While ghosts are the main attraction at Halloween, werewolves and Bigfoot and such get their due. In the survey I posted results for below, it is clear that cryptids are losing the popularity battle. This despite a blitz of Bigfoot stories in the last year.
Somewhat surprisingly, the same data suggest that the typical audience for UFO stories in America do not believe in cryptids. UFOs are primarily of interest to white males, and those with a college degree are more likely to believe than those with a high school education or less (postgraduate students or degree holders decline in belief numbers). Cryptids, on the other hand, seem to attract non white or black women, Catholics, with less education the more belief.
Monsterland in Massachusetts to be developed out of existence
Old tales of the Beast of Bladenboro, North Carolina
Satyrs in Louisiana?
The Dover Demon of the Boston Area
More from Loren Coleman, an original investigator of the Dover Demon
Werewolves of Wisconsin
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
While ghosts are the main attraction at Halloween, werewolves and Bigfoot and such get their due. In the survey I posted results for below, it is clear that cryptids are losing the popularity battle. This despite a blitz of Bigfoot stories in the last year.
The numbers here are significantly lower than I would expect for interest, but about on target for the number of people who significantly believe in such things. The number for UFOs used to be at 40-50%, but studies with those numbers did not differentiate causes (such as UFOs being extraterrestrial. And in fact, some UFO believers would not have answered yes to that question, looking to other potential origins.
Here are some of the results from The Baylor Religion Survey's look at America's beliefs in the paranormal. The study included 1,721 nationwide respondents.
75 percent believe alternative treatment is as effective as traditional medicine.
52 percent believe dreams can sometimes foretell the future or reveal hidden truths.
37 percent believe places can be haunted.
28 percent believe it's possible to influence the world through the mind alone (telekinesis).
25 percent believe some UFOs are probably spaceships from other worlds.
20 percent believe it's possible to communicate with the dead.
18 percent believe creatures such as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster will one day be discovered by science.
13 percent believe in astrologers, palm readers, tarot cards, fortune tellers, and psychics.
Source: Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion
Posted by ahtzib at 10/31/2006 02:33:00 AM
Far more common than the sort of stories I just posted on are those focusing on the explosive growth of ghost hunting paranormal societies. For a variety of reasons the number and profile of such groups has surged in the last few years. The Sci-Fi Channel show Ghost Hunters is typically cited, and I'm sure it is influential. But many groups existed before the show, and are now just more prominent.
In ufology, many old-school researchers and enthusiasts argue that the internet killed the UFO group and flying saucer club. One didn't need to meet physically anymore to go UFO hunting. The ghost groups show this to be very wrong. They actively go a-hunting, photographing orbs, recording cold spots and EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena). The active element of creeping around in a cemetery or abandoned building has it's own appeal, whereas UFOs are nearly always cited by people who don't expect them. Also, UFOs are political, perhaps too political for many in the very polarized past five years. Interest in UFOs almost inevitably leads into some element of conspiracy theory, and one of the most recent innovations in ufology is the explicitly activist expolitics. Most ghost stories, on the other hand, often feel safe enough for the pages of Reader's Digest.
Skeptical Inquirer Studies the Ghost Hunters: Biased, but well worth reading
Psychic detective investigates one of the worst fires in American History, the Iroquois Theater in Chicago
Chicago Cop Starts Ghost Hunting Firm
Chicago is apparently all the rage with ghost hunters
Ghost Hunter and Haunted Decatur
Adjunct Teaches Course on Ghost Hunting in Indiana
Maryland Paranormalists Go Podcasting
Washington State Ghost Hunters
Arcadia, Missouri EVP and other Ghostly Research
University Ghost Hunt in Alabama
How to Ghostbust
Connecticut Ghost Hunting Experiences
Skeptical Inquirer Article on the Nature of Ghost Hunting and its Techniques.
Where to buy your Ghost Hunting Equipment
Ghosthunter in Action (with Pic)
Ohio Ghost Hunters, and General Discussion of the hobby
Gary Busey: Ghostbuster
Museum of the Mysteries
Reporter Goes Ghost Hunting
Extensive Article on the Subject in Oregon
The effect of hauntings on Real Estate prices
A Philadelphia mix of the haunted spots and Ghost Hunter article
Little Rock Team Searches for Ghosts on WWII Submarine
Monday, October 30, 2006
Every October, newspapers and local tv stations dust off old ghost stories, or send their lifestyle reporters out to ghost tours and haunted spots.
I myself fall victim to this temptation. On Friday, I led between 15 - 27 people on a tour of various haunted and hideous places in downtown in New Orleans. Some of the best stories are also history lessons in microcosm, reminding and reflecting on the changes a location has undergone. Of course, they are also good for a scare.
So here are some of the dozens of such ghost story articles that have crossed my desk in the last few days. I'll comment on them as needed, and note in bold some of the more interesting.
