In 1968 Erich Von Däniken published Chariots of the Gods, thus forever ruining my credibility with friends to whom I fervently repeated his theory that Earth was visited by ancient extraterrestrial astronauts, who taught our forefathers how to raise obelisks and build spaceports for their craft to land on. Of course, my friends also knew me to be waiting for the superheroes in my favourite television cartoon, ‘Force G’, to cart me away from the tedium of family life to a career in fighting interstellar baddies, so it wasn’t a great shock.
Däniken’s critics think he’s a fraudulent crackpot. He didn’t help his case when he got a potter to fake pottery shards decorated with flying saucers and planted them at an archeological site—a surprising move since he’s a Taurean and therefore stable, prudent, with a great work ethic, and ideally suited to a career in banking or any kind of bureaucracy (or so Wikipedia says). Even in India, where the most outrageous claptrap is routinely given serious consideration by the media, the courts, and Parliament, the press ridiculed von Däniken when he came to research a radioactive cave in Kashmir that he thought might be an alien landing site.
Be that as it may, the whole thing has left me with an abiding interest in UFOs, partly because I’m still waiting for the Force G chaps. I read books on the famous 1947 ‘Roswell Incident’, in which a crash site in New Mexico was treated with extreme weirdness by the military, and Budd Hopkins’ research on alien abduction, which explains some people I know. I badgered my editor to do a story on UFOs until he said, “If you can get me the advertising, knock yourself out.”
So when I recently had a chance to watch the world’s most well respected documentary on UFOs, I grabbed it. For a few minutes there was just the presenter and me in the room, both of us looking faintly sheepish, but then twenty other space cadets turned up and I was excited again. Social stigma is a terrible thing.
Out of the Blue, narrated by Peter Coyote and produced by James Fox, investigates seminal sightings such as the 1997 Phoenix Lights phenomenon, in which hundreds of people reported the passing of a huge triangular craft with lights; and the Rendlesham File, which documents the physical investigation of a UFO by American military personnel in the Bentwaters area in England.
Besides a hopelessly spoofy musical background it’s a rather compelling movie, focusing only on credible witnesses, most of them in the military or government (although this might be definitive proof that they’re out to lunch). It also looks at only that tiny percentage of UFO sightings that do not submit to any conventional or easy explanation.
One of the interesting points the movie makes is that governments are beginning to declassify information related to UFO sightings, moving away from the strictures of the Robertson Panel set up by the CIA in 1952 to discredit floods of reported sightings. The Russians, British, French, Mexican, Brazilian and Chilean governments are finally releasing documents, in many of which authorities swear UFO witnesses to oaths of lifelong secrecy.
Now, I’m as big a fan of Men In Black as anyone else. The whole idea lends itself to parody. National Enquirer-style flying saucers and creatures with big black eyes and bulgy heads don’t do anything for me. But I’m quite willing to stick my neck out and say that anything is possible, because truth is almost always stranger than fiction.
It could be just because I’m Aquarian, and therefore eccentric, dreamy, given to meditating on abstractions that bear little relevance to life, and unable to take a position because I see both sides of the argument.