Fwd = UFOlogy - is there life after death? (Randles)
- Forwarded by: fwestra@... (Frits Westra)
Original Date: Tue, 31 Dec 2002 12:44:56 +0100
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East Yorkshire Encounters
UFOlogy- is there life after death?
By Jenny Randles
The signs are not good. UFO sightings are less numerous than for
many years. Close encounters seem to have been abducted or vanished
into some parallel universe. Many longstanding groups and magazines
are struggling, if they have not been abandoned already. UFO book
authors are finding it next to impossible to persuade publishers that
there is a viable market for what until recently was a steady stream
of books (good, bad and indifferent). And there is an overall feeling
of lethargy, if not apathy - perhaps a post Millennium blues caused by
the psychological realisation that nothing spectacular happened, ET
did not land and the world drifts on much as it ever has.
Indeed, some media sources have positively relished in announcing
that UFOlogy is dead. When the BFSB (British Flying Saucer Bureau)
closed its doors 18 months ago the news was beamed around the world as
a near apocalyptic message. It was easy to over exaggerate this event
intosomething far more significant than it was and boy did they do it.
Whilst the BFSB was the oldest of Britain's UFO clubs (an offshoot
of the MIB obsessed American Bureau founded amidst all kinds of wacky
tales during the McCarthyite witchhunts) and it did have impact on
l950s UFOlogy in the UK it was probably almost unknown to 90% of
British UFOlogists by the time of its closure and, frankly, had not
been in much evidence for at least a decade. A number of far more
influential UFO groups have ceased trading in recent years without
even a murmur from their local press. So the 'shot heard around the
world' when BFSB decided to wind down its already minimal activities
was somewhat amusing, had it not been for the rather unseemly way in
which journalistic skeptics used the event to promote the view that it
was a symbol of the end of the nutty cult of the UFO.
Indeed, even in recent weeks I have seen the BFSB story
resurrected by a high circulation national newspaper evidently unaware
(or more likely uncaring) as to how misleading this is about the true
state of UFOlogy in the UK.
Then, of course, came the great Fortean Times convention debate in
April 2002 during which the death of UFOlogy was announced and
trumpeted in newspapers and on TV. Once more - probably not entirely
the fault of FT itself - this was made into a far more important story
than it truly merited and its impact was greatly exaggerated. It is a
bit like the announcement that the world is about to be hit by a
'massive meteorite' when in reality a one inch pebble plops down out
of the sky.
Yet that sense of anti-climax may be fitting, for it mirrors the
deflation felt by those anticipating the coming of the great moment
when the truth would be told and an alien would be interviewed on News
at Ten. That wait went on - and on. It never happened and the truth
has dawned on increasing numbers of disillusioned folk that it likely
never will. All UFOlogical bluster to the contrary there are no great
truths awaiting revelation. We are indeed in something of a post
nuclear holocaust reality.
Ashes to ashes?
That said UFOlogy is not dead. Of course, it isnt. And I say that
having once tried to kill it off myself - presenting a lecture
(deliberately provocatively) entitled 'the death of UFOlogy' at one of
the then regular Sheffield conferences a decade ago. My point then was
to make UFOlogyrealise not that it was an ex-subject - in true Monty
Python style - but a subject in need of a radical rethink. And that is
the true message of today's rush to pronounce our subject DOA. Even
though few people, be they in the media or in UFOlogy, seem to be
aware of this important distinction.
Yes, this is a lean time. But it is not, I suspect, terminal
decline - merely a major hiatus. UFOlogy has always gone in cycles,
following, as it does, cultural interest levels. During the late l950s
and early l960s there was a period of almost a decade (sometimes
referred to as 'The Dark Ages') when serious interest was minimal and
you would be hard pressed to find much ongoing activity or continuity
of research. But something (probably the Kennedy inspired space race)
reawakened that dormant interest and UFOlogy took off again like a
Saturn V , becoming by the late 60s more popular than ever.
I expect that the same will happen again. Eventually something
will spark humanity's desire to know about these things, which any
prolonged absence of wide public reporting will fuel. Who knows what
event will prove the trigger - some mass sighting perhaps, or a
dramatic piece of seemingly probative evidence. Possibly our imminent
visits to mars, or the moons of Jupiter, seeking evidence of primitive
life, will turn out to be successful. The finding of an alien rodent
burrowing in the Martian sands would almost certainly provoke huge
speculation about whether those wild UFO stories were true after all
and revive the moribund from out of its slumber.