Typical example from Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Haunted Cemetery - Louisville, Kentucky
Ghosts of Mississippi
Haunted House in Saratoga Springs, NY
Ghostly Art Gallery, Vancouver
Spirits from Insane Asylum Cause Road Landslide Outside Pittsburgh - Ok, this one is sort of unique, at least for the US (Iceland has been in the press for curving roads around alleged fairy spots)
Illinois Ghosts - Despite originating, most likely, in New York State, the Phantom Hitchiker has become firmly associated with Chicago.
Ghost in a Cemetery, Cincinnati, Ohio
Haunted Scranton, PA
There are others, but these are the old-style articles.
Posted by ahtzib at 10/30/2006 11:16:00 PM
Monday, October 23, 2006
Bigfoot has become a huge topic in paranormality in the last two years, some 39 years after the Patterson film and a half century after the legend became part of national consciousness. I may collect my thoughts on why in a future post. But one element of this explosion is the idea of Bigfoot no longer being confined to the western coastal forests of North America, but being seen in rural areas throughout the continent. The idea angers rankles some traditionalist Bigfoot hunters, who don't see how the animal they believe hides in the forests of California through British Columbia could hide in the Plains States or Texas.
But nonetheless, here is a Bigfoot expedition in Oklahoma. The narrative demonstrates one important feature: contact with actual witnesses or storytellers erodes skepticism dramatically.
Posted by ahtzib at 10/23/2006 03:04:00 AM
I'll be writing more about High Strangeness as time goes. But the term has come to refer to the tendency for different sorts of paranormal phenomenon to interelate in unexpected ways. In times past, when ufology's dominant paradigm was of extraterrestrial visitors, how could one deal with reports of poltergeists, or ghosts, or Bigfoot being associated with UFOs. And yet such reports were not as uncommon as many might expect. Here is an example from Massachusetts in 2004, in which a UFO sighting leads to a blistered hand, poltergeist-style movement of objects, and a powdery residue.
Posted by ahtzib at 10/23/2006 02:40:00 AM
This blogfight is fascinating.
Transhumanism is a somewhat complex blend of old school futurism, urban primitivism (in some cases), Tim Leary-esque pre-punk corporeal alteration, and technological fetishism. Much of transhumanism revolves around the notion of the Singularity, a predicted moment in the near future when technology will go beyond our ability to easily predict, and humanity itself will begin to change due to emergent technologies (GM, nano, cyber). I see it as a more mature extension of the sort of "Gee Whiz" science fiction that was written in the 1930s - 1950s about the emergent technologies of the day (robotics, atomic, rocketry). Concepts for dealing with these technologies became standards in the writing and fiction of the day (rotating space stations, generation or sleeper ships for star travel, Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics), just as gray goo and uploading have become standards of transhumanism and related fields of thought.
These ideas and plans are expand on mainstream (or cutting edge but non-fringe) science as it is understood at the time, predicting a future dominated by these new technologies. They are in this sense a form of spirituality. The emergent technologies will radically transform the way humans live, even their very humanity. And in a positive fashion. Transhumanism isn't entirely optimistic, but it largely looks forward to these developments. Many of todays problems will disappear because the technology will allow us to escape the current human fallibities. It is a technological Enlightenment, a directed evolution, futurist revelations.
In contrast, as we'll see in this blog, many forms of Ufology are a space-age romanticsm. Love of ruins and the past, rejection of social norms, populism, and emotion (excitement at mystery, outrage at coverup or being considered cranks and lunatics) are all present. It is not difficult to see the spiritual aspects of much of UFO culture, but one major form of it rejects the notion. Scientific or nuts-and-bolts Ufology does not concern itself with the engineering wonkery of transhumanism, but still sees itself as a legitimate branch of science.
The blog entry linked above is a slapfight between transhumanists and ufologists. From the transhumanist perspective, focused on creating new forms of sentient being or consciousness and melding technology and biology, the notion of space traveling little gray men is ignorant. They make as much sense as a physical Heaven and Hell located in the clouds under the crust of the Earth. In particular, the essay takes aim at Raelians, one of the more successful UFO religions and one focused on what could be called transhumanism. I'll probably be talking about the Raelians in the future, but in essence their spirituality focuses on both biological and spiritual evolution, directed by technology. But these notions are not counched in the acceptable science of the transhumanists, and is all the more offensive to them for that.
The reponse to these heresies is telling. The criticism of transhumanism I am most sympathetic to is that most of it simply won't happen, and it won't happen on the schedule or in the manner the theorists believe. Near-earth space travel, nuclear energy, robots, computers, lasers, and other emergent technologies of the mid-twentieth century have all had significant impacts, but in almost all cases these impacts have been far more subtle and less invasive than was ever expected. They had their impact, but they did not come to dominate life, with perhaps the exception of the internet. Other "pedestrian" technologies such as birth control pills and television exploded in ways no one expected with far reaching social rammifications whilst predicted robot revolutions and genetic castes are still missing some 70 years on.
Not that the transhumanists are wrong. The emergent technologies they are fascinated with will have their day, and some may radically alter the world. But the last bout of the future brought neither the predicted technoshock nor gleaming utopias. It brought us cell phones and with which to argue about the godliness of gays and with which to text message votes for American Idol. The failure to recognize ufology as a spiritualism for a technological age, a new way of doing an ages old human behavior instead of bad science, speaks volumes.
