Immediately following the Peter Jennings special, I went on the X-Zone radio show with Rob McConnell to give my 2 cents. Well, 2 stars, anyway, on a scale of 1 to 10. He gave it a negative 6. He and his engineer thought it was a whitewash and various listeners from out in the mysterious “blogosphere” emailed their opinions that the show not only sucked but was in fact harmful to the legitimacy of the topic. I didn’t think it was that bad and found myself defending a program I had given a failing grade. Kooky.
So I’m going to revise my original 2 and give it a 5. That’s 3 more, for those of you keeping score at home. Wait, no I’m not. Back to 2, people, back to 2—because why?—because the friggen network billed this as a program that would blow the lid off this whole subject and it didn’t. It did not live up to the hype in the same way that all UFO specials never live up to the hype. So while the content may be a solid 5, we’ve seen solid 5’s before and this one promised it wouldn’t be like the others.
Let’s see how the show breaks down according to yours truly:
WHAT THEY GOT RIGHT
I watched the show in a room with skeptics and people who just don’t care either way. The real test is, were they swayed to “believe” some UFO’s are alien craft and abductions are real? To a person the answer is…somewhat. Here’s why:
1.) Old-timers, military pilots, and police officers. Jennings didn’t just ask Farmer Joe if something strange landed in his field, he asked authority figures… a… um… similar question. Authorities and pilots are the people we trust with our lives so we tend to want to believe they aren’t delusional. Elderly people don’t lie or make up stuff. They just retell old stories from their lives again and again on a loop because it’s hard for them to leave the house and create new memories to fondly reminisce. Hey, it’s hard getting old, I know! I’m 31. I peed my bed last year. Imagine what 90 feels like.
2.) Most of the skeptics could hardly contain their arrogance. While I could make the argument that Jennings let them hang themselves with their own words, I’m not sure that was his intention. The arrogance came through and some hostility, but as we shall see, the framing of the conversations actually bolsters them and becomes a minus, not a plus. Just wait, you’ll see what I’m driving at….
3.) I said “most.” The people at SETI actually sounded open-minded. But that one woman who described a UFO sighting of her own that turned out to be the moon as her example of why UFO’s are not ever really anything but dumb misinterpretations of, say, the moon? You know, her? She should be fired immediately. Is this the kind of gullible person you want listening for alien signals? So I’m glad they pointed her out; now SETI can get rid of her and stop misinterpreting airplane static for alien ham radios.
4.) Everyone on both sides of the fence sounded articulate.
5.) Minimum use of Robert Stack.
6.) Those computer-simulated recreations of UFO encounters didn’t look as cheap as one expected.
7.) The alien abductees were believable. Stacking their testimony of events so traumatic they refused to really go into them against psychologists who are clearly wrong and making stuff up was a nice, if unintentional, touch. The psychologists’ hypothesis—which they claim is fact—is that a person experiences sleep paralysis, sees some shadows in the room, gets scared, and goes to a hypnotherapist who then has them recall memories of everything that happened after the paralysis set in. Being that there are no memories to recall, the hypnotized subject makes up this fantasy where these beings walk into their room and take them for a ride on a spaceship. They create this fantastic journey which they now believe is a real memory.
If you heard a psychologist say that juxtaposed against nothing it might sound rational. But hearing the abductees totally negates this because…well… there is no fantastic journey! These people barely even want to talk about the horror they felt during the abductions. This isn’t Close Encounters, it’s not E.T. and it sure as fuck ain’t Pigs In Space (except when I’m involved). That abductees have been relating the same narrative since the mid70’s is overlooked by these assholes who are supposed to be helping us! Does that happen with fantasy? Where’s the fantasy?—I want that fantastic voyage on a spaceship too!
As an interesting sidebar, one of my roommates said he’s been experiencing sleep paralysis a lot lately. I said, “Really? Did you think you were being abducted by aliens?” He said, “No, but I saw a lot of moving shadows. It was kind of scary.” But since he’s my roommate I don’t know what I’m illustrating there so let’s move on, shall we?
8.) Michael Kaku. He’s a physicist. He’s likeable and charismatic and smart. He asks, What if there are beings out there not hundreds of years in advance of us but millions? He says, What if they are here now and some of these UFO’s are real? He wonders, Could they be using wormholes to circumvent that whole can’t-travel-faster-than-light problem? HE SAYS SMART THINGS THAT ANY SENTIENT BEING HAS TO CONSIDER.
9.) Not a lot of commercial breaks.
10.) They showed radar footage of a UFO corroborating a bunch of military witnesses. Case closed, right?
Alright, that’s 10. Not bad. This? This is the bad.
WHAT THEY GOT WRONG
1.) Hey, how about the first 20 minutes captivating, the next 20, slightly less captivating, then the rest of it sort of boring until the abductees speak?
