Last Friday the Buckingham Palace’s news service informed of the passing of 99-year-old Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and husband to Queen Elizabeth II.
The mainstream media coverage has so far centered mostly on Philip’s troubled upbringing as a member of the exiled Greek royal family, his prowess at the British Royal Navy during WW2, his early attempts at bringing certain sense of modernity to the rusty conventions of the monarchy –he was the one who had the idea of televising Elizabeth’s coronation, to the shock of both the royal staff and the Abbot of Westminster– and his unique situation of being forever shadowed by the most powerful woman in the world –he was bitterly disappointed to the fact that none of his children would be allowed to wear his last name, Mountbatten.
Prince Philip was certainly a controversial figure full of lights and shadows, like any other human being. But amidst all these reminisces and eulogies that sometimes mention his love for polo, his inconvenient racist or sexist remarks, his alleged extra-marital affairs, or even the occasional trophy killing of a tiger in India, it is interesting to notice how neither the BBC nor AP or the New York Times bothered to even mention one of Philip’s most unique passions: UFOs.
It is not that the father of England’s next-in-line found the topic just mildly interesting. According to Fortean Times Prince Philip spent decades amassing an impressive library of books related solely to the topic of flying saucers, and he event spent his last summer vacation reading a book about the famous Rendlesham incident. Also, according to his former personal assistant’s autobiography, the Duke regularly requested UFO witnesses to have private audiences with him at Buckingham palace.
So why is it that this sort of news is still relegated to the tabloids, in an age in which UFOs were supposedly losing their giggle factor stigma?
Both my mom and I are fans of Netflix’s The Crown, which has revitalized the public interest on the English royal family –even before Oprah’s interview with Meghan and Harry put even more attention at the skeletons hidden inside Buckingham’s many closets. But the closest thing Netflix’s producers came to acknowledging Philip’s deep interest in the subject, was on episode 3 of season 7 (Moondust), in which Philip is glued to the tv listening to a interview with the Apollo 11 astronauts as they are about to embark on the historical flight to the Moon, and Elizabeth mentions to him in passing how NASA had selected her to be part of the group of notable figures intended to write a message on behalf of all mankind, which would be left on the lunar surface along with “an olive branch, for the little green men to wave about.”
This little joke was of course only meant to add into the historical context the series was navigating –1969, when tales of ‘little green men’ were part of the cultural zeitgeist– but why not go deeper and use Philip’s obsession of UFOs as a plot point? Because it would be too embarrassing, in a series which has had no qualms weaving all sorts of scandals into their narrative?
I think of this sort of intentional whitewashing –or in this case, saucerwashing– which historians and journalists fall into all too often, when they fear mentioning UFOs in a biographical piece compromises its credibility. Take for instance animation historian and author Amid Amidi, who is the founder of the blog Cartoon Brew I used to frequent several years ago; for years Amidi has been working on a biography about legendary animator Ward Kimball, one of the Disney’s ‘Nine Old Men’ whose talent influenced modern animation for many decades. Kimball, like many right-brained artists, was interested in many quirky hobbies like old locomotive trains and playing the trombone; and among those extravagant hobbies were also UFOs: he was a card-carrying member of MUFON and there are several mythologies floating around the field dealing with how Ward was appointed by Walt to direct a documentary commissioned by the Air Force about UFOs, which would even contain footage of an actual landing of a flying saucer at Holloman AFB (people interested in the subject are encouraged to read Silver Screen Saucers by Robbie Graham).
But when I asked Amidi if he intended to include Ward Kimball’s interest in UFOs in this ‘definitive’ biography he was writing, I received nothing but internet crickets.
It is both sad and funny when historians and authors forget that, whether UFOs are real or not, UFO interest is real and has influenced historical events as much as any other type of belief. If Ward Kimball had suddenly converted into a Pentecostal snake charmer, don’t you think Amidi would have been pressed to mention this in his work? Similarly, if Prince Philip had shown an interest in Buddhist meditation or tantric practices, you can bet the writers of The Crown would have found that to be fertile ground for their historical dramatization. But UFOs? Oh no, we want to be taken seriously, you see…
Prince Philip’s life was marked with privilege. Perhaps it is time to accept an uncomfortable truth, and acknowledge the fact that UFOlogy in the XXIst century is also a privilege few people can afford to invest in. A privilege, because UFOs don’t directly affect the lives of most human beings, and the majority of people living on this planet are too preoccupied with the bare necessities of life, to care on whether there are things zipping about the heavens coming from God knows where. Until UFOlogy stops being a privilege dominated by white men –just check the faces shown in the lineup of most UFO conferences– UFOs will remain a small footnote in the pages of history.
And perhaps things will change over time and UFOs will be taken seriously by people outside the small circles of aficionados in Twitter and Facebook, but I suspect that for that too happen a lot of things in our society will have to change and/or be discarded. Like Monarchies, for starters…