Sunday, November 11, 2007

Conference on the Semiotics of Cryptids and the Flatwoods Monster

Loren Coleman recently attended a conference on text, code, cryptids, and the Flatwoods Monster case in ufology.

The cryptozoology papers sound interesting, though primarily of a sort that I'm not a fan of, trend-dipping. In such cases, as academics were doing a bit of in the late 1990s and early 200s, a topic is noticed to be of increasing interest in the pop culture. Semioticians, deconstructionists, and other folks interested in symbolism and meaning, then take the basic face-values of these terms, maybe do a small to moderate amount of research in the general topic, and then use the term to examine some larger societal trends of interest to to the author. This usually results in fair to good scholarship, but misleading as to the topic. For example, Jodi Dean's Aliens in America: Conspiracy Cultures from Outerspace to Cyberspace, made several interesting and useful points about the American culture of space and the astronaut and arguing that conspiracism is a rational stance in the face of decentralization and proliferation of information production post-internet. But the author sheds little light on UFO culture, other than abduction to some degree (academics love abduction just as they love contactees). The papers in the SLSA conference sound interesting, so I don't want to judge them simply from Coleman's description.

The Flatwoods papers are primarily about Gray Barker, mythmaker. The paper outlined sounds interesting, though as Coleman points out, there is some sloppy scholarship involved. But while Coleman (and especially his readers, see comments) want to downplay the PoMo nature of the analysis, Gray Barker is an important figure in understanding the history of ufology. He is in many ways highly responsible for the intertangling, particularly through the proxy of John Keel, of high strangeness with what Keyhoe and others had fashioned as a nuts and bolts problem of aliens in metal spaceships. The Mothman would not be the figure it is today without Barker, nor would MiBs.

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