A couple of weeks ago I purchased yet another boxed set of the X-Files in a second-hand computer game and DVD store in Exeter. A bargain for £6. Watching some of the episodes again some 20 years later, I realised how much I appreciated such an iconic TV show. With hindsight, I can say that the show was indirectly responsible for helping to encourage a new generation of amateur UFOlogists (is there such a thing as a professional?)
Whilst at university I joined the British UFO Research Association in 1992. It felt like the right thing to do especially after I had personally experienced a close encounter in Liverpool a few years before. I thought my application to join would allow me to understand the nature of my experience and the 1990s proved to be an exciting part of my youth. I hadn’t really appreciated the impact of the approaching millennium until some years later.
The organisation had taught me numerous lessons – some bad but many of them were good – such as how to properly examine UFO reports as objectively as possible. Yet I found myself immersed in a genuinely strange world surrounded by people wanting to believe in ET or who definitely believed that intelligent life from ‘out there’ was visiting our world.
I became exposed to those who I would consider to be sadly or terribly strange, and I’m certainly not talking about UFO witnesses! If it wasn’t the contents of lectures that conveyed the lecturer’s belief in ET then it was the literature that surrounded their talks that conveyed this singular message. Very little of it seemed credible or even deeply profound, it was a faith wrapped in pseudo-scientific language. Whilst not subscribing to all of the presented views, I realised that there was a deep and genuine need for this faith publicly.
God appeared to have taken a holiday and ET was everywhere but in flying triangles dodging the military in its desperate attempt at securing such technology.
A healthy sceptical approach was a rare thing to come by then, scepticism was an unpopular idea that became synonymous with the act of debunking. If one was a sceptic then one was immediately accused as being a government spy who was trying to undermine all the hard work being done by investigators and researchers. Looking back, I find this aspect amusing and terribly sad as we discovered how ‘released’ documents and dodgy film footage were actually fake. I find it amazing that as intelligent adults we can be conned into falling for the simplest of mind games just because we possess the capacity for strength of conviction and at the same time we are incapable of seriously questionning the world around us.
Much of the UFO world tried to persuade the general public that the Earth had become a massive extra-terrestrial laboratory and that the authorities were responsible for this. In fact, our Governments are in alliance with them, a thought still believed to this day. Rational thinking seemed scant, it was an unpopular line of enquiry that lurked in the background somewhere.
In 1994, in my home town of Liverpool, I received the opportunity, as a BUFORA accredited investigator, to examine the reports of UFO sightings in the Merseyside region. Although fascinating, it was also an incredibly frustrating period, where I tried my best to acquire information (in the days before the internet I hasten to add) in an attempt to solve sightings. I seemed to be competing with neighbouring investigators who also tried to ply information from the same source such as the local airport and the police.
In the early days there weren’t that many investigators so a hand written letter to the police, for example, would have gleamed some useful piece of data. Instead, such competition and the lack of resources held by such sources often resulted in either no response or little in the way of information that was useful. Rarely did it tell me anything interesting. For example, in one case I sent two letters to two different sources which I knew would pass by the same office at the Ministry of Defence. It was regarding a sighting of a strange light in the Old Swan area of Liverpool. I had obtained film footage of the singular bright light and was trying to identify the source. I didn’t pass on this piece of information to the MoD but was certain that I’d get a quick solution for a light that ascended then hovered for several minutes.
The first response from the MoD told me that that after checking their files the UFO had been caused by an RAF exercise in the Old Swan area. Really? Where were the aircraft? The object only seemed to be about the half the size of a car! A couple of weeks later another letter arrived kindly informing me that the same UFO had this time been caused by a flight of F-111’s doing routine manouvre over Old Swan! Hmm…so obviously inmvestigators had to contend with official b/s too!
Then that iconic TV show, the X-Files appeared on our television screens. It had been produced by some great writers who benefitted from the advice given to them by certain UFOlogical consultants (Jenny Randles and I think MUFON). The X-Files introduced a number of wonderful characters and exciting stories (and, in all honesty, some dreadful ones too) but it was a great show and I, like many other people, became hooked.
Interestingly, the media at the time responded to the series and itself became hooked on the subject matter – the general public were quick to follow. When wanting to interview fellow NARO investigator Alicia Leigh and myself, Just Seventeen magazine wanted both of us to dress up as Mulder and Scully outside a spooky looking church in Manchester – I still have a copy of that issue with the David Duchovny interview! This was great fun, although in contrast I was also approached by television companies who asked me to appear on a national television programme as a guest to talk about UFOs…but doing so dressed up as an alien. Cheap production companies like this deserved the two-fingered response I gave them (unfortunately they still exist and they continue to insist that they’d treat the UFO subject with all due respect and seriousness…yeah sure).
