I’m hoping that I will be proven wrong on Thursday night but somehow I doubt it. My experience tells me that I’m going to be sorely disappointed.
What is the media fascination with people who have unfortunately been labeled ‘abductees’? It’s simple really; titillation and sales. As an ethnographer working work in this field I’ve already encountered first hand many invitations to participate in TV programmes or interviews. Once, a for a certain late night TV show, I was asked to participate in came with the add-on
We would love you to come on the show but would you be willing to dress up as an alien?
Ok, so it wasn’t Panarama and I promptly told them to get stuffed.
However, I strongly recommend that fellow UFO researchers consider taking my own skeptical approach (we’re not desperate for publicity, take the hint). There are a large number of us who have spent years looking into the subject, we don’t search the skies for alien craft and we don’t look for Government conspiracies. I’m not a dog who likes to chase his own tail. I do believe that with this subject the media have a lazy attitude, such is the integrity of the media who claim to have a ‘serious’ interest in the subject. Let’s face it, this subject and all of its components have more in common with philosophy, spirituality and folklore than it does with contact with extraterrestrial visitors.
Well we already know this, from the ultra skeptical pages of the broadsheets to the ultra ‘this is real’ take so often conveyed in the pages of the Daily Mail. The example cited here illustrates perfectly what I mean and shows how a newspaper deliberately portrays the UFO percipient as ‘strange’, look at their portrait photos to see how they’ve been posed…this is shameful journalism. These photos suggest that there’s something possibly wrong with these individuals and I’m sure that they’re very normal people who just happen to have had incredible experiences that have ‘rocked their world’.
I’m aware that the subject has its madmen and nutters (one of my cases involved someone suffering with schizophrenia so I called a psychologist to come along with me as I’m not qualified in this field, I just happen to recognise some symptoms) but so too do many other subjects but these are considered too dull to be covered by the media, after all UFOs and ‘alien abductions’ make fun stories and they also sell news. This is the only reason why the media want to cover such esoteric topics, for ultra cheap TV programmes to be made and I’ve personally witnessed this myself. An analogy would be the potential for having a meal made personally by a chef but instead because the ingredients seem cheap one decides to opt for a burger product.
So on Thursday night, viewers are to be treated to what appears to be a classic example of a UFO freakshow. Confessions of an Abductee will be aired on Channel 4 at 9pm (that’s 13 June folks). Here we are going to take a look at Ammach, a UK-based UFO belief-based organization that supports and counsels people who claim to have been abducted by aliens. Co-founder Miles Johnston can be seen seated here on the left.
Here the programme seems to make the mistake in assuming that the UFO community does not consider other view points on this subject.It will be interesting to see if this is the case. Will Dr. David Clarke be involved in the making of this show, probably not.
For example, was consideration given to the possibility that such experiences could be interpreted as, even are, shamanic experiences. That sounds just as crazy I guess as those people claiming to have been kidnapped by aliens, isn’t it? Well no, there’s actually a huge amount of evidence for this…this being the subject of my own research.So no this hasn’t been considered to date. I wonder if this will be mentioned, even discussed on the show?
How about the possibility that the UFO movement is also a New Religious Movement for the 20th and 21st centuries with its growing number of churches, priests and bibles being read by those deeply involved in the subject? I don’t literally mean real UFO churches are being built, no I mean that UFO organisations can act as churches with high profile authors and TV presenters acting as priests and anyone else who believes that this planet is being visited by alien beings as church followers. This too may not have been considered.
How about that UFO believers are actually participants in a cult, where the UFO ‘researcher’ is the cult leader informing ‘abductees’ that they’re playing an important role in a huge cosmic battle between the forces of good (aliens) against the forces of evil (other aliens) and that we’re their pawns…this is where many ‘witnesses’ acquire the belief that they have been taken by aliens – it’s what they read or what they’re told or what they’ve seen in films and TV programmes that informs a classic abduction narrative for their experience.
After I had been interviewed by a journalist in 2003 about UFOs, I turned their attention to the Anamnesis project, a long term project led by the British UFO Research Association which enables the UFO percipient to try and understand more about themselves and their experiences. It does not involve any act of hypnotism and regression (which have been demonstrated time and time again to be flawed techniques in recovering ‘real’ memories). Anamnesis is a very different, more humane, certainly more normal approach to studying people (not aliens – do you see where I’m going with this?).
