Monday, May 14, 2007
Irrespective of what you think UFOs are all about, one constant has been that there are people who are interested in the subject. Some of these people have had major influences on how the subject has developed over the decades. Indeed many have shaped the way how we are informed about it, sometimes in encouraging ways and others in ways that have underminded the credibility of the subject.
Many times I have said that if you thought the UFO mystery is strange, just consider a lot of the people who study the subject and even many of those who seek to inform us what the mystery is all about. Many are far weirder (if thats possible - it seems so some of the time) than the subject itself.
English researchers Dr. David Clarke and Andy Roberts have focused on this aspect of the UFO controversy with their book "Flying Saucerers - A social history of UFOlogy" from Alternative Albion - a leading publisher of folklore, mythology and cultural studies in the UK.
As a social history this well researched book focuses on the social dimensions of the UFO controversy in the United Kingdom from its beginnings in the 1940s through to the end of the 1970s. It alludes to more recent developments in a brief concluding chapter which argues for a decline in the popularity of the subject - "the death of ufology" mantra - essentially reducing the subject to a modern myth peculiar to the second half of the 20th century: "faith in flying saucers and aliens is ultimately a product of our time" - "just one manifestation of humanity's long and lonely quest to find an answer to the vexed question:'Are we alone?' it remains to be seen if that question will finally be answered in the new millennium which lies ahead of us." One gets the distinct impression that the focus of the book - the period from the late 1940s through to late 1970s - does not inspire much confidence that ufolology as the authors present it will be a part of ultimate answer to the vexing question.
In my opinion that is not a bad thing. The ufology described in "Flying Saucerers" is largely populated by eccentrics and fringe dwellers who cling to extreme and skewed views of what the UFO phenomenon is all about. "The saucer's apprentice" of Clarke and Roberts' social history is Desmond Leslie, who helped launch George Adamski on the world stage, and their partnership helped popularised the wild and wooly world of the flying saucer contactee, which contributed substantially to the marginalisation of the UFO subject. Their toxic embrace even infected "the great and good" - the English Royal family and some of the English elite, such as Lord Mountbatten and Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding. There were steadying influences such as scientist and intelligence expert R.V. Jones, but some them, such as astronomer Patrick Moore, may have even contributed to the saucery descent, with deliberate hoaxing. However much of this is overstated in its impact, after all "Credic Allingham's" "Flying Saucer from Mars" never held much sway. Likewise George King's Aetherius Society played to the alienated fringes of society, and one has to wonder about the rationality of Special Branch's interest in the organisation, again a sign of the times? The uncritical embrace of things saucerian such as the extraterrestrial "ley legacy", Peter Caddy's Findhorn "saucer" roots, "flying saucers from hell" and the predictably uncritical "new age" ET eclecticism dominate the book.
Each of these aspects are well described, but seldom is the UFO phenomenon itself evident in any serious way. This is not expected in such a "social history" but when these fringe extremes are utilised to argue for the overall lack of credibility for the UFO phenomenon itself (such as "Slouching for Warminster" (the 1960s "flying saucer" "grand central" of the UK) and "In preparation for the landing" (which focuses on the so-called "Welsh Triangle" saga)) the "psycho-social" heart of the book is most in evidence. The serious side of the UFO endeavour in the UK does not get much of a hearing, except where it is enlisted in the argument that there is not really much to UFOs after all, except for fascinating social histories.
This is a welcomed social history of part of the UK UFO story. It represents a social template that has some ultility on the wider UFO story witnessed around the world. However it is far from the full story of the UFO phenomenon itself. While it contains important UFO narratives and perspectives, it does not confront the complexity evident in the core UFO phenomenon. I see "flying saucery" in a lot of places in the history of mankind's flirtations with the UFO mystery. If it was the main story behind the UFO controversy, I doubt if I would have maintained my decades long interest in the subject, except for my own passion for UFO history, both "natural history" and "social history". It is the strength of the "natural history" of the subject - seen in such works as Richard Hall's two "UFO Evidence" titles - 1964 and 2001 - that sustains me more.
However contributions like this social history inform us well of the lessons that should be learnt in our embrace with this extrordinary mystery. There is a potent social history and there is also a potent and mysterious UFO phenomenon. Lets hope that the new millenium's embrace with the UFO phenomenon does better than the eccentricities that have often dominated the 20th century's efforts. The UFO phenomenon, it seems, still awaits the time when a serious examination of the phenomenon itself dominates rather than our humanised obssessions. A potent and robust mystery awaits.