The transhumanists dream of and theorize about things that do not exist but could exist based on what we know. The ufologists dream and theorize about things that cannot exist based on what we know, but are nonetheless reported/believed to exist in the past and the present.
Posted by ahtzib at 10/23/2006 12:57:00 AM
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Emic and Etic Histories of the UFO Movement
A Review of
In every way, UFOs glide along the edges. They are spaceships that enter the atmosphere. They only make sense in a technological age, but behave in magical ways. Photography tries to capture them, but produces blurry images that pose more questions than answers, or images too photographic to be real. They move in contradictory manners, hovering then speeding away at enormous speeds.
For the anthropologist, UFOs mark the line where emic (the viewpoints of phenomenon and behaviors from within a culture's worldview) and etic (the viewpoint from outside of a culture) blend imperceptibly and uncomfortably. Anthropologists have studied beliefs very alien to Western culture throughout the history of the discipline. We can talk about how human sacrifice renews the world (Le�n-Portilla 1992), how a stumble along the path is caused by witches (Evans Pritchard 1976), how an umbilical cord connects the sky to the earth, or how the world is a great circular forest where white bones are men and women are red blood (Grinker 1994). We can even discuss how American baseball players wear certain socks to ensure victory. But if someone tells us that machines come from space to bring travelers from other worlds, we find this difficult to accept. Instead, we are supposed to combat beliefs like these, for it is our professional duty to "confront" them in our classes, and educate our students about truth and reality (Feder 1995).
A small number of scholars, including social scientists, have attempted to move past the "giggle factor" to study UFOs or those who believe in them. Some of these could be described as careful but skeptical (Peebles 1994, Matheson 1998; Persinger 2000; Saler, Ziegler, and Moore 1997), sometimes hostile (Ellwood 1995; Gilmour 1969; Klass 2000; Warren 1970), or treat the subject as a curiosity (Curran 2000). Others are more open to the claims of UFO believers (Bullard 2000; Dean 1998; Hynek 1972; Jung 1978; Stillings 1989; Vallee 1993), or simply treat the subject of these beliefs in a more or less value-free manner (Appelle 2000; Balch 1995; Clark 2000; D�gh 1977; Denzler 2001; Festinger, Riecken, and Schachter 1956; Lawson 1984; Melton 1995; Palmer 1995; Saliba 1995a, 1995b; Saranov 1981; Swords 2000; Westrum 1977; Zimmer 1984, 1985), and some advocate these claims (Donderi 2000; Jacobs 1998, 2000; Mack 1994, 2000; Meehan 1998). This partial list of scholarly works on UFOs is small in comparison with the sort of list that could be assembled about other esoteric topics of anthropological or sociological interest, especially when we consider that poll after poll shows that since the 1960s, roughly half of Americans believe there is something unexplained or extraterrestrial about UFOs. The list has been growing since the 1990s, and a newcomer to the field must also contend with the massive "emic" UFO literature.
With this problem in mind, an interested neophyte has a choice of two relatively up-to-date histories of ufology (a third major work [Jacobs 1976] is out of date and largely predates the modern fixation on subjects such as UFO crashes, abduction, and conspiracy). One is written by an outside observer, but with an interest in the UFO belief system. The other is written by a long-time social comentator on UFOs, ne'er-do-well, and occasional UFO investigator.
Watch the Skies!
The first of these is Watch the Skies: A Chronicle of the Flying Saucer Myth written by aviation historian Curtis Peebles and published in 1994 by that paragon of scientific orthodoxy, the Smithsonian Institution. The title of the book gives away the etic viewpoint of a social history, a history of the UFO subculture in the United States, and a history of the evolution and changes in the beliefs held (again primarily in the United States) about what UFOs are. Peebles starts the prologue in the mid-1940s, discussing the tall tales told in pulp magazines, which he argues paved the way for the belief in strange technological beings hiding amongst us in the modern world. In particular, he argues that the "Shaver Mystery," publicized in the pages of Amazing Stories, of sinister mechanical men hiding under the earth and the coverup of these beings by human authorities, is the direct precursor of the Flying Saucer Myth. Because of the flexibility in publishing speed and matter, these pulps were some of the first publications outside of newspapers to deal with flying saucers once they entered American culture in 1947.
Peebles's book can be broken into three basic sections, organized by time period, subject matter, and the author's approach.
