I have always been interested in monsters. They are compelling subject matter. Upon them, our various cultures have placed blame and hatred, and we use them to build up societal rules, norms and paradigms. They are our antithesis, that which humans attempt to subvert or kill, yet they are also a reflection of humanity itself, as many famous works of literature remind us, we ourselves suffer from being monsters. Monsters, in every iteration ranging from aliens to yetis, challenge us not only physically, but philosophically.
Two years ago, I was told about the work of Dr. Jeffrey Kripal, a professor of Religion and Philosophy at Rice University. For those who are unaware of his genius, he regularly dabbles in the world of monsters, ghosts and aliens. In an essay from 2014 concerning Whitley Strieber’s famous book Communion, he wrote,
“And what of real monsters? By ‘real’ I do not mean to point to some future biological taxon. I do not think that we will someday shoot a Sasquatch or net the Loch Ness Monster. By real I mean quite simply ‘really experienced,’ I mean ‘phenomenologically actual.’ I mean to remind us that many people, including many modern people, have experienced monsters not as ‘discourses’ or as cultural ‘deconstructions,’ but as actual incarnate, discarnate, or quasi-incarnate beings.”
Kripal raises a compelling idea; a monster that is not objective or subjective, but objective AND subjective. It exists in a dualistic state, it is fact and fiction. Real and not real. A psychosocial construct that is as physical as the smartphone in your hand or the computer you are looking at.
This is not a new idea, if anything, it is ancient. Even William Shakespeare points out in A Midsummer Night’s Dream that,
“And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.”
The point, I suppose, is that monsters are everywhere and nowhere. They haunt us from the gaps which form between the mind, culture and the physical objective world.
Several days ago, I was given the opportunity to view Seth Breedlove’s latest monster documentary, The Bray Road Beast. Originally, I promised Mr. Breedlove a film review. After seeing the film however, I wish to deal with the broader philosophical messages the film raises. That being said, I want to appease Mr. Breedlove as he deserves credit for an excellent film.
The film itself is a great investigation into the story surrounding a large upright dog-like creature, a werewolf if you will, which has appeared multiple times in and around Elkhorn, Wisconsin. A rash of sightings in the early nineties along the quiet rural Bray road was investigated by reporter Linda Godfrey, who today, enjoys great fame and accolade for her books concerning various other monster stories (many of essential reading if you ask me). The film features great interviews with Godfrey herself, multiple witnesses, and other investigators. It also has some hair-raising reenactments and computer-generated scenes which helps the viewer visualize the events. Breedlove works with a shoestring budget, but his expert ability to tell a story and use a camera makes the film look spectacular. The narrative keeps the viewer engaged, and strangely nervous that the beast, whatever it may be, is waiting just out of sight. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and any fan of the paranormal will too. It tells a great story with some really interesting new pieces of evidence.
Can we get back to some theory now?
The film reminds us that the lines between real and mythological, human and monster, are incredibly tenuous. It matters little if the Beast of Bray Road is real; if enough people “see” it, talk about it, and tell stories about it, the beast begins to haunt us in a very real way. This is where the film is successful. It assumes that nothing ought to be taken for granted.
Depending on your personal philosophical bend, reality itself tends to work along a similar vein. The world around us, our daily lives, are a symbiotic blend of truth and myth. We tell ourselves stories all the time.
What is the ‘objective’ truth or value of a one-hundred-dollar bill versus a one-dollar bill. It’s the same paper and the same ink, the only difference is we have all agreed to mythologically value the number 100 more than the 1. Why value money at all? Simply put, as a society, we have agreed to do so. There is no inherent “capital T” truth to money itself. We can go beyond this into any past or present paradigms, such as gender, race, power and politics. Our entire reality is mythological in nature. Societal definitions of “manliness” and “femininity” are great examples of ideological storytelling, and those stories are constantly changing. There is nothing objectively real regarding how a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’ ought to be or act; it is simply mythology.
