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UFOs and Science Fiction

Forgetomori points out that Martin Kottmeyer’s seminal essay “Gauche Encounters” – on connections between bad science fiction movies/TV and tales of alien abductions and UFO encounters – can now be read online at the Talking Pictures website. The updated postscript to the article contains a good capsule summary by the author:

‘Gauche Encounters’ was originally conceived and written around 1989. It was intended to appear in a zine for bad film buffs called Zontar – The Magazine from Venus that I dearly loved. The editor accepted it, but the zine disappeared before the article was used. I copied it and sent it to some friends of mine who were UFO buffs like me. I knew it wasn’t the sort of thing you send to UFO journals and so never sent it off anywhere else to be published. As the years went by I sometimes took bits of it for shorter, meatier articles for other publications, but never gave much thought to re-doing it. Ironically, while I was to write literally dozens of other articles in the years that followed, this paper became my most-cited work even though it remained unpublished. Not just friends known to me, but total strangers, professional psychologists among them, were footnoting it. Recently I saw it in the references to Carl Sagan’s ‘The Demon-Haunted World’. Clearly, it got around more than I expected.

The essay is both entertaining (you’ve got to love reading about the 1964 movie Kiss Me Quick, in which “a Dr Breedlove is displaying strippers to an alien named Sterilox from Drupiter in the Buttless Galaxy”), and also informative in showing how many tales of alien encounters seem to have strong points of similarity with certain science fiction broadcasts of the day.

One of the most controversial elements of the essay is Kottmeyer’s take on the famous ‘abduction’ of Betty and Barney Hill (an abridged version of which appeared in Skeptical Inquirer under the title of “The Eyes That Spoke“):

Barney Hill’s version of events does not match Betty’s in all particulars. One feature he emphasizes in his hypnosis sessions is that the aliens have “wraparound” eyes. The source of this feature serendipitously appeared before me one evening while watching reruns of The Outer Limits on the local PBS station. Having recently looked over sets of drawings of the Hills’ aliens, I instantly recognized the alien of the episode ‘The Bellero Shield’ had to be the inspiration for Barney’s alien. I simultaneously realized it was an absurdity since the events of The Interrupted Journey belonged to 1961 and The Outer Limits played in the mid-1960s. The paradox quickly resolved after some research. Barney said or drew nothing about “wraparound eyes” until a hypnosis session dated February 22, 1964. ‘The Bellero Shield’ aired on February 10, 1964. Further corroboration of the link emerged on learning Barney stated, “the eyes are talking to me.” Eschewing telepathy, the Bellero Shield alien analyses eyes and explains “all who have eyes, have eyes that speak.”

I think sometimes Kottmeyer overextends himself in looking for links – after all, in the vast corpus of sci-fi stories and UFO/alien encounter lore, you are sure to find numerous crossovers which don’t necessarily have direct links. However, he is cautious enough to point this fact out himself in the essay – and the strongest parts of his investigation are those in which *multiple* elements are found between one sci-fi story and an individual alien encounter.

There are also some elements which Kottmeyer sees as obvious evidence of a fictional influence upon alien abduction lore which I disagree with somewhat. He ascribes the presence of ‘mists’ in these recollections as originating in the use of mist in sci-fi films. However, paranormal encounters from previous centuries also contain this element (see the upcoming Darklore #2 for a good essay on this aspect). And he describes the 1975 case of Sandra Larson, who claimed that aliens removed her brain and put it back in again, as “a re-write” of the Star Trek episode “Spock’s Brain” – even though shamans talk about much the same thing in their own experiences (indeed, there are numerous links between alien encounters and shamanic “trips”).

There are other odd links between sci-fi and the UFO/alien phenomenon. For example, the supposedly fictional story of Hodomur, Man of Infinity (1934!), which Keith Thompson describes in his book Angels and Aliens:

The event took place in a remote area near Brabant where farmers had reported suspiciously crushed vegetation in their wheat fields. While walking in this area, Belans noticed a man dressed in black under a tree, apparently waiting for something. His curiousity aroused, Belans waited and watched. Soon an unusual feeling of fatigue came over him, as if some force had taken control of his actions. This was followed by a strange buzzing sound, then by a very bright light, as an elongated craft landed nearby.

Anybody who has researched paranormal encounters will recognise many of the elements here which have been reported over the centuries, such as the buzzing sound, the fatigue, and the bright light. And yet this is supposedly science fiction. As Alice might say, curiouser and curiouser.

Check out Kottmeyer’s piece – it’s a great essay, even if I don’t subscribe to all of the author’s conclusions. Also, Forgetomori has a gallery of relevant images to help you out in seeing how spot on many of Martin Kottmeyer’s observations are.

  1. If only it were that simple
    Kottmeyer might have a point, if the UFO/alien phenomena belonged entirely to the 20th Century. Unfortunately for Kottmeyer, the phenomena goes back thousands of years and is prevalent in the mythology and folklore of all cultures. We are not witnessing a modern phenomena, but one that is as old as civilisation — and perhaps prehistory.

    1. Yes…
      But one that’s been filtered and interpreted according to the prevailing cultural values of each age.

      It’s not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me…
      It’s all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

      Red Pill Junkie

      1. long time
        I have not made a formal investigation, but it seems that the UFO reports report features that are common to the era. Ships in the sky and such.

        This is actually more interesting than just UFOs. When we look at clouds today, we see things that sort of look like a ship, or a house, or something like that.

        In the middle ages, they looked at clouds and saw a ship, or a house. Not something that looked like those things, they actually saw it.

        Perhaps this was due to the lack of corrective lenses (about 50% of the population has had eyesight). More likely, it was due to a different mindset, different perception.

        It is not how fast you go
        it is when you get there.

        1. Clouds with lights?
          There are dozens of reports made on the southwest US where people reported “air ships” with wings and sails that flew during the night illuminating the fields and owns with powerful projecting lights. Kind of like a steampunk version of the Atomic-era UFO that it’s reported today.

          This was on the XIXth century, when one of the most read authors was Jules Verne, so I guess people were starting to grasp the idea that man would eventually conquer the heavens. On those newspapers reports many people assumed the “airships” were inventions of some crazy/genius scientist testing a new invention; and of course that possibility musn’t be ruled out, however if we discard it for a moment, then maybe we have two other choices left:

          *The “airships” were some sort of cammouflage that would allow the UFOs to create less panick among the population; or

          *What people saw in the skies was mostly the result of comfronting something to which they had not previous experience. Something so completely out of their daily goings-on that their minds interpreted it using their subconscious expectations and cultural baggages. Hence we had flying shields in Roman times, flying crosses in Constantinople, flying cruisers in the middle ages, airships at the beginning of the industrial age, and nuts-and-bolts spaceships from the 1940s to this day.

          It’s not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me…
          It’s all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

          Red Pill Junkie

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