The first (chapters 2-5) deals with the first five years of the phenomenon, from 1947-1952. While addressing some of the social response to UFOs, the main focus here is on the early cases themselves. During this period, flying saucer reports referred to "daylight discs," structured craft significantly less ephemeral than the strange lights in the night sky of later years. It is the most famous of these cases that Peebles tackles, exploring the most likely skeptical explanations for these accounts, and how they have been misrepresented by ufologists and the popular media. This section in many ways forms the grounding for the rest of the book. Peebles does not offer an explicit statement as to why he examines these cases in such detail, but several possible motivations can be offered. First, these cases are puzzling because they involve daylight discs. Second, the particular reports that Peebles examines were made by what come to be known as "reliable witnesses," particularly pilots (Peebles is an aviation historian, another probable reason for his interest in these cases). Reports by reliable pilots and military men drove much of the American government interest in the topic. Peebles gives a detailed accounting of how these daylight disc cases were the main fodder for Project Sign, the first U.S. military UFO investigation. Project Sign was split on the origin and nature of UFOs, and in an "Estimate of the Situation" in 1948, Project Sign concluded that flying discs were best explained as extraterrestrial craft. Project Sign was quickly replaced with the aptly-named Project Grudge when these results were unacceptable by upper-echelon Air Force officers, but this Estimate of the Situation mirrored the unofficial interest in UFOs many within the halls of power had in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Peebles follows this official history up to 1969, when Project Blue Book is disbanded, but as recently as President Clinton, important government officials and groups have quietly or at best semi-publicly pursued the UFO issue.
The importance of these cases to the early origins of Flying Saucers and UFOs provides the rationale for the other major reason why Peebles spends significant time on these cases. Peebles is not out to just chronicle the history of the UFO movement in the U.S., but to explain it. He believes that Americans train their eyes on UFOs in times of uncertainty and unease. While this hypothesis is clearly present throughout the work, it is only formally addressed as an afterthought, a "just-so-story" without any rigorous testing. How does one define "unease?" From what I can tell, Peebles defines all of American history since 1945 as being a period of "unease," punctuated by distinct crisis during declared wars which should put a damper on sightings (important sightings during the Korean War, including some Peebles dissects, present holes in his hypothesis). Peebles takes the approach of an amateur anthropologist or folklorist, attempting to track the evolution of UFO beliefs in American society, and then tie these beliefs to the group mental health of the nation. In order for such an explanation to work, the "myth" has to be distinct from actual sightings to a large degree, because while Peebles can make an argument that the spread and reproductive success of UFO beliefs can be tied to other sociocultural factors, he makes no attempt to tie these factors to specific witnesses, and why they have the experiences they report. Peebles' dissection of the early daylight disc cases is the bedrock of this strategy. If the early cases can be shown to be cases of mistaken observation and identity, the UFO movement simply becomes a history of human social reactions to a supernatural belief system.
These reactions are the focus of the second section of the book (chapters 6-12), which cover the period from the first government response to dangerous UFO beliefs in 1953 up to the final government investigation of UFOs by the University of Colorado in 1968 and the subsequent end of Project Blue Book. This period also covers the rise of the contactees, a loosely interconnected group of believers who have experiences with benevolent Space Brothers. The flights of fancy of the contactees and the hard-nose approach of the Federal Government complicate the birth pains of ufology, composed of individuals and groups that claim to investigate UFO reports with traditional methods of investigation (science, journalism, history, political lobbying). Social scientists love contactees above all others associated with the UFO movement (Balch 1995; Ellwood 1995; Festinger, Riecken, and Schachter 1956; Melton 1995; Palmer 1995; Saliba 1995a, 1995b), but Peebles spends one chapter on them and then moves on. He is more interested in the ongoing feud between the U.S. Air Force and the flying saucer enthusiasts (later ufologists). In particular, he focuses on the National Investigations Commitee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) and it's dynamic leader Donald Keyhoe. Keyhoe singlemindedly pursued government UFO secrecy, and made a push for congressional hearings on the subject NICAP's number one priority.
To be fair, Peebles discusses the events surrounding some cases during this second section. However, his attention focuses not on additional cases in the same vein as those that have come before, but on cases that show novelty, such as the first UFO occupant and later abduction cases. In essence, Peebles treats the "UFO myth" as a branching tree. The belief system will have certain kinds of sightings and associated ideology. Suddenly, for reasons not entirely explained, new elements will appear in sightings and reports. These novel items will spur the growth of a new subset of beliefs. In some cases, these new beliefs will overtake or modify existing beliefs and practices. In most cases, older beliefs and practices simply continue on, adding to a more diverse if confusing belief set. Peebles will address the seminal cases for these new branches, find reasons why these cases can be debunked, and then move on. This approach can set up a neophyte interested in the UFO movement for a nasty surprise. Within the community, new cases in old veins are still of vital interest. Peebles can debunk the earliest cases of alien abduction, for example, and then move on. Ufologists or the ufo-curious who hold an interest in abduction, on the other hand, continue to explore new cases. From the emic perspective, the particulars and problems of an old case may influence some of the interpretation of a current event. But it is not acceptable to rule out a witness' experiences based purely on similarity to an earlier case that has been explained. At best, the earlier case might provide a research design for testing the "reality" of a current report, but the current case must be treated on its own merits. To sum up, for Peebles' etic viewpoint, he has proven that UFOs are not anything unusual by debunking the early cases that spawn the movement. There is no reason to have continued interest in new cases, only new cases with novelty. From the emic perspective, new cases are potential further evidence of something unusual because the UFO mystery has yet to be solved.