The overall point here is that, on a daily basis, you and I exist in a world of fiction and storytelling. The drive to Burger King or your son’s swimming lessons is as full of myths as the monster which stalks the backcountry Bray road. If we continue to tell stories concerning the myths we take for granted, such as the value of money, those myths continue to be real. They, for all intents and purposes, are “true.” Yet, in some curious twist, the myths we don’t take for granted, or perhaps would rather not take for granted, such as monsters, remain on the fringes. The funny thing about myths though, and monsters too, is that they tend to pop up every once in a while. Uninvited. Whether through witness accounts or blurry photographs and videos, monsters seem to be a myth that won’t go away.
If we are prepared to say that monsters are not real, then we need to be prepared to throw away all of those other myths we tell ourselves and our children, or at least appreciate that they are illusions. However, we won’t. We will continue in our myths because they form and inform us. We become part of those myths, and we live in a sort of communion with them (no pun intended).
We need to be prepared to accept Kripal’s framework; that monsters are real and unreal. They are from the blending of reality and storytelling, and people encounter them at times. Breedlove’s film presents us with this interesting idea. As individuals, we must accept that monsters are both part of us and apart from us. They exist in our psychosocial reality as well as our objective reality; the big question is how? We do not know, but perhaps we can all agree that speaking and writing about them is the necessary first step to breath anything into existence. We do dwell in mythology after all.
Breedlove expresses a wonderful idea in his film towards the end. Monsters are everywhere. No “hot spot” is really a hot spot. We mythologize places. We tell stories about certain areas and put more “skin in the game” as it were. Perhaps due to the spinning of those tales, monsters tend to pop up a little more. It is not that Bray road in Elkhorn is some special place. Monsters haunt us in our books and films, in our dreams, and perhaps most frightening of all, in our backyards where our children play. It is not that we need to hunt the monsters to find the truth behind them. Rest assured, they are most definitely hunting us.
While the release date is unknown, The History Channel is promising its new series, "Project Blue Book," will be out sometime in the winter.
For those of you living outside of the Ufological universe, according to The History Channel,
“’Project Blue Book’ is based on the true, Top Secret investigations into Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) and related phenomena conducted by the United States Air Force from 1952-1969. The series is inspired by the personal experiences of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, a brilliant college professor recruited by the U.S. Air Force to spearhead this clandestine operation (Project Blue Book) that researched thousands of cases, over 700 of which remain unsolved to this day. Each episode will draw from the actual case files, blending UFO theories with authentic historical events from one of the most mysterious eras in United States history.”
The project is headed up by none other than Robert Zemeckis, the guy who did "Contact" and "Back to the Future," and stars Aidan Gillen (Littlefinger in "Game of Thrones") as the father of modern UFO research, J. Allen Hynek.
The show is being sold as a fictional series, but one that looks at real Blue Book cases in an attempt to bring awareness to the UFO phenomenon. While the fans of "Ancient Aliens" and other similar programming are undoubtedly excited, I think many within the deeper UFO community are perhaps a touch concerned.
So, being that I am a generous fellow and want to ensure History’s newest show doesn’t suffer the same fate Littlefinger did in "Game of Thrones," (oops, should have said “spoiler alert”) here are the three things the series must do to reach the hearts of the UFO community.
1) Take the phenomenon seriously.
Most of us in the UFO subculture have basically thrown aspects of our life away. I am officially “that guy who is into UFOs,” and it generally sucks. Sure, people still accept you. Sure, you still get invited to parties. However, every time anything UFO related pops up, everyone stops and looks at you, hoping you chime in so they can all have a good laugh behind your back. Personally, I have it easy. My wife accepts my weirdness and my kids are young, so they are convinced UFOs are just part of everyday life (#softdisclosure). My co-workers have come to accept it, or generally could care less. Life is sweet.
