Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Alien Abduction in Pop Culture

(Blogger’s Note: Since there has been some discussion of the elements contained in this partial chapter from The Abduction Enigma, I thought I would reprint it here. It addresses the issue of the cultural elements that have found their way into abduction reports and it mentions some of the early work done by some others. Christopher Allen wanted to address Martin Kottmeyer’s essays on pop cultural influences, suggesting, I guess, that the theory was somehow original to Kottmeyer and none of the rest of us had realized it until he thought of it. As you’ll see, these arguments pre-date some of Kottmeyer’s work ((the witness whose abduction matched Killers from Space so closely was regressed in 1976, for example and I realized the moment I heard it where it originated)), and you’ll see that reference is made to Kottmeyer’s articles. The bibliography for The Abduction Enigma contains five articles and papers published by Kottmeyer.)

David Jacobs has argued that the UFO phenomenon sprang into existence in 1947. Thomas Bullard suggested that the Barney and Betty Hill abduction of 1961 had no cultural sources from which to draw. And Budd Hopkins has claimed that the beings reported by abductees are like no "traditional sci-fi gods and devils." In other words, each is arguing that UFOs and abductions must be real because there are no cultural sources from which the witnesses could draw the material. Without those sources of material, the witnesses must be relating real events rather than some sort of folklore history even though the airship scare of the late nineteenth century demonstrates that the fundamental assumptions by each are inaccurate.

It seems ridiculous to suggest that a phenomenon that has no substantial evidence of its existence other than witness testimony must be real because there is nothing in the past that relates to it. Because there are no past traditions, how did each of these witnesses, who have never communicated, relate similar events if not reporting, accurately, something they have witnessed? This is the question posed by many UFO investigators and abduction researchers.

The answer is, of course, that the cultural precedents demanded by Hopkins, Jacobs and Bullard do exist. Pop culture from the beginning of the twentieth century is filled with examples of alien beings and alien spacecraft that match, to an astonishing degree, the beings and craft being reported today by the abductees.

To completely understand the cultural influences we must examine the pop cultural world. At the turn of the last century information moved at a slower pace, but it still had the impact it does today. For example, there were no radio stations that played the latest music. Instead, sheet music was sold. To sell it, without radio to play the songs, music stores hired piano players and singers. The music circulated through the culture much more slowly, but no less completely. A hit, on sheet music, might take weeks or months to move from one coast to the other, but the point is, it could and frequently did.

Think about that. Music would move from coast to coast. Musicians would hear it in one city and play it in the next. Vaudeville performers used the same popular music in their acts. Player pianos played it to audiences in all sorts of environments. Before long everyone in the country was singing the song, or playing it at home, all without records, radio, national broadcasts or MTV and before Ipods and YouTube.

This demonstrates just how information can be passed from person to person without the modern technology. It also suggest that arguments claiming that one person could not have heard a specific story because it had no national forum is wrong. The information, whether it is music at the turn of the century or information about abductions, can enter into a "collective consciousness." Simply, it moves from person to person until all have been exposed to it.

The introduction of movies, radio, and other mass media, however, have made it even easier to spread data, and provides more opportunities for all of us to be exposed to it. An abductee might claim no interest in science fiction, but that doesn't mean that he or she has not been exposed to the elements of science fiction.

One of the first movies made was the 1902 version of Jules Verne's First Men in the Moon. Walt Disney used parts of it on his old Sunday night show and while science fiction might not have been the theme that night, millions saw it. Since that time, Verne's work has been translated into dozens of films in dozens of versions. They have been broadcast on television for more than fifty years.

H.G. Wells was responsible for more than just adding science fiction to pop culture. His War of the Worlds, first published before the turn of the last century was responsible for one of the great "hoaxes" in American history. In 1938, Orson Welles, in a radio program broadcast nationally, reported on an alien invasion launched by beings from the planet Mars. The panic that developed during that broadcast has been studied for years afterwards.

Even those who hadn't heard the original radio broadcast learned about the after effects. Sociological studies have been done on the mob psychology that produced the panic. But more importantly, it brought the concept of alien invasion into the homes of average American before the 1940s. They might not be reading science fiction, but they were seeing the results of science fiction spread across the front pages of their newspapers.

Science fiction has been an important part of pop culture since Hugo Grensback introduced it to American society in the 1920s. Grensback's idea was to sugarcoat science so that the young would be interested in it. He envisioned it as a way of teaching science to those who weren't interested in learning science. He wanted it to bubble through society, through our collective conscious.

In the 1930s and 1940s there were many science fiction magazines. The covers of them featured full color art designed to catch the eye. Scientists, looking like all-American heroes, monsters of all kinds, and women in scanty clothes and in peril, were the themes on many. At the time, these were the pulp magazines, filled with action stories and exciting tales. Each month the newsstands had new covers, all crying out for attention to convince us to buy the magazine.