The third section of the book (chapters 13-18) covers the period from the early 1970s up to the early 1990s and the publication of the book. The tone changes to one of more virulent skepticism while simultaneously losing interest in individual sighting reports. To a large degree, this is due to the alien abduction phenomenon. The last great recognized UFO "flap" or "wave" in the U.S. occurs in 1973. Specifically, this is the last time in the U.S. that UFOs are seen by a large number of people, in a short amount of time, at least as is recognized by the American media. This flap is also transitional, as it starts to incorporate elements of abduction, conspiracy, and alien craft retrieval, all of which will come to dominate the UFO field for the next 25 years. Peebles spends the remaining chapters of Watch the Skies on the development of these stories, displaying far less sympathy for these claims than for the original UFO reports. The old-school sightings of daylight discs or even impressive night lights lose interest, as UFO researchers begin to focus on abduction, and soon after, UFO crashes (particularly Roswell). From this perspective, the UFO sighting has lost out reproductively to abduction and conspiracy. The nasty little secret, of course, is that this is far from being true. Sighting reports continue to the present day, and have become so numerous that they are difficult to understand in terms of "movements" or "schools of thought."
Before I continue, I want to give a brief summary of the pros and cons of Watch the Skies. Peebles is thorough, and I would recommend Watch the Skies as a good framework and reference guide for those wishing to understand the history of the UFO movement. It is particularly strong on the early history of the phenomenon in the 1940s and 1950s, and gives the reader a clear understanding of early U.S. governmental interest in the subject. The section on saucer enthusiasts and ufology is useful, though too NICAP-centric and in some ways provides a narrow vision of the field. More recent developments in ufology are examined, but students of the field might do well to use this as a spring board for more detailed reading on the topic.
Shockingly Close to the Truth!!!
The second history addressed here is more recent, published in 2002 by Prometheus Press. It should be noted that while both of the authors of Shockingly Close to the Truth!: Confessions of a Grave Robbing Ufologist believe that at least some UFO sightings and phenomena have an extraterrestrial or non-explainable element, Prometheus Press is attached to CSICOP, a group devoted to promoting rationalism and debunking claims of the paranormal (they are most famous for publishing the journal The Skeptical Inquirer). Karl Pflock is a believer that UFOs are extraterrestrial craft, though he is a skeptic when it comes to the greatest "nuts and bolts" case of them all, the Roswell Incident (he is the author of the debunking work Roswell: Inconvenient Facts and the Will to Believe, also published by Prometheus Press). Well, actually Pflock more accurately believes that UFOs were extraterrestrial craft up into the 1973 wave. For Pflock, the de-emphasis on reliable sightings is not cultural, but is instead evidence that the extraterrestrials that had been visiting up to that point stopped visiting in any particular numbers. Like Peebles, Pflock puts little stock in postmodern (post-1970) ufology, believing that current claims are simply the cultural response to earlier reports. He differs with Peebles on the nature of those reports. It should also be mentioned that Pflock worked for the CIA during the 1960s and 1970s, a point frequently invoked by Roswell faithful unhappy with Pflock's skeptical treatment of the subject..
The primary author and subject of Shockingly is James W. Moseley, one of the longest-running figures in the UFO field. Moseley became financially secure due to inheritance in 1950, at the age of nineteen. He dropped out of Princeton in order to spend this windfall in the pursuit of mystery and adventure. Specifically, Moseley became fascinated with Flying Saucers and Buried Treasure. Though interested in more worldly pursuits throughout his life (in Shockingly Moseley touches on his social and sex life, and expounds several times on his "Break Even" business strategy), these two subjects right out of a Hardy Boys book would be Moseley's main preoccupations up to the present. Moseley's boyish sense of humor would also be preserved through the years. With his new found wealth, Moseley decides to join expeditions to exotic places, and tackle the Flying Saucer mystery (at that time in its infancy). Since he has no real skills, he pays his way onto several expeditions and excursions. The last of these leads him to the jungles of Peru, and later highlands of Peru. Between 1954-1961, Moseley ran a small archaeological looting and illegal artifact export empire. He excavated some "treasure" himself, and worked as a middleman for other huaqueros, those who loot huacas (a term that marked sacred spots for the Inka, but now simply means "archaeological site"). Before his extended stay in Peru, however, Moseley decided that an important angle for tackling the Flying Saucer mystery would be to interview all the saucer enthusiasts and luminaries he could, and then turn these interviews into a book. The original book never materialized, but much of Moseley's work in documenting the individuals in the saucer scene led to Moseley's primary achievements in ufology. While initially interested in the saucer mystery itself, Moseley eventually becomes the movement's unofficial historian/gossip columnist through the pages of his newsletter (best known first as Saucer News and then later as Saucer Smear). And it is these activities that provide much of the data for Moseley's mostly autobiographical history of the UFO movement.
It is at this point that I must become somewhat reflexive, and cast the penetrating gaze upon the reviewer. In many ways, I can relate to James Moseley as a shadowy parallel destination if my life were to turn out just slightly differently. He starts off a fairly aimless young man with (according to Shockingly) good grades in university. It is at this point he becomes, through no fault of his own, financially independent, and decides to chase flying saucers, dig up treasure, and have adventures. I could easily see myself doing something very similar if I had become monetarily set at such a young age. Now, I'm not saying this is the course I would have taken. I'd like to think I would have continued along my path of education and professionalism (ha!), though maybe with a few more whozits and spanglies. But I can also imagine myself pausing at any of the hoops and roadblocks I encountered in grad school, and thinking "Why I am doing this? I've got the resources to do what I want. Screw this academic crap!" We'll never know of course, but Moseley's activities (and alternately naive and cyncial outlook) feel very familiar to me.