However, I know a few people who have lost grant money for academic projects, spouses, and their jobs for even being slightly involved in UFO discourse. Depending on your employers and your industry, it can be pretty dangerous out there. So why put up with the all the crap? The phenomenon, assuming it exists, is undoubtedly the most important scientific, philosophical, theological, social, and cultural pursuit there is. Gaining actual insight into the possibility that there exists an intelligent objective and real “Other” outside of ourselves changes everything. Such a discovery would affect all aspects of existence; humanity is no longer the sole arbiter of the decisions regarding its station on Earth, the Cosmos or reality itself.
Assuming they had the brain capacity, imagine how Neanderthals in Europe felt when Homo Sapiens rolled in. What is the word for when complete and utter fear cohabitates with relief and need? They realized they were not alone (Praise be to the gods!), and then realized they were not alone (Oh hell no!).
Once you begin to pursue this question, this reality, then your grip on daily life becomes a little more tenuous. You begin to look awry at the world around you. Some of us hold on as best we can, but I know others who have slipped away and are different people now. Poof. Gone. Regardless of your personal opinion on this, as some may chalk it up to mental health or stability, the phenomenon has an impact, and often, a very serious one.
With all that being said, let’s avoid, or at least tone down, the tropes of conspiracy, secret “men in black,” and government cover-ups. MJ-12 is so 1980’s; let’s just keep that nonsense to a very minimum. Tell real stories and try hard to keep them authentic; these things change people’s lives, and not always for the better.
2) But don’t take the phenomenon TOO seriously.
If you can laugh about it, you can talk about it. That is a fundamental truth. I’m going to assume that this series will follow an “X-Files” model. Different stories each episode, yet an over-arching plot line that will wrap up by the final episode. Classic. Awesome.
Keeping in mind what I stated above, I am friends with a lot of ‘UFO people.’ Most of them are ‘normal’ everyday folks who drive their kids to gymnastics and drink beer. A few, however, are totally wild and wacky. If there is a box to live inside, they lost that box somewhere on the side of a desert highway and walk a very strange path. Do they take themselves seriously? Hell no! They know they are a little ‘out there’ and they love it.
Nothing is funnier than a Ufologist or UFO investigator who thinks they are Fox Mulder. We all know some of these folks. They walk around in their black utility vests, armed with a pistol, and drive SUV’s full of evidence collection bags and latex gloves. They mean well, but God help them, they need to relax a bit. You would never have seen Hynek rocking a .357 ready to blow a Grey’s head off.
Trying to attract a popular audience is fine. Go ahead. Everyone loves pulp fiction. Have fun. Just try not to make the UFO community look like a bunch of fools who take themselves incredibly seriously. We laugh. A lot. Mostly at ourselves.
3) Move beyond the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Popular media is stuck on the ideology that flying saucers are piloted by aliens from other planets. The mainstream adjusts slowly, I suppose, to strange things. The vast majority of people are tourists when it comes to the UFO enigma. They try a bit of the local cuisine from time to time, dabble in a touch of this or that, and then move on to the next thing. Scratching the surface of the Ufological narrative usually leads a person just deep enough to reach the “nuts and bolts biological aliens” idea. Being tourists, they don’t go much further down, and they certainly do not begin to piece together the varied tales, stories and “evidence.” In truth, no hypothesis really works. Whatever is going on, it is well beyond anything we can imagine.
With all that being said, my dearest producers at History Channel, please recognize that your role in all this is that of the gatekeeper. The mythology you weave through the stories you ‘green light’ will dictate a lot for the UFO community. Everyone starts off exploring UFOs somewhere. “Project Blue Book” will undoubtedly bring a bit of new blood into the UFO community; please try to educate as much as you try to entertain. I know you have superiors, corporate bosses, parent corporations, CFOs, VPs of Marketing, and CEOs. You need to make a profit, I get that. You need ratings. Just avoid sanitizing the UFO for a mainstream TV audience palate. Tell an authentic and grass roots tale as best you can. Damn the man.
