters, etc.), as well as the general Ufological ideologies present among those outside of the UFO discourse who look in from time to time. These shows, along with various other forms of popular media, typically revolve around the UFO phenomenon being caused by aliens from another planet. The extraterrestrial hypothesis basically pervades the UFO question to those in the mainstream. In other words, those who do not actively engage in UFO discourse regularly, but are ‘tourists,’ have a coerced notion that the UFO debate primarily concerns otherworldly aliens.
UFO discourse and Ufology paint themselves, to the broader culture via TV shows and other mainstream media, as being primarily the study of a phenomenon caused by aliens from another world. While some in the UFO discourse also share similar ideologies, there are many others who oppose a hypothesis regarding a physical ET from another planet who travels about in interstellar craft.
The UFO discourse is a small field made up by a collection of fringe dwellers, who, in order to pull in future community members and to bring awareness of the topic, require these shows to act as bridges from mainstream culture to the subculture. The bizarre twist here is that these shows portray an oddball subculture of ‘believers’ in aliens, which further pushes the discourse itself into the outer edges of popular culture. These programs enshrine the concept that the UFO topic is a fringe one, yet are required by the UFO discourse to spread its message beyond the current subculture.
To add to this ‘catch 22’ is the addiction to the ET hypothesis which is not really representative of the UFO discourse as a whole. The UFO discourse requires these shows, and continues to impress upon them an ideological construct that aliens are somehow involved in the phenomena. However, some of the most respected members of the UFO discourse, such as Vallée, would argue that the extraterrestrial hypothesis is not the answer to the UFO question.
We arrive at a cultural oddity. An assortment of television shows that solidify one hypothesis within UFO discourse, and all the while, continue to enshrine the topic as one for the outer rim of social and cultural ideology. However, these shows ensure the survival of the discourse. They maintain the UFO topic within the mainstream cultural milieu.
This begs a question; why do cable networks and TV producers focus only on the ET hypothesis, when the UFO discourse is a chorus of many different hypotheses as to the ‘source’ of the phenomenon?
One can imagine the hesitancy of many TV show producers to engage in a show concerning the more metaphysical or mystical sides of the UFO debate. Aliens are already a cultural icon, an aspect of our shared mythos, archetypal, and generate a deep seated anxiety. From a cultural perspective, dealing with mystical beings, and non corporeal intelligences that exist in some metaphysical ether is difficult to consume and process. They are not visible. They do not exist physically like we do, and they do not generate discomfort among broader society and culture. Extraterrestrials, on the other hand, do.
The aspect of a physical being, or an intelligence that can take on physical form, and interact with humans on a one on one level plays at every instinctual fear we possess. Within the physical alien is the human self, the ultimate Other, the chaos of humanity that exists outside of the cultural norms of a given terrestrial society. They are like us in that they have some form of agency. Everything else is different. They are unreadable, unknowable, and they force us to dive deep into our own psyche and extract those pieces of us that we find frightening. It is not that ‘they’ are evil or good (by human standards), it is that they live outside of that duality, and that is scary.
It blurs the line in our minds as to whether we are the predator or the prey. It challenges our place in the world, the place we know and can easily negotiate, and throws all that out the window. It puts into our collective mind the question of, “do we actually have the power in this situation?” It dispels the illusions that humanity is the sole proprietor of its own destiny, agenda, and environment.
The beauty of anxiety is that it is typically addictive. We enjoy the feeling of fear. This is why movies like Armageddon (1998), Deep Impact (1998), and The Day After Tomorrow (2004) are so popular. Sigmund Freud and Wilhelm Stekel posited that we all possess a ‘death drive.’ We all fear our own demise and loss of power, but we fettishize it too. We are drawn to the idea of it.
If we really examine the constant tropes of Ufological television shows, they carry with them tones and motifs that push a feeling of anxiety. As the narrators often ask, “what do these UFOs want?” This question is essentially the same question the ET hypothesis asks, “what do they want and why are they here?” If you really think about it, the answer is significantly less frightening than the question.
Finally, the ET hypothesis establishes a clear dichotomy; us and them. It retains ‘the self’ as a social subject within the mechanisms of a capitalist global culture and framework. The ET hypothesis allows us to continue dwelling within our collective cultural illusion. While a public and open ET arrival may shift our cultural landscape to something totally different, that has yet to happen. The mystical approach to the UFO question challenges our current ideological framework regarding power, economics, and politics. It identifies the illusion, and informs its followers that the status quo ideological reality is a falsehood. Mainstream culture is not interested in radical change, and the media, television included, is designed to propagate culture, not challenge it.
The thought that these TV shows are a fundamental part of UFO discourse is undoubtedly making many within the UFO community gag. When these shows air for the first time, Facebook is typically riddled with negative comments. There are concerns over the use of debunked evidence, criticism of the ‘experts’ chosen to be interviewed, and even disapproval for the various UFO incidents and events that get selected for (re)examination (I’m looking at you Roswell…).