The "in-between" theme that runs throughout Moseley's life is in itself of interest to observers of the UFO field as a model for many other members of this subculture. While UFOs and aliens have generated billions of dollars as entertainment, and a few individual authors can sell large numbers of books on the subject, there is no real structural support for UFO research or advocacy. Academics must approach the subject with caution, and will generally find no legitimate funding for such work [especially in the physical sciences] (Westrum 2000). Exceptions exist, such as private (as in the case of the National Institute for Discovery Science) or more recently corporate sponsorship (the Sci-Fi Channel has recently funded a UFO advocacy group and archaeological research at the supposed location of the Corona crash site associated with the Roswell Incident). But because of this lack of structural support, UFO research is typically undertaken as an avocation. In the prestigious journal Science, Donald Warren (1970) argued that UFO sightings are the result of status inconsistency. According to Warren, people who are too educated for their station in society, or who are otherwise in social flux, see UFOs due to this stress. In essence, he argues that respectable people don't see UFOs because they are respectable, and leaves sightings to frustrated over-educated white men in dead-end jobs or to black uneducated women with mental health problems (his conclusions, not mine). This is a fancy way of voicing the popular reaction to UFOs, that only hicks and trailer park [white] trash in Arkansas report sightings and abductions. In addition to being patently offensive, even a cursory exposure to the UFO literature will show this belief to be without merit in regards to sightings or abductions. The powerful (including U.S. Presidents) and poverty-stricken alike report sightings.
While social factors definitely seem to play a major role in the interpretation of such experiences and the experiencer's actions afterward, sightings themselves do not appear to track with social circumstances. But when we turn to interest and enthusiasm regarding the UFO phenomenon, we may find some validity to these ideas. Some ufologists take time from more prestigious occupations to chase saucers, but many more come from everyday obscure backgrounds to participate. These activities generally do not lead to financial gain (in some cases quite the opposite, such as the tens of thousands of dollars of debt racked up by Lloyd Pye to pay for chemical and genetic testing of the Starchild skull), and while a few researchers become media regulars, most labor in obscurity. However, their work will in many cases be well known within the subculture itself. The understanding that non-kin groups (such as subcultures) can provide an important sense of belonging in an industrial or post-industrial society goes back to the roots of anthropology and sociology (Durkheim 1984). Such motivation does not explain the interest in UFOs per se (a myriad number of subcultures or imagined communities provide the same environment and support) for any individual, but is a factor in understanding the dynamics of this community. Zimmer (1985) finds that a major element of interest in UFOs (not in experiencing them contra Warren 1970) is a sense of wonder. The idea of the UFO and all it implies makes the universe a more fascinating, and to some degree, human place. For individuals like James Moseley, participation in the UFO community makes life more interesting, and provides the ufologist with an opportunity to make a contribution or mark within the community.
It is through this prism that Shockingly works as an emic history. Many of the basic points of fact about the development of the UFO movement can be found in sources like Watch the Skies!. There is also a class of emic/etic histories (by ufologists but about historical events) that are secondary source academic works in their own right (Clark 1998, 2000; Swords 2000). Festinger, Riecken, and Schachter (1956) is ethnographic in nature, though it focuses only on religious saucer contactees in order to understand millenial groups in general. But Shockingly provides close to fifty years of thick description (Geertz 1971) of ufology and it's members. Moseley has met nearly all the luminaries and embarassments of the field, and can provide a personal and emotional touch missing from traditional histories like Peebles. On the other hand, because of Moseley's jester-like personna, he generally stays something of an outsider to most of the internal trends and conflicts, a point self-conciously made in Moseley's writings.
Shockingly is not as well organized as Peebles' Watch the Skies!, and more or less simply divides Moseley's career into manageable blocks of time and subject matter. While Moseley often editorializes to add some context and insight (in many cases, the text can be wickedly funny), these are to a large degree memoirs. Moseley is aware that the main attraction is not his activities (with a few exceptions) but his experiences with other ufologists and saucer folk. The most intriguing of Moseley's early encounters are with contactee founding father George Adamski and with Men in Black/High Strangeness progenitors Albert Bender and Gray Barker. Adamski was one of the first to turn saucers into mystical icons in the early 1950s. Moseley met with Adamski and some of his followers, and gives a good accounting of this "scene." Though in Shockingly he admits to a sympathetic attraction to Saucerdom's early High Prist, Moseley's reporting on Adamski's claims during the 1950s helped erode the credibility of the contactees with ufological circles, and is cited by others in ufology as his most important achievement. Moseley also met with one of the perpetrators of the Aztec saucer crash hoax, most likely the most important contributor to the Crashed Saucer Legend. Unfortunately, Moseley's interview with this accomplished scam artist adds little to the history of this story. On the other hand, Moseley's depiction of life-long friend Gray Barker definitely informs the Men in Black legend and perhaps other elements of UFO beliefs that Barker was instrumental in creating [Barker has also been posthumously implicated in the indirect origins of the High Strangeness school of ufology (see Sherwood 1998; 2002 for comments on Keel 1991)].