2.) One thing that Rob McConnell pointed out is that even though they used authority figures, the one segment on 6 officers who saw this UFO the size of a football field sounded dubious. Football field? Only six people saw this thing in the sky? I don’t share his concern and no one from outside the so-called UFO community that I’ve spoken with gave that aspect a first never mind second thought, but I’m throwing it out there just in case.
3.) The framing of the conversation. A skeptic gleefully assures us that we can’t trust people who report UFO’s because they see a light in the sky and automatically call it an alien ship. That sounds plausible if it’s true that people only report lights in the sky. A light in the sky is open to interpretation, right? But I saw a self-luminescent green object that was oval shaped, had porthole windows running down the middle, red and blue blinking lights, the top half spun one way, the bottom spun counter and it hovered tilted on its axis in the air doing this. That’s somewhat more specific than a light. I’m guessing thousands of people see things more specific than a light. But we didn’t hear that.
Another example is the segment on the alleged Roswell crash. Wow, did they breeze through that one or what? No mention of MJ-12? REALLY?
The whole thing was completely wrong but that’s another story. The setup they presented reduces to this: “True believers” think a spaceship crashed in a desert in Roswell. The U.S. Air Force says it was a top secret Mogul balloon. “True believers” do not believe them even though the wreckage sounds strikingly like a Mogul balloon.
Sounds good, right? Pick a side.
Yeah, um…the thing is, there were reports of alien bodies being found as well. The Air Force addressed this by saying they were misidentified crash test dummies. The crash happened in 1947. The crash test dummy experiments didn’t begin until the 50’s. That is why “true believers” don’t buy the Air Force story. None of this was mentioned.
4.) They spent about ten minutes on Roswell. It’s such a complicated issue, why did they even bother at all? Ditto that alien abductions. You cannot pack this all in to 2 hours. They should have stuck with one or two topics and explored those in depth or, as Rob McConnell and company suggest, why not hold a televised debate between skeptics and researchers?
5.) The skeptics. Who are they? What qualifies them to talk about UFO’s? Please stop trotting out scientists and astronomers to tell me that UFO’s are not real. Don’t show me a well-intentioned SETI scientist who says, “If I thought UFO’s were real I wouldn’t waste my time listening to radio signals,” without asking him or her, “Um, okay. Have you ever actually examined the UFO evidence or are you just assuming it’s all crap?” I FUCKING HAAAATE THAAAAAAT!!!
A qualified skeptic would have to be one that’s seen the evidence and decided there’s nothing to it. We used to have a scientist like that. His name was J. Allen Hynek. He worked for Project Blue Book. He thought UFO’s were horseshit. Then he researched them and changed his tune. This was told during the documentary but not really made a big deal of. To me this is the biggest deal of all. Where’s the person to ask the skeptics, “What about Allen Hynek? Ever heard of him? Is he delusional too?”
One scientist, whose name I forget, talked himself into a wall early on in the show. He said with authority that UFO’s aren’t real and you cannot trust a person’s memory. Human testimony may hold up in a court of law but not in the court of science. To a scientist, this is the absolute worst evidence you can have. So UFO’s? Not ships. Nope. Stars and shit. Saturn, maybe. Later he said we’d be arrogant to believe the universe isn’t teeming with life. Hell, we’re finding signs of it on planets and moons in our own backyard!
Okay, Mr. Man—put the two together! You’re the arrogant fuck you don’t want me to be! AAAAAH!
Why is it so christing difficult to wrap our brains around the probability that a life form higher than us exists and is/was here? Why do we always have to baby-step into the next logical conclusion? Oh, there’s no life out there, we’re it. Wait no, there might be life on Mars but it’s microbial. Wait, no, actually our galaxy is teeming with life. All microbial. Huh. Some planets have water like ours. I’ll bet someday we’ll discover they may have had life on them millions of years ago. Probably microbial. Suuuure, the universe is teeming with life just like us, but it’s waaay the fuck out there. I’ll bet if we use a goddamn radio receiver (?!) or a Light Bright or something we can pick up their signal. Cuz they’re looking for us too. In the same way. Yup. Hey! Gotta try, right? Something’s better than nothing! UFO’s are the moon!
6.) Crap, I lost my train of thought.
7.) The first abductee we see is a woman wearing giant alien-eye-like sunglasses and the same outfit as the chick in The Blair Witch Project. She is lit by a Bic penlight. The shot is a tight close-up of her face. Again, Blair Witch Project. She is protecting her identity.
COME ON! You had plenty of abductees who were articulate and believable and not afraid to show their faces. Couldn’t find one more? Or barring that, couldn’t hide this woman’s identity in a less freakish way? Next time ask me. I’m available and I promise I won’t swear on camera unless provoked.
8.) Did I mention I was bored?