That being said, the UFO discourse often demands to be accepted into mainstream culture without success. The cable shows ironically are the only method to achieve that goal. However, with every episode, UFO discourse moves farther and farther away into the cultural fringe.
Archetypes, Tricksters, and Divisions in UFO Discourse
In an April 21st blog post, Jeff Ritzmann wrote,
“Folks have written me asking about the literary Trickster themes and how they play into, or pertain to the phenomenon.
Wikipedia says of literary Tricksters: "In mythology, and in the study of folklore and religion, a Trickster is a character in a story (god, goddess, spirit, man, woman, or anthropomorphisation), which exhibits a great degree of intellect or secret knowledge, and uses it to play tricks or otherwise disobey normal rules and conventional behaviour." Lewis Hyde describes the Trickster as 'boundary crossers'.”
Ritzmann explores the Trickster archetype in this blog post, and its connection to various paranormal phenomena, including that of the UFO. Reading through this article several weeks ago, I was drawn to it again by an interview with Susan Demeter-St. Claire and Greg Bishop on the Radio Misterioso podcast. A day later, I was given the opportunity to preview Seth Breedlove’s The Mothman of Point Pleasant, and as I was watching the documentary, my jaw literally dropped.
Just as the film’s narrator mentioned the name Woodrow Derenberger, the podcast and Ritzmann’s article came rushing into my mind. Just as the main ideas for the blog post you’re reading began to form, I was shown on the screen an animation of the man named Indrid Cold. I had to press Pause. I stood up. I went to have a think outside.
I’ll return to the above point in a moment.
I’ve mentioned before on my blog that there is a divide within UFO discourse. On one pole sits a belief that the UFO narrative stems from scientific nuts and bolts extraterrestrials from other planets. On the other, the UFO and associated events are somehow mystical in nature, an aspect of human consciousness, influenced by some Other (or not), that exists outside of our physical realm. This division, and the debate around it, is old hat. It’s been debated for decades. More importantly, it’s also merged into complex systems of beliefs that tie in both ideologies. Physical and spiritual. Nuts and bolts technology blended with metaphysical states of reality not totally clear to our everyday life.
That being said, the UFO community has yet to find consensus. It continues to engage in this exophilosophical debate, citing evidence, cases, incidents, events, and various other forms of data that attempt to prove “the reality of the situation.” This debate is not a bad thing. It simply is part of the Ufological discourse.
Back to Indrid Cold. In 1966, a sewing machine salesman by the name of Woodrow Derenberger was driving down Interstate 77 near the famous Point Pleasant, in his truck when he noticed a large object move past his vehicle and land on the road. Pulling up to the large object, the shape resembling “an old fashioned kerosene lamp chimney,” he witnessed a man exit the craft and approach him. Wearing a strange greenish metallic topcoat, and a strange grin, the odd man introduced himself telepathically to Derenberger as Indrid Cold.
The story of Indrid Cold is an old one. It was first featured in John Keel’s The Mothman Prophecies, and received significant attention from the media. You can hear an interview with Derenberger here (#47). The man even went on to write a book about Cold, called the Visitors from Lanulos, and the two allegedly enjoyed multiple visits together.
Keel himself went on to claim that he received many phone calls while investigating the Mothman legend from a person said to be Indrid Cold. This story, this very bizarre story, leads us down an interesting path in UFO discourse. Many other people came to have experiences with a strange man bearing a huge grin, and their tales vary from stark contrast to identical similarity with the Derenberger event.
Before us lies odd situation, one that calls into question the Ufological divide that exists between scientific and the mystical. What is the difference between the two? What series of arguments can one make to suggest one side is right, and the other is wrong?
The sides would both use scientific language, such as “look at the evidence” or “use logic and reason” to establish their cases. They would dive into the realms of psychology, citing deep seeded genetic archetypes established by evolution. They dive into religion, Buddhist and Hindu philosophies, and even provide historical evidence to prove that the UFO phenomenon is spiritual or scientific, or some mix of the two. They would provide big data, UFO sighting information, shapes, sizes, colours, and the rest. Whatever form the debate takes, it will ultimately run into the ever present brick wall; what differentiates the mystical from the scientific? What objective fact present in UFO discourse will shout, “Eureka!” and end the debate?
Nothing. There is no fact. No objective truth. That is the point of Indrid Cold. No member within the UFO community can claim with any objective truth that one Ufological event occurred, and the other did not. There is no fundamental difference between a witness seeing odd lights in the sky defying the laws of physics, and one man on a lonely stretch of highway bumping into a grinning man in a shiny suit. What is the difference between twenty people staring up at a strange disc hovering over Chicago’s O’Hare Airport in 2006 and twenty people having telepathic conversations with a man named Cold over several decades? Even the physical trace evidence can be called into question, is typically inconclusive, and is often fraught with issues concerning provenance and legitimacy. Does our interpretation of truth simply boil down to what sounds less crazy, and what fits more nicely into our consensus reality? It can be argued that both events are equally mind boggling. Yet, what evidence do we have for either case that proves one is true beyond the shadow of a doubt? What evidence exists that, without question, proves there is a UFO phenomenon, and it is caused by X?