One particular cover, from Astounding Stories (seen here), published in June 1935, is particularly important. It shows two alien beings with no hair, no nose, a slit-like mouth and large eyes. Through a door, one of the strange creatures is looking at a woman on an examination table. Her eyes are closed and she is covered by a sheet (a convention of the time), but it is clear that she is naked under the cloth. In the foreground another creature is restraining a man trying to break through to the woman.

This cover predicts many elements of the abduction phenomenon of forty years later. Although, the alien beings have pupils in large whites of the eyes, the similarities to the modern abductions is striking. To suggest that abductees of today could not have seen the cover of a science fiction magazine published decades years earlier is to miss the point. It demonstrates that the idea of alien abduction is not something that developed in a vacuum recently, as aliens began abducting humans, but in fact, had been announced in public long before anyone had heard of flying saucers and alien abduction.

The idea that the aliens are from a dying planet have been played out in everything from Not of this Earth first released in 1956 to many of the most recent science fiction movies, including a 1994 remake of Not of This Earth. Interestingly, the alien is collecting blood in an aluminum briefcase and he always wears dark glasses to hide his eyes. Although not collecting genetic material in the way sometimes suggested by abductees, he is required to send humans to his home world as they attempt to end the plague destroying them. The obvious purpose is to gather human genetic material.

But that very problem is discussed in The Night Caller made in 1965. In that movie the alien is sent to Earth to provide women for "genetic experiments" on his home world. The women are, of course, abducted by that alien.

Films, such as This Island Earth contain alien scientists eventually abducting Earth scientists to help them defeat their enemies on their home world. The 27th Day, features potential alien invaders who provide several people with the power to destroy all human life on Earth so that the aliens can inherit it.

And each of these films suggest human abduction somewhere in the storyline. The 27th Day, begins with five people abducted onto an alien ship where time slows almost to a standstill. The abductees are returned quickly, after being given their mission, and the weapons to wipe out the human race.

Peter Graves, a scientist working on atomic energy, is abducted from his jet as it crashes in Killers from Space. He returns to the base, confused, with a period of missing time and a huge scar on his chest. The one thing that stands out in the film is the huge eyes of the aliens. Although not the jet black orbs of the modern abduction tales, these eyes haunt Graves as he tries to remember exactly what has happened to him. And Graves remembers nothing of the encounter until he undergoes a chemical regression aided by sodium amytal.

To take the Killers from Space (aliens from that movie seen here) theme even a step further, in 1975 I attended a UFO conference in Fort Smith, Arkansas. A man there claimed to have been abducted while waiting in his car at a railroad crossing. Under hypnosis, arranged by the conference organizer Bill Pitts, he told a story of being subjected to a medical examination of some kind. He said that while lying on the table, surrounded by aliens, he could see a huge screen near him. It was a display of his internal organs including his beating heart. And it is a scene right out of Killers from Space. I recognized the scene as soon as I heard it.

The implants claimed by some as proof that abductions are real have also been featured in science fiction movies. Tiny probes, pushed into the back of the neck to monitor the victims, are found in 1953's Invader's from Mars. In fact, there are several scenes in the movie that mirror the stories told by modern abductees.

And for those who find these examples interesting, but not persuasive there is Mars Needs Women. Overlooking the obvious which is, of course, the abduction of women for reproductive purposes, there are the costumes worn by the Martians. These include a tight fitting helmet, not unlike those worn by skindivers. Over the ear was a small, round radio with a short antenna sticking up. This exact costume was reproduced by Herbert Schirmer after his abduction was reported to the Condon Committee in 1968. The contamination by the movie is unmistakable.

What we find, by searching the science fiction movies of the 1950s and 1960s, are dozens of examples of aliens invading from a dying planet, abducting people for reproductive purposes, and implanting small devices into them for a variety of reasons. To suggest, as Budd Hopkins has, that there is no similarity to the "traditional sci-fi gods and devils," is ridiculous. The similarity to many of the alien beings and abduction situations in science fiction is overwhelming.

What we have demonstrated here is that all the elements of the abduction phenomenon have been used in dozens of science fiction stories. These films might have been poorly attended when first released to the theaters, but have been replayed time and again on late night television. Even those who claim no interest in science fiction movies have had the opportunity to see them on the late shows. It cannot be suggested that these films have had no influence on the abduction phenomenon for even if a specific witness could prove he or she had never seen any of these movies, there are dozens of others who have. There is no denying that this aspect of pop culture has had an influence of our view of the aliens and their motivations, and therefore on the reporting of stories of alien abduction.