A new age:
Of course, there are things that are different today from the gap
years of the early l960s. These are not insignificant differences
either. Unlikethen UFOlogy has not all but disappeared from public
perception. Even in these dark days it continues to be reported. There
are so many TV channels that shows on the subject are available
virtually every day somewhere on British TV - a phenomenon of the past
five or six years of television catering for individual tastes via
hundreds of small scale channels. So there is not the same hunger for
UFOlogy. It can always be satisfied if you are determined to look.
Moreover, the same period has brought the explosion of the
internet - which is now on tap to millions and is positively drowning
in UFO web sitesand chat lists. These are what have killed off the
traditional UFO group and many magazines and indeed the vast output of
UFO books and they will continue to do that come what may. After all
why pay £20 for a book or to join a group that meets once a month in
London (if you live in Hull) or subscribe to a dozen UFO magazines to
stay in touch when you can press a button once a night and learn the
latest seemingly (although, of course, not actually) for free.
So UFOlogy will never go back to the way it was. It has changed,
forever, and the UFO community that once controlled what was said and
donehas lost the say in its own subject. Indeed, UFOlogists have
almost become an irrelevance - at best lumbering behind a litany of
advertisers,hype merchants, web site designers, and sci-fi
Indeed that latter point is the most ironic aspect of all, for
UFOlogy and sci-fi have never had a close relationship. It is almost
as if they have competed for the same psychological investment by
human beings - that aspiration to seek new life and civilisations. You
can either do that by dreaming (Star Trek style) or by alleging it is
all true. Both sides are inevitably suspicious of each other - the
UFOlogists see the sci fi buffs as demeaning their 'science' by images
of anorak weirdos who love Mr Spock and the sci fi buffs regard
UFOlogists almost as magicians do Uri Geller - someone muscling in on
their turf claiming things to be literally true that they want people
merely to believe in as open to speculation or real in a sleight of
hand sort of way.
Yet in the post modernist UFO society it is the TV sci fi series
that have hijacked UFOlogy left right and centre. Even Star Trek made
an episode about Roswell. So now has Futurama. And half a dozen sci fi
series are built around premises that were once the province of
UFOlogy alone -from Dark Skies to Seven Days. Indeed the Sci Fi
channel on TV has become one home of UFOlogy. It funded (with the BBC)
the documentary that I wrote on UFOs in l996 (Britains Secret UFO
Files) and it is currently funding to the tune of many millions of
dollars a TV mini series being made by Spielberg, no less, dramatising
the alien abduction phenomenon (TAKEN - due on air this Christmas).
So, UFOlogy in its traditional sense may have gone forever, but
these days it is in the hands of its former enemies and being
exploited rathermore ruthlessly than any UFOlgists ever thought able
to do. We are in a new world, but not one where UFOlogy is deceased.
Only one where it awaits reanimation as it is shamelessly used as a
marketing exercise to sell cars or to root wild fantasy fiction in
something akin to the real world.
The big question to me is whether the current depression should be
considered bad news. It may be for a UFO writer such as myself, in a
purelymonetary sense. But that is irrelevant when put alongside the
opportunity that I believe it affords for ourselves as a subject to
put our house in order. We can, in effect, reinvent the wheel. Sadly,
nobody seems much of a mind to do it.
TVs 'X Files' has both interesting parallels with UFOlogy and also
a lot to answer for. When it began a decade ago it was seen as a
fascinating look at how the FBI struggled to cope with stories of UFOs
and the paranormal. For a few seasons it told and retold the
conspiracy riddled plot lines about government cover ups, alien
intrusions and abductee experiments that were fresh to the public but
pretty old hat to we UFOlogists. Yet it began to lose steam faster
than a rusting loco and by the late 90s was recycling the same stories
over and over and losing attention and viewers fast. It finally closed
shop in May 2002 because it had begun to wander and yet really never
gotten anywhere towards clear answers and viewers had cottoned on to
the fact that it probably never would.
I think many of those attracted to UFOlogy X Files style - seeking
proof of massive conspiracies and expecting earth shattering cover ups
and revelations - are drifting away from the subject. Thats fine by
me. They were not really a sound basis for progress because they were
like exam cheats. They had started with the answers and were now
yelling them out to a disbelieving world. Whereas sensible UFOlogy
needs one to collect the evidence, determine what questions need to be
asked about it and then look for a range of viable answers.
You might think that is pretty obvious. But it is not what happens
most of the time in UFOlogy. Much of it is dictated by efforts to
vindicate a pet theory - most often, of course, the ETH. Indeed the
UFOs are spaceships theory is so interwoven with the UFOlogical
pursuit that nearly everyone outside of our numbers sees no
distinction. To them being a UFOlogist is about chasing spaceships. Of
course, it is not. And it is that massive misconception that is at the
heart of most of our problems.