Jeff Ritzmann’s definition of the archetypal trickster as that which “disobeys the rules and conventional behaviour” is the cornerstone to the UFO question. The debate rages around the extraterrestrial hypothesis, co-creation, mysticism, the psychosocial hypothesis, and many others because the UFO itself is that which “disobeys the rules.”
I do not claim that the Indrid Cold case is legitimate or a hoax. I honestly don’t care. What does matter is the symbolism of Indrid Cold, and that these three events lined up for me to write this post. Cold did not literally visit me in my basement as I watched Breedlove’s film that evening, but in a way, he did “tell” me something as his eerie visage appeared on the screen before me.
He showed me, as Ritzmann says, to explore the idea of being a “boundary crosser.” I do not believe in one UFO reality over another, and the luxury of my work within UFO discourse is that very freedom. Critical theory and philosophy allow me to dwell in many thought worlds, in the various systems of truth, and there are essentially no limits to logic experiments of the mind. This is the beauty of working with, what many have come to call, “exophilosophy.”
Some will argue that these thought experiments are useless, and only add to the “pile of bullshit” that is UFO discourse. Perhaps. To those who make that argument, I would ask them to provide tangible evidence that their scientific or mystical approach has made any headway. The filing cabinets and internet databases of sighting reports, cold case files, rehashed UFO events, charts, tables, declassified documents, hypnotherapy evaluations, psychological reports, and testimonies from ‘credible’ witnesses are all well and good, but they still form one big pile...and I don’t have to tell you what it all smells like to me. The razor cuts both ways.
Whatever is responsible for the UFO phenomenon, much like the trickster, it seems to sow chaos. Much like Derenberger on that night in November, we find ourselves in an unsettling place trying to figure out what is going on. As every second passes, we are left with only more questions, and significantly fewer answers. Praying that some light can be shed on this bizarre moment, we are greeted by a strange grinning man named Cold.
A Review of Seth Breedlove's New Documentary
Seth Breedlove’s The Mothman of Point Pleasant opens with an eerie approach to the doorway of an old abandoned TNT bunker. It is a dark place, a silent place, a solid building constructed by men in a bygone age and destroyed by time and mother nature. The open door beckons the viewer to enter this shadow world, but the courage never musters.
Breedlove’s documentary about the Mothman takes us to that doorway, and like his other three films, dares us to enter knowing full well we never will. The Mothman, and the other mysterious creatures of paranormal folklore, dwell inside that shadowy place, often escaping from it into our world where countless people see and interact with them. However, their world is not our world, and we are reminded of that fact by the haunting voice of Lyle Blackburn, the film’s narrator.
The documentary is spooky and beautiful, with a chilling original soundtrack by Brandon Dalo, that stalks the viewer as they travel down the banks of the Ohio River and into Point Pleasant. Breedlove provides a chronological timeline that follows the sightings that pepper the 1960’s and truly culminate in 1966 and 1967. The collection of interviews provide great insight into the events, and draw the viewer ever deeper into the world of the winged monster. It is intelligent, concise, and does not waste time on tropes. It is authentic and thought provoking.
For fans of the Mothman, this film is essential viewing. It offers a significant amount of original newspaper articles, audio interviews, and wonderfully animated recreations. The documentary provides varying interpretations of the Mothman, and its identity. However, it gives no special treatment to any of the theories; a large bird, a depressed and sad otherworldly being, or an evil demon- the documentary does not seek that answer. Rather, this is a documentary about the people who were affected by the Mothman, their stories and their lives after their sightings, and after the tragedy of the collapse of the Silver Bridge.
Where this documentary truly shines is the encapsulation of all the paranormal and strange events that occurred in and around Point Pleasant during the mid to late 1960’s. Breedlove goes beyond the large bird sightings. He treats the viewer to the various UFO reports, close encounters with the grinning man named Indrid Cold, and other strange happenings that hit the area like a wave. He builds a powerful case that the men, women, and children of Point Pleasant were not only being watched by a pair of glowing red eyes, but by the shadows themselves, ever present, reaching out from their obscure and bizarre world. In the film’s opening, Blackburn refers to this collection of strange events as a “carnival of horrors” and Breedlove expertly crafts that notion into the film.
The documentary does not scare or shock. It does something much worse to the viewer. It unsettles them. It creates a picture of the world that is not quite right, awry, and exposed to a thing we’ve come to call the Mothman, and all the strangeness that it brings.
For fans of anything paranormal, weird or strange, this is a must watch. Click here to check it out.