And even if the witness could somehow prove that he or she had not watched the films on late night television, there would be other arenas for exposure. Again, we slip into a look at pop culture in the 1950s and 1960s. While a specific abductee might have avoided films with flying saucers and aliens in them, he or she would have attended movies. We all did, whether it was the Friday night date, or the kid's matinee on Saturday afternoon. One of the many features of the theater presentation was the trailers, or the previews of coming attractions. So even if the abductee didn't go to the science fiction movies of the era, he or she would have seen the previews for them. The abductee might have avoided seeing the whole film, but would have seen pieces of it while at another movie.

Or, to take it a step further. How many families made it an outing to attend the drive-in theater on a Friday or Saturday night? It didn't matter so much which films were showing, but that the family was going out together. Many of the drive-in movies were the "B" films, those made to support the main attraction. These were black and white science fiction films made cheaply. Many of them were of alien invasions, monsters from outer space, and as we have noted, included many of the elements of the abduction phenomenon of today.

And often, at those Friday night movies, or Saturday matinees, a chapter of a serial was shown. These films featured everything from Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers to Superman and tales of the Lost Continent of Atlantis. Robots, spaceships and evil aliens were the norm. Trips through the Solar System and to planets far away were taken. Many times the main film program was what people attended to see, but the "boring" shorts were shown first, including a serial.

In today's environment, the influence is even more obvious. NBC broadcast the story of Barney and Betty Hill to a national audience in October, 1975. If nothing else, it focused the alien abduction in the minds of so many of the viewers. After that, millions knew that the aliens were smaller than humans and they had big eyes.

Bullard opens his massive study of the abduction phenomenon by reporting on the Hill case. Prior to the release in 1966 of The Interrupted Journey, John Fuller's book about the Hills, there had been no discussion, in this country, of alien abduction. The Antonio Villas-Boas case, known to few even inside the UFO community, would not be known to Betty Hill. Yet, without that prompting, Betty Hill tells a tale of alien abduction that is similar to that related by Villas-Boas. The question that plagues the researchers, including Bullard, is, where did she get the idea?

Bullard believes that the Hills didn't possess the knowledge to construct the nightmare of alien abduction. And, he might be right. We have, however, just been provided with a clue about how the idea originated. The question is, are there other facts that add to this? Barney Hill's hysterical reaction certainly isn't enough to add the details of small alien creatures. The answer to this can be found in Keyhoe's The Flying Saucer Conspiracy.

At the time of the Hill abduction, there were few public reports of alien creatures. It was not a topic discussed much in UFO circles. Keyhoe cites a dozen of so of these cases, ignoring the majority of them. He does, however, treat the case of pilot in Hawaii who claimed, "I actually saw him," meaning the creature from the craft, with respect. Keyhoe seems to be suggesting that the story, while wildly extreme, at that time, has an undercurrent of authenticity.

More importantly, however, Keyhoe writes of UFO reports from Venezuela that seem to have contributed to Betty Hill's nightmare. In his book, Keyhoe reports on two men who sight a bright light on a nearby road. Hovering over the ground is a round craft with a brilliant glow on the underside. According to Keyhoe, four little men came from it and tried to drag Jesus Gomez to it. An apparent abduction that failed.

Betty wrote to Keyhoe, "At this time we are searching for any clue that might be helpful to my husband, in recalling whatever it was he saw that caused him to panic. His mind has completely blacked out at this point. Every attempt to recall, leaves him very frightened."

All of this, from Keyhoe's writings about nasty, hairy dwarfs who are attempting to kidnap humans, to the idea that the aliens are conducting some kind of experimentation, were introduced prior to 1961. The elements for the abduction scenario as outlined by the Hills were abundant throughout the media. If Bullard wonders where Betty Hill got the idea, a study of the case will provide an answer for it. There is no denying that pop culture could have supplied the various elements. Betty Hill may have pulled them together into a single, neat package. Please note here that I said, "May have..."

Martin S. Kottmeyer, writing in Magonia, presents a good argument for the introduction of elements from pop culture. For example, Barney Hill talked of "wraparound eyes" when he described the aliens to his psychiatrist, an element of extreme rarity in science fiction films. But Kottmeyer found the exception. He wrote, "They appeared on the alien episode of an old TV series, 'The Outer Limits' entitled the 'The Bellero Shield.' A person familiar with Barney's sketch in The Interrupted Journey and the sketch done in collaboration with the artist David Bakerwill find a 'frisson' of 'dejavu' creeping up his spine when seeing this episode. The resemblance is much abetted by an absence of ears, hair, and nose on both aliens. Could it be by chance? Consider this: Barney first described and drew the wraparound eyes during the hypnosis session dated 22 February 1964. 'The Bellero Shield' was first broadcast 10 February 1964. Only twelve days separated the two instances. If the identification is admitted, the commonness of wrap around eyes in the abduction literature falls to cultural forces."