Years ago I helped to co-ordinate what was called a Witness Support Group in Merseyside. Basically a group of people with shared experiences would meet regularly in an informal setting. Its aim was to normalise people’s experiences and it was based on an American buddy system. A friend of mine, and psychology student and nurse at the time was the insider who worked with the group). In a short period of time this group failed to work as witnesses were strongly influenced by the UFO literature available at the time (glossy mags and videos) that seemed to promote the myth about visiting aliens. Once I saw this happening I disbanded the group and the support of the British UFO Research Association. The same thing happened with the London WSG but they’re still going as a belief-based group.
No, the media may not have even considered any of the above. Why? Is it because this information isn’t available? Or that no academics have taken an interest? There have been several books on UFO religions over the last ten years,and a plethora of academic articles that can be reached as free pdf’s online. Eve the Anamnesis project was published in various journals and books by Ken Phillips and Dr. Alex Keul, there’s actually an abundance of material for the journalist to access. However, from experience I know that some journalists can be very lazy, basing their ‘subject intelligence’ from glossy magazines and a plethora of websites – not one journalist has asked me how one accesses this material and know how to separate the wheat from the chaff – ‘cos they’re the experts here aren’t they?
My own interest in this subject, an interest that spans 20 years, enables to me to say with some authority ‘well there’s tons of rubbish being kicked about in the UFO subject, it’s very difficult for a newcomer to know what is fact from fiction – if that’s possible. But despite this fact there’s actually something very profound and very interesting going on with the UFO subject and if someone sits up and pays attention – away from the conspiracy theories of crashed ships, Government alliances with aliens and all that nonsense, and away from the alien abduction beliefs and actually focus on what matters, the people having these very experiences, then one will sit there completely fascinated about the wonders of human life and the world which we are privileged to inhabit.
Very few people are interested in paying for subject knowledge (especially as one as strange as UFOs)…let’s see there’s Nick Pope, ex-MoD (just one officer to investigate the many sightings being reported to the MoD each year – this isn’t practically possible – and the tax payer wants their pounds being spent on investigating UFO sightings?) and Jenny Randles (the closest Britain has to a professional UFOlogist) and…hmm…Dr. David Clarke an academic who has many years experience research, investigating and writing about the subject. Very rarely would these lovely individuals consider doing TV, newspaper work for free and quite right too. Instead the media go and interview anyone who is willing to the talk about the subject for free. Pay peanuts get monkeys.
And so on Thursday evening we may be subject to a wonderful circus show, Confessions of an Alien Abductee, where viewers will be presented with a middle aged lady who has paid for DNA analysis and a lie detector test that have proved fruitless in her quest to understand her experiences and life tragedies (btw, both of those techniques are flawed for examining such experiences – who advises these people to take these tests anyway? Likely the ‘researcher’/believer involved).
One of Ammach’s founders, Joanne Summerscales, informs the viewer that many ‘witnesses’ experience ridicule, vilification and isolation (this is very true). Here one of Ammach’s roles is to offer non-judgemental interviews and an opportunity to talk about it. She says
We had someone whose child was taken off them because social services think they are nutty. A lot of people are afraid of losing friends and family if they speak out. They’re afraid people will think they’re cuckoo.
Joanne is correct in informing the viewer that many UFO ‘witnesses’ and Close Encounter percipients suffer from ridicule and isolation – I’ve experienced this myself through my own UFO experience in 1989 and I’ve discovered in my research that there’s little difference between a UFO/abductee experience and a religious one. It’s certainly ecstatic and enough to change a person’s life profoundly.
However, I do have concerns about the way UFO percipients are led to believe that they’ve been kidnapped by aliens when something else might be happening.
Perhaps I’m jumping the gun, being unfair, my harsh judgement about a subject I’ve become fond of after all these years, and yes I’ve become protective of the people concerned…the percipients that is…so Thursday night I’ll be watching hoping for surprises, new information, new research, perhaps even a piece of gold dust but I think I know where this is programme is going…edited in a way that gives all participants a helping hand in making them all look rather stupid.
I have a feeling, and I want to be wrong, that Thursday’s show will not be very different to what viewers have come to expect on their screens…indeed I have strong suspicion that this programme will be sent to that basement of TV production where crap is hidden away until it crumbles to dust to be forever more forgotten.