9.) Hey, how about this: one of your abductee skeptics is a Harvard psychologist. Huh. I wonder how it is that she came to studying abductees? Not that there was any mention of it, but…. The only reason she knows the word abductee is because the now-ex, now-dead Pulitzer Prize winning head of Harvard Psych, Dr. John Mack, studied abductees and believed that they were in contact with higher intelligence!!! Harvard was dying to get rid of him. He was a blemish on their record. Well now he’s dead. Out of sight out of mind I guess. Watching the Jennings special, one might conclude that a team of Harvard psychologists had studied abductees and walked away believing it’s all sleep paralysis and the family dog licking your cock during a nightmare.
10.) The promos promised an earth-shattering documentary. They said we’d see footage we’ve never seen before. Guess what didn’t happen?—that. So by its own standard it is a failure.
11.) Um… I know it’s in the title and all, but could I hear the word “believe” one more time, please? This is not a matter of belief. This is not Santa Claus. This is either real or it isn’t. Seeing is believing to some but to most it’s the accumulation of evidence from eyewitness testimony to radar tracking to scorched earth from landings to declassified documents that show the government still does care about the topic in spite of their denials to video footage to photographic evidence to HEY! WHERE THE FUCK WAS THE NASA FOOTAGE??? NASA has all this footage of UFO’s taken from shuttle missions. Where was that? Why don’t we ask the skeptics about that? Why don’t we take some of that video footage of not a light but CLEARLY a metallic-looking object floating around buildings and give it to a special effects expert, a video expert, interview the person who took it, put them under a lie detector—and if it all comes out positive give that to the skeptic and have ‘em debunk it.
12.) Where was Travis Walton? Where were the Allagash Four? Where was any solid multi-witness case of abduction that didn’t involve someone going to sleep alone and ending up in what’s either dog licking or alien gynecological exams depending on what one “believes?” Where were the daylight Mexican UFO sightings? Why were the Phoenix lights being attributed to flares and military aircraft by that hostile skeptic taken at as much face value as the witnesses that say it was a solid triangular craft? Or the footage of the lights—you watched it. Did that look like planes flying in formation to you? Did that look like flares? Do flares hang in the air in a neat line? Don’t they fizzle out or fall to the earth? Don’t people who live near a military base know what flares and planes look like? Once again, it’s all about context. It’s all about how these segments are framed. It only sounds like an equal either/or choice until you ask the questions Peter Jennings should have asked.
Did I miss anything? Hmmm…well at least they didn’t have an anonymous military source assuring us that aliens are hanging out at Area 51 washing down strawberry ice cream with freshly mutilated cow hemoglobin. And as I stated I think the skeptics and the “believers” both came across as equally articulate. The problem is that the skeptics were not UFO researchers so their guess, while articulate, is uninformed. The researchers, on the other hand, do speak with authority on the subject but because they are labeled “believers” we have to coat what they say with extra salt.
There may be two equal sides to this story but I have never heard them. I’ve been following the literature for nearly 20 years and I’ve never heard two equal sides! Skeptics in this field don’t, as a rule, thoroughly investigate the topic. We assume they do because they have always been presented as the other rational side to a crazy topic. But what is their background? Physics? Astronomy? Armchairs? Not ufology, right? Not the subject at hand!
Well, there was that one skeptical scientist who studied UFO’s. His name was J. Allen Hynek. He died a believer. And there was that one skeptical psychologist who studied abductions. His name was John Mack. He died a believer. Maybe the word “believer” is inappropriate; maybe they followed the facts and were led to a factual conclusion.
Maybe they were scientists doing science.
UPDATE: I have since revised my position on this special. I now believe it was a whitewash for three reasons.
1.) John Mack was interviewed for the show before his death. Not once did they mention him.
2.) Budd Hopkins has publicly stated that in every interview he did for this show he stressed that many abductions do not take place at night during sleep and many abductees have conscious recall of their abductions (not just hypnotically retrieved details.) There is no mention of this in the show. The opposing viewpoints on abductions are strictly sleep paralysis vs. hypnotically retrieved memory.
3.) It took me a while to figure out why they'd gloss over Roswell. The overall message of the entire program is this: UFO's and aliens abductions may or may not involve an alien intelligence, we still don't know. But Roswell? That's a bunch of bullshit. Nothing to see here; move along.
Why would they do that? There's no public outcry to get to the bottom of Roswell...yet. You see Steven Spielberg's War of The Worlds comes out this summer and his movies have a tendency to shake the public into a dialogue about their subject matter (or in the case of Jaws, to cause mass panic.)
Consider this special a preemptive strike. Someone really smart is already molding the public dialogue for near-future revitalized interest in all things alien. What does that tell us about the Roswell crash?
Think about the obviousness of this magic trick. In advertising it's called "redirection" and it works.