UFOs, as a cultural and mythological phenomenon, are incredibly complex. There are narratives on top of meta-narratives. Social and political events affect interpretations and ideological frameworks which in turn shape the phenomenon itself. It is, as Carl Jung called it, “a living myth.” To really simplify what could be pages and pages of philosophy, please, for the love of God, let the plot for your show be more complicated than aliens in jars from a crashed flying saucer in the desert. In ‘truth,’ and I use that word loosely, the UFO phenomenon is much richer, convoluted, absurd, and complicated than aliens in space ships from Zeta Reticuli. Many of my friends and peers in this field have dedicated decades to the study of UFOs. They know the whole alien thing is just one theory, and most likely, not the correct one. Don’t rehash that same old story. We’ve had it. It’s done. Gone. Let it die quietly without a bang, and hell, no whimper either.
Three simple things can go a long way. We love you, History Channel. You kids are alright. Sure, "Ancient Aliens" is pretty ridiculous at times. No UFO researcher worth their salt has ever “suggested” ancient astronauts are responsible for the Pyramids. However, you and your company have gone all-in on the UFO thing and I can respect that.
I’m sure there will be some disagreement with me on a couple things from some colleagues, most likely about my claim that "Ancient Aliens" is only ridiculous “at times,” but they are just posers. They watch it. Everyone secretly loves Tsoukalos with his crazy Swiss hair and body building expertise. I would totally buy that guy a beer. Actually, scratch that, he’s rich so he can buy me a beer.
I hope this helps, and I hope you take some of my advice. I definitely don’t speak for the whole UFO community, but as someone who kicks around Ufological circles, I have a pretty good handle on the situation. Oh, and well-done casting Gillen. That guy basically made "Game of Thrones" the best. Now that Littlefinger is dead, I could care less what happens to Westeros. Full disclosure (easy Bassett), I hope the White Walkers win…
Seth Breedlove's Latest Documentary and Why We Should All Be Afraid of Monsters.
In a small lonely town, in a dark lonely wood, a lonely monster withdraws from its strange lonely world and enters the realm of human myth. Seth Breedlove’s latest Small Town Monsters production, The Flatwoods Monster, tells the tale of a strange tall sentinel and the May family which bumped into it one evening in 1952.
Significant research has been done on the Flatwoods monster, a complex collection of both real information and fiction, but Breedlove’s documentary successfully tells the story from the perspective of two of the witnesses who were present, Edward and Fred May, the sons of Kathleen May, who also was present at the event. Bolstering the famous encounter, other stories from the West Virginian community of strange objects in the sky and curious creatures in the woods support the county’s long standing history with anomalous activity.
The documentary’s stellar visuals and animated sequences are an eerie mixture of computer generated graphics and stop motion. The original musical score adds to the general creepy feeling of events which come off as both horrifyingly true and absurd. Whether you believe in monsters or not, you walk away with the hope that they are not real.
Breedlove does not waste his time in this film asking the same old questions which many of his uninspired peers continue to ask. It doesn't matter who or what the monster is, for that question can never really be answered. Instead, he touches upon the only question worth our time. He proposes a world where monsters are real, but more importantly, the monsters themselves evolve with their legends. Can monsters be both objective and subjective simultaneously? Are they what we make of them, yet at the same time, truly haunt quiet deserted areas of a forest where an unsuspecting mother and her sons can bump into them?
This is where the film truly makes its deepest impression. Not rehashing old tales of the things that go bump in the night, but the possible reality that the bumping is simultaneously fact and fiction, true and absurd, and that the arbitrary lines we draw between what is real and what is not are illusions. We do not need to believe in monsters for them to exist, yet in some quiet and lonely place within our minds, a gap inbetween worlds, monsters come out to roam dark highways where automobiles stall and hapless victims throw themselves upon their wives and children in vain attempts to protect them from that which cannot be explained.