Regarding Moseley's activities in Peru I again must discuss my own reaction. I have been reading internet copies of Saucer Smear for several years now, and recommend it highly to interested parties. Moseley's writing style and words generally came across as appealing to some one with a touch of sarcasm, and are a useful resource for understanding the UFO scene. I knew that Moseley had done some antiquities dealing, but sort of put that in the back of my mind. During the 2002 Roswell UFO Festival, I was one of the few at the International UFO Museum and Research Center who enjoyed Moseley's talk (he apparently has been told he won't be invited back), and bought my signed copy of Shockingly from him. I think I even gave him my business card. Because of my generally positive attitude towards Moseley's writings, I was wholly unprepared for my revulsion at his looting activities. Unless archaeologists have personally dealt with looting and looters in some fashion, I think the concept is sort of abstract for many of us. Since none of my work has been looted, my only brush with the looting world has been meeting individuals suspected of traficking in antiquities. Moseley's accounting of his entrepeneurial approach to looting Peruvian sites and arranging for sale in the United States shocked me. In part, I was surprised by the scale. I hadn't suspected that Moseley was a full-time looter and dealer for several years. But I really think the thing that galled me was the indifference mixed with naive interest. Again, in sort of an abstract manner, I had constructed in my mind a general model of archaeological looting operations. This model focused on two extemes: poor campesinos trying to scratch out a living, and rich art collectors driving the looting. Of course, I knew there must be middlemen, but I figured that they would be general smugglers, moving artifacts, contraband, narcotics, exotic animals, anything that could fetch a price by crossing borders. Moseley non-chalantly lays out how he opened an office, built a network of contacts, and ran an artifact smuggling business while also directly participating in illict excavations. I was also shaken when I was able to recognize from the photos in Shockingly what Moseley was digging up, especially when I realized that I probably know more about the cultural and archaeological context and characteristics of these pieces than he does (and I've never been to Peru). And yet, Moseley was still interested in Peruvian prehistory, despite the damage caused by his activities. For Moseley looting is a mix of small business, seedy treasure hunting, and adventures in El Dorado. Not surprisingly, Moseley fled Peru when one of his sales became too high-profile. Several times in Shockingly, Moseley mentions that he is preparing to write a second book focusing on his adventures in Peru. While I learned a lot by reading the grave-robbing section of Shockingly, I would have ended up enjoying the rest of the book more without a bad taste in my mouth. Beyond any ethical considerations or distaste, this section does not fit in with the rest of the work, other than to highlight one of Moseley's UFO-related pranks carried out in Peru.
Once Moseley returns to the U.S. in the 1960s, the focus is once again on ufology, and is possibly the most valuable section of the book. Moseley has something to contribute concerning the earliest days of saucerdom, but this ground is covered (if not as intimately) by other sources (Clark 2000; Peebles 1994; Swords 2000). However, in the 1960s, interest in UFOs reached such a pitch that the U.S. Congress acted, resulting in the fated Condon Study (Gilmour 1969). Less conspicuosly, the fragmentation of ufology into disparate paradigms or philosophical camps began at this time, continuing into the 1970s. It is also during this period that many of the civilian saucer groups were in upheaval, as old groups died and new ones were formed. In large part, this was a result of the Condon Report and the end of Project Blue Book, but must also be tied to the upheaval in American culture during this time (at least on the ufological front, a similar period of institutional turmoil and decline is occurring now, in large part due to decentralizing effects of the internet). This section deviated more from what I knew of the history of the UFO scene more than any other in Shockingly, perhaps because these periods of flux and slow change are difficult to document without personal involvement.
The last major section of Shockingly has particular importance for me, as it deals with the rise of Crashed Saucer stories. While I recognized much of the basics of this section, Moseley and Pflock provide invaluable insights into the less-documented 1970s forerunners of the Roswell Incident, including Moseley's less-than-pleasant interaction with an individual he believes to have kicked much of the Crashed Saucer craze off. Since crashed saucers can at least be linked to saucers, Moseley is able to provide information on this part of the scene, even if he and Pflock don't believe the claims. Abduction gets some attention here, but Moseley clearly is increasingly more and more an outsider as paradigms and generations begin to irrevocably shift. Because Pflock and Moseley are primarily interested in UFO sightings, the curmudgeon-meter goes through the roof when dealing with the UFO scene post-1973, as it comes to be dominated by these two themes and a major booster shot of conspiracy theory. The only exception to this is Moseley's personal involvement in the Gulf Breeze, Florida sightings and photographs by Ed Walters. The case starts out as an old-school structured craft case, but as it expands and then unravels, abduction is brought into the mix. There isn't much new here about Gulf Breeze per se, but Moseley's conflicts with MUFON during this affair are enlightening.