The X-Files not only excited the public but unfortunately I feel, as it became increasingly popular, it helped encourage the media to equate UFOs with silliness and entertainment. The media did not want to examine the few serious aspects of those subjects (e.g. the UFO as an agency of change, the spiritual gap in people’s lives, the fear/excitement of the coming millennium etc) but used the subject matter solely as a medium for entertainment to sell more newspapers, magazines etc.
The subject was ripe for ridicule – the X-Files encouraged truly strange people to come out of the woodwork (who may have deserved the ridicule they got in the proces of being in the spotlight), whereas the (in the main) genuine and credible UFO witnesses often found themselves publicly embarrassed because they felt they could openly express themselves without the ridicule back-firing upon them – instead they became the focus of entertainment.
However, there was a plus side. The X-Files itself blew open the debate on the UFO and paranormal subjects. At this time they made the subjects, and its investigators, look appealing and sexy (obviously I exclude myself today but I did appear in Just Seventeen, remember that please). The X-Files had fueled the public’s imagination once again and the media was happy to have conversations about conspiracies and so-called proof until such coverage became saturated and the public became bored – Jordan please take note.
Prior to the 90s, the general public last felt such a passion was when Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind was released in cinemas.
Back in the 1990s, I was getting letters in the post asking me how one becomes a professional UFO investigator! I can only name two examples, J. Allan Hynek who was an astronomical consultant with the US Air Force’s projects Sign, Grudge and Bluebook and Jenny Randles, a very well established UFO author and researcher, everyone else unfortunately has to do it in their spare time! I often felt bad when writing my responses as I had taken the motto “The Truth is Out There” to another level. The word ‘sorry’ was often followed by ‘but there is no such thing as a professional investigator’, in fact I had a standard reply that I could quickly send out.
This ten year period also saw an increase in the formation of new UFO groups, there were more and more people wanting to learn about the subject, and if groups didn’t exist in a particular town then one would soon spring up into existence. In the back of the multitude of UFO magazines, there existed a huge list of UFO groups in the UK and it became a bit like a Who’s Who of UFOlogy. If your organisation wasn’t represented then you’d personally take umbrage to this and make sure that you told them of you existance…well I did anyway! Being in these lists guaranteed you lots of cases and one was always hunting for the ‘good’ ones.
Then I noticed the huge surge of UFO sightings being reported. We haven’t seen such numbers since then. Once the millennium had passed UFO reports began to dramatically decline.
The X-Files was the story of two FBI agents who were trying to solve uneXplained cases using established FBI protocol – it was often impossible to prosecute the intangible.
In many stories, our heroes were left with little or no evidence to process and with very few criminals to prosecute. They were in a place between the human world and supernatural one, which resulted in their work losing credibility and our heroes facing dismissal. They were waging a war against conspiracy, the constant injustice, the abuse of authoritative power. They seemed to be fighting the impossible in their grail-like quest to seek out the truth. Yet viewers were untiringly glued to their TV sets in the hope that these heroes would one day win.
Outside of telly land, UFO investigators were too busy chasing aliens than looking at the meaning of the experince in the human world. The seemingly more mundane but valid and interesting reasons why people were making UFO reports had not been seen, it had been ignored so many times. Whilst there is some evidence for the existence of a higher intelligence that interacts with certain people, this idea has never be proven. Moreso because, like dogs who enjoy chasing their own tails, the amateur UFOlogist is clearly barking up the wrong tree in the search for proof. Watching the X-Files from all those years ago clearly reminds me of this.
The slogans ‘seeing is believing’ and ‘Trust No One’ seemed to be adopted by some UFOlogists who wanted to unravel the mysteries of (dare I even mention it) Roswell, the Berwyn mountain mystery, (dare I mention it) the Rendlesham incident, and the existence of Area 51, for example. All of these alleged incidents appeared to focus the public’s attention and imagination on a mistrust of the Government, its need for secrecy, the intelligence community, and the war machine. It was very similar to the fear the public had felt in the late 19th century of science and scientists, often portrayed as evil and tapping into the forces of nature that could not be controlled. In the late 20th century, the public feared a faceless Government and its seemingly unchecked authority. It’s a clear sign that history repeats itself and with that we shall see the same pattern in the world of UFOlogy emerge in the coming years; an unquestioning belief of a supernatural agency that will come and rescue humankind from a mundane world that is slowly being eaten away by people.