The documentary is well worth your time, and I recommend it for anyone with an interest in UFO lore. It cuts through the usual nonsense, and focuses on what truly matters; the people who were forever changed by seeing something the rest of us hopefully never will.
Whatever lurks in the hills around Flatwoods and stalks farmer’s fields scaring children, it is in metamorphosis; ever changing with the times and in communion with our imaginations. Breedlove’s film is not frightening because he suggests that monsters may be real, it is frightening because we make them so.
- MJ Banias
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.
The above thirteen minute interview with Richard Dolan has been circling the Ufological world. Published by Earth Mystery News on July 6th, Dolan presents his interpretation of the day after Disclosure, its effects, as well as some interesting political rhetoric concerning American foreign policy. One very interesting point in the interview occurs when Mr. Dolan posits that any disclosure would have to be forced out by, or at least, fully controlled by the public. His concern is that the current political powers will package the disclosed information, and feed it to the public however they saw fit.
Dolan refers to a shadowy elite group who desire and work to keep the public in check. The people are controlled by, to quote Adam Smith, the “masters of mankind,” the elite who maintain all for themselves and none for the rest. If there does exist a cabal of controllers, how then can we have “honest disclosure?”
Chris Rutkowski and the team at Ufology Research have provided another excellent report concerning the UFO situation in Canada. For all of you who have never heard of the Canadian UFO Survey, it is a collection of hard data that establishes the numbers of sightings and the details surrounding them. It posits no explanation for the sightings, but is rather a massive number crunch designed to provide an overall view into what people are seeing and how often.
I had the honour to write the "Forward" for the document, and I've re-posted it for you below. I've also included the link so you can access the survey for yourself.
The new Ghostbusters trailer has been out for a few days now and the reviews from the fans have been pretty critical. The "die hards" are wondering if Ghostbusters really needs a reboot.
I loved the Ghostbusters films, and I watched the cartoon as a kid; let's be honest though, to most young people, the Ghostbusters franchise has been pretty irrelevant since the nineties. In fact, most of the kids going to see this movie have no idea of the franchises' long and respectable heritage. So who cares if it's different- it's not like the franchise is going to die. It was dead, for 20 years, and now it's being resurrected by two brilliant comedic actresses and two of Saturday Night Live's best and brightest.
Overall, I'm happy with the trailer and the concept. It's simple, fun and has a powerhouse comedy cast. It's Ghostbusters. Relax. Many voices bashed the recent Star Wars trailers when they first came out; fools are allowed to have their opinions, so let them howl into the night if they want, no one is really listening anyway.
- M. J. Banias
I recently had the pleasure to see filmmaker Jennifer Stein's 2015 documentary Travis: The True Story of Travis Walton. The 90 minute documentary focuses on one of, if not the, biggest UFO abduction cases in history.
In 1975, Travis Walton and his logging crew saw a strange light in a quiet remote forest in Arizona. The men entered the woods to explore the source of this light, and what they saw hovering in the clearing was beyond belief. There was a blinding flash of light and the men scrambled out of the woods back to their truck, but they were one man short; Travis allegedly was struck by a blast which left him crumpled on the forest floor. The men took off into the night, only to return a short time later, knowing they had to muster the courage to find their friend. When they returned to the clearing, Travis was gone. A frenzy ensues; the men are suspected of murdering their friend, they are put through polygraph testing and were even guarded by deputies while the local authorities searched for Travis in the forest. The world paid attention to the story of the missing Travis Walton and his coworkers who are blaming his disappearance on a flying saucer. The mystery only deepens when Travis Walton appears five days later on a lonely stretch of highway, tired, hungry, dehydrated, and with very few memories of what happened to him.
In response to a question from someone, I had found a review I had written many years ago of the first St. Paul UFO Conference in 1998. I was one of the invited speakers for the event.
I originally posted the review to the former UFO Updates, and I posted it recently to the new UFO Updates Facebook page. In case you didn't see it there, here's my review.