Comparison and Comments
Those looking for a good, readable, one volume guide to the history of ufological ideology and institutions, and to a lesser degree sightings, should read Watch the Skies!. It is in essence a basic mainstream history, giving the who's, what's, and when's. Ideology is an explicit focus of the text, but isn't covered in the detail required for anthropological or folkloric study, and interested researchers or students will have to follow Peebles' roadmap to the original materials or ufological summaries of these materials. The reader will learn about the creation and lifecycle of institutions (government and civilian) dedicated to the UFO phenomenon. While there are more detailed sources for official U.S. government UFO institutions, Watch the Skies! should satisfy most readers on that topic. Because the civilian groups aren't as well documented in the historical record, personal experience (like Moseley's in Shockingly) is of great utility in understanding these groups. Unfortunately, this is where Peebles' etic status becomes a significant stumbling block, and Moseley's in-group career is so important. Furthermore, Peebles' book ends in the early 1990s, right before a major upswing in popular interest in UFOs and extraterrestrial life. Peebles' main etic hypothesis (that UFO flaps or interest can be tied to social "unease") is of limited utility and comes across as little more than a personal opinion without much research or analysis to back it up.
Shockingly Close to the Truth would be of significantly less utility as a classroom or historical research resource, at least on the face of it. There is important information and insight here, though in some cases it is difficult to tease them out of the memoirs format. Shockingly's greatest value lies in conveying a sense of the UFO scene. Because Moseley and Pflock are insiders, they are much better at describing the personalities and atmosphere of ufology than dissecting it for historical or cultural study. In particular, Shockingly captures the feel and ethos at the core of UFO culture. While many of Moseley's anecdotes are of past beliefs and individuals, others are more relevant, and current UFO fads and memes seem more familiar after reading about the earlier contactees and saucer mystics. My biggest complaint is that the unnecessary addition of Moseley's Peruvian exploits break up the narrative, and may greatly detract from the reader's ability to empathize with Moseley. Peebles' Watch the Skies, on the other hand, feels more static and less connected to ufology as it currently exists. Not because of it's earlier publication date (little of Moseley's text deals with events after 1994, with the exception of Roswell), but because it focuses on official history. Official history is more careful, but by necessity must be disconnected from the events it describes. Moseley's personal narrative is less "trustworthy" than an official history, but in this sense mirrors the relationship between UFOs and decentralized information in American culture (Dean 1998).
Despite careful documentary based history or personal involvement, neither of these books connects well with a major element of (post)modern ufology: abduction. Neither author is very comfortable with the subject. Moseley and Pflock say as much in Shockingly, specifically Smearing (deservedly or no) leading abductionist Budd Hopkins. Peebles devotes a chapter to the abduction issue, but most of this section deals with the early cases and then issues of pop culture influence on abduction stories and hypnotic techniques. While this fits into Peebles' pattern of debunking early cases of a phenomenon to explain later cases as social phenomena, it is the most skeptical chapter in the book, and given the way abduction has changed ufology, does not get a great deal of attention (for an equally skeptical but much more in-depth historical treatment of abduction claims and researchers, see Matheson 1998). In this respect, both of these books are about chronicling the rise and to oft-foretold fall of traditional saucering and ufology. Those dealing with recent UFO texts that mix abduction, ships, conspiracy, New Age spirits, and other elements may be at somewhat of a loss if they try and connect these claims to Peebles' history, but they will understand the origins of the mainstream beliefs and ideals associated with the UFO symbol. The more outre approach will be recognizable to readers of Shockingly, but Moseley and Pflock spend more time dicussing the individuals promoting these ideas than the ideas themselves, which are often mentioned only in passing. Though neither book sums up the UFO movement completely (there is a sense in both that this is an aim of these volumes), they will be of value to those wanting a deeper context for current and recent UFO ideas and their enthusiasts.
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Posted by ahtzib at 10/22/2006 11:47:00 PM
This will be an outlet and archive for my thoughts and writings on what I think of as the Spooky Paradigm. This term refers to the beliefs, ideas, and communities that are not mainstream religion or science or conventional wisdom (though in some cases these ideas may have more adherents than acceptable notions. While there aren't necessarily content-logical reasons why hidden beasts (cryptozoology), UFOs, ghost stories, cutting edge or fringe science, and political conspiracy theories should be related to each other, experience tells us that they are. Looking at these topics, they do not form a coherent unified belief system shared by most interested in them, but rather are part of a way at looking at the world.
In this blog, I intend to explore some of these topics, to relate to them to each other, to other cultural phenomenon, and comment on them as I can. I will post longer essays from time to time. I will also try to comment, on a regular basis, on new stories involving these topics.
This is not a skeptic blog, though I am sure many would call it that. As an anthropologist, I don't go out of my way to disprove the beliefs of the people past or present that I am studying. It is a skeptical blog, but not one dedicated to debunking. That is not my mission.
I've started it up to coincide with the Halloween season, but the Spooky Paradigm has its own calendar as I hope to show over the coming years. So sit back and enjoy the ride.
Posted by ahtzib at 10/22/2006 11:43:00 PM