It is a good thing if the hangers on who gravitated towards the
phenomenon convinced that this was the truth - maybe after watching
the exploits of Mulder and Scully - have lost faith. Because they have
the least incentive to realise that the new UFOlogy must go back to
basics and treat this as a phenomenon in need of explanation, rather
than an explanation in search of any evidence to support it.
In my view that one sentence summarises why UFOlogy for 50 years
Blueprints for a wheel:
What we must not do is reinvent the wheel ITV style! In June 2002
they announced that the long running series 'Peak Practice' is to be
cancelled after a 10 year run. This news was of interest to me as the
show is set in the Peak District of Derbyshire near where I live. It
concerns a countryside GPs surgery in this picturesque area. ITV
decided it does not work so they are replacing it in 2003 with 'Sweet
Medicine'. This stunningly original show is, er, a medical drama set
in a countryside GPs surgery in the Peak District. Talk about the more
things change, the more they stay the same.
Yes, of course, you do not change things for the sake of
change alone. And you do learn lessons from the past. But equally you
need the guts to see when something is not working and take radical
steps to do things differently when required.
So how can UFOlogy rebuild itself? It will start with a leaner,
smaller base of researchers. That is no problem, because the need for
large scale UFO groups holding meetings once a month in every major
city is dead. All UFOlogists are becoming part of an interacting
community via the net and this is what needs to be exploited. The net
does not need big budgets, mass memberships, bureaucratic committees
running things as if they are the board of ICI. It simply needs
coordination and mobilisation.
I have ideas on how we might take steps from here. But first, of
course, we need to assess the things that we need to achieve. I will
set out some of these below.
I feel that we need stronger links with science to allow rapid
investigation of any physical evidence. This is only achievable if we
prove rational objectivity and a desire to stay out of the public
limelight because most scientists will not touch UFOlogy in large part
due to its tainted public image.
I feel that we need to start some active research - for example
planning a serious scientific investigation of a window area - not
merely some haphazard skywatch but a well thought out attempt to
garner hard evidence from a location where UFO activity is supposed to
be prolific. We are far too passive as a movement - waiting for Joe
Bloggs to report that they have seen a white light over Puddletown
three weeks ago - rather than taking equipment to Puddletown and
seeking to record physical parameters and hopefully obtain hard
evidence whilst a white light chances to fly by.
I feel that we need to use the net to mobilise our resources far
better. We should be getting all the active UFOIogists together to
design and implement a series of accessible web sites that could - for
instance - provide data bases of IFO cases (allowing cross referral
with any ongoing case) - diagnostic tools suggesting options to be
investigated during a sighting - even a series of communal net data
bases. If we all knew where to turn to find every sighting in
Lancashire, or every car stop case - on a series of well constructed
interlocking web based and interactive data repositories - all of our
lives would be made easier. This takes effort - yes. But it takes far
less money and simply relies upon getting UFOlogists to work together
to a common goal. In the days when rival groups were fighting one
another that was never going to happen. But those days are dead. We
have the chance to start again.
I also feel that we need to completely revamp the idea of UFO
conferences. We do not need to hold these to plug our wares by
churning out identikit lectures to a handful of half curious people
off the streets. We need events that set an agenda - have a very
specific theme - and challenge UFOlogists to do new work within that
field to try to provide new answers. Conferences should only be held
to try to further research and to ask and answer actual questions
about UFOlogy. Today all they seem to be are a group of professional
lecturers emulating rock stars by touring the world playing their
greatest hits to a gaggle of groupies.
I do not pretend that any of these things will be easy. But they
are perhaps more possible today than they have ever been and we surely
need to make the effort to try to achieve some of them rather than let
UFOlogy fizzle out or settle back into its comfy armchair once again.
A simple first step would be to call an unprecedented congress of
British UFOlogists. Literally bring together all who care about where
we go from here - regardless of allegiances, backgrounds or personal
views - giving everyone a chance to offer their suggestions within a
framework of ideas to progress our weary subject. This should not be
held by any group - it should be a coming together of UFOlogists who
want things to change without destroying any existing faction. This is
not a call for revolution. Just a suggestion that the time is ripe for
evolution. And it is about time that we had a convention of all
UFOlogists to have their say about what we are doing right and what we
are doing wrong.
Whilst an actual congress would be ideal since it allows for ease
of debate and interaction, I am sure that it is not beyond the wit of
UFOlogy to arrange this electronically in some way. Even a chat list
set up just for this purpose with no other topics allowed and whose
address is given to everyone who wants to participate would be a
start. We could set aside a UFO weekend as a sort of virtual UFO
congress and use it to let us throw out all those ideas and discuss
them amongst ourselves that just might reveal a way forward.
What do we have to lose?
© Jenny Randles, (EYE) December 2002.
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