Betty Hill was eventually asked about this by UFO researchers. She claimed that neither she nor Barney ever watched the Outer Limits. It seems ridiculous to believe that she would be able to recall if her husband watched a television show some thirty years earlier. It could simply have been the only time that he ever watched it. The coincidence between the airing of The Bellero Shield and Barney's description some twelve days later is interesting. (See also my discussion of the Twilight Zone episode about an alien abduction called "Hocus Pocus and Frisby" that follows this. Alien from that broadcast shown here.)

The situation of April 1961 is slightly different than we have been lead to believe. The Hill abduction didn't spring into existence in a cultural vacuum, but in a society where information was shared nationally on television and by the movies, not to mention magazines and books. Betty's interest in UFOs predated her experience because of her sister's UFO sighting, and Barney's fear of capture while driving on a lonely stretch of highway in New Hampshire, created the scenario. As the days passed, Betty Hill dreamed of the incident, writing about them in her diary. When interviewed by interested UFO researchers, she always told about her dreams, with Barney sitting in the room with her. The rest of it came together almost naturally.

It is important to note that the Hills' psychiatrist, Dr. Benjamin Simon, never believed the story told under hypnosis. He didn't accept the abduction as real. He believed it to be a confabulation, a fact often forgotten by UFO researchers.

What we have then, is a well ingrained theory, that is, that aliens are abducting humans, fueled by speculation from science fiction movies and the popular press. All the ideas have been discussed, in the movies, on the radio, on television and in books. All elements of the abduction phenomenon have been well publicized long before the first of the abductions was reported. Contrary to what the UFO researchers might want to believe, we can find all the elements of abduction in pop culture. We may have to search several sources, but there is no denying that the elements were all present before Betty Hill made her astonishing report.

If alien abductions are real, and even if we find precedents in pop culture and in folklore traditions, the abduction experience itself should be unique. We should find nothing similar to it in our society. It turns out that such is not the case. Alien abduction is not unique. There is another phenomenon that has grown out of pop culture, whose traditions and traits mimic UFO abduction almost step for step. It is a phenomenon reported, essentially by the same kinds of people, investigated by the same kinds of people, and it provides us with clues about the reality of claims of alien abduction.


RRRGroup said...


What your conjecture presents is a chicken/egg scenario: which came first.

It's possible (and possible is the operative word) that the writers for movies, SciFi magazines, and TV shows did not generate their abduction tales ex nihilo, from nothing.

The tales had to have precursors, and where did those precursors come from?

Did abductions take place and writers got their ideas from them somehow, or did writers come up with an original concept (alien abduction) that spread like wildfire in the SciFi community.

I'm no big fan of the abduction phenomenon, but something happened to the Hills, and others, that needs more than the cultural stretch you propose.....although your views resonate well with us UFO agnostics.

Rich Reynolds
UFO Iconoclast(s), etc.

Bob Koford said...

This article caused me to get out the book again and reread some of it.

It's a slightly different sub-topic, but I must admit that the part about people without proper borders is very to the point. It may not fit every scenario, but I definitely agree that certain people could be coached into having more and more dreams, hence made to believe they are continually being re-abducted, as a direct result of continuing "therapy".

starman said...

Of course Simon denied the Hills were really taken by aliens. Had he accepted that story, it would've been the end of him professionally. Colleagues would've considered him crazy. Even many years later, Mack incurred ridicule, despite the fact that the abduction phenomenon was no longer new and was beginning to gain some acceptance.

KRandle said...

Please remember that all I'm saying here is that the cultural elements of alien abduction existed prior to the first reported abductions. I'm not saying that they caused it, only that they might have influenced it.

Yes, the Hills suffered some sort of trauma, but it wasn't necessarily alien abduction. The roots of their trauma might have been elsewhere. Please not the qualificaitons. I'm not saying that these other, terrestrial explanations are correct, only that we need to look at it to understand the whole picture.

Finally, Simon said what he believed to be the truth and Mack got into trouble, not for studying alien abduction but for violating research protocols. And also remember that this was all ended in his favor. He suffered no real trouble for his beliefs... unlike some of us who are attacked for suggesting that we look everywhere for our explanations and not just at the extraterrestrial.

Rmoyer said...

I went to a MUFON meeting last night. A talk was given on abductions. There was no mention of you book "The Abduction Enigma" during the talk. Afterward, I asked the about your book to the presenter who responded that you "cherry picked" abduction cases that fit your theory, and rejected cases that were more enigmatic.