Unidentified Flying Objects, although factual, are also inevitably the stuff of great science-fiction, and so it is unsurprising that they have always sold well at the box-office. But the new millennium has seen a white-hot explosion in the popularity of the UFO sub-genre with the theatrical release of at least 40 alien visitation-themed titles since the year 2000, including such box-office hits as Signs (2002), War of the Worlds (2005), the Transformers franchise (2007-2011), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Monsters vs. Aliens (2009), The Fourth Kind (2009), Battle: Los Angeles (2011), Cowboys and Aliens (2011), Super 8 (2011) and Prometheus (2012), to name but a few. With recent and forthcoming UFO/alien themed TV series added o the mix – including Taken (2002) V (2009-), The Event, Falling Skies, and Area 51 – audiences now stand little chance against what amounts to a full-scale alien invasion of our popular culture. So what, you might shrug. Why should we care about UFO movies? After all, they’re just entertainment, are they not?
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|By Robbie Graham |
Silver Screen Saucers
UFO DisclosureA.D. After Disclosure, for example, Richard Dolan and Bryce Zabel write:
“The event that forces Disclosure need not be something as dramatic as an Independence Day scenario, in which gigantic motherships settle over the world’s major cities, a precursor to global attack. The most powerful trigger for Disclosure will be a widespread sighting of a craft that is clearly not one of ours.” 1
And this, Dolan and Zabel note, is where our modern obsession with photographic technology comes in to play:
“In an age when portable digital recording devices proliferate to a degree never imagined in human history, it is inevitable that some group of people will capture still images and video of an event that can no longer be denied, and that they will do so in front of reliable and trusted witnesses to the event. Even though such events have happened before, we are talking about something on a much larger scale. This will finally lead to legitimate news coverage, uncomfortable questions, and the first tentative steps towards answers.” 2
Alternatively, suggest Dolan and Zabel, Disclosure might be triggered by “the sudden appearance of physical evidence,” such as a long-hidden piece of recovered saucer debris, “maybe something discovered in the attic of a Roswell witness.” A deathbed confession by an ex-President or military leader is also a possibility, as is a unilateral Disclosure from a foreign government seeking recognition on the world stage, “like China or Brazil.”3
Such unilateral action seems increasingly plausible as more and more governments (especially in South America) are beginning to talk openly about their UFO investigation practices, releasing hard data for public scrutiny, including video and audio recordings by military personnel (and, significantly, these developments will not have gone unnoticed by the US government).
Some readers might think it highly unlikely that UFO Disclosure will occur in their lifetime. After all, if the lid has been kept on this thing for over sixty years (but for the occasional leak here and there), why on Earth should it come off now? Dolan and Zabel acknowledge that there is a paradox regarding UFO Disclosure, calling it impossible and inevitable:
“Impossible, because the powers-that-be have no incentive for releasing this information in its entirety, so dramatic its transformative power would be, so threatening to established interests. Yet, disclosure of the UFO reality is inevitable. Something this large cannot be held back forever. It is easier to stop a tsunami from reaching the shore.” 4
This is simple and true. Sixty years from now, with all that has transpired in this subject and all that continues to unfold daily, will we really still be debating the reality of UFOs and asking “are we alone”? It seems highly unlikely. Disclosure is coming, for better or for worse, sooner rather than later.
Why Hollywood Matters
In the immediate aftermath of a Disclosure event – before the full facts are known, or made public – would we, the masses, be able to divorce Hollywood’s historical UFO representations from the UFO reality with which we are presented (whatever that reality may turn out to be)? Doubtful. No, it would be several years down the line – once the Disclosure dust had begun to settle – before academics set about the arduous task of deconstructing the socio-cinematic process through which UFOlogical fact and fantasy had merged in our popular culture. In the meantime, a whirlwind of iconic imagery and generic concepts from blockbuster UFO movies would swirl about in the popular consciousness, subtly informing our perceptions and expectations of the ETs, leaving a sprawling trail of confusion in its wake.
One of the first things people will want to know After Disclosure (A.D.) is why the ETs are here: to issue us with a warning and an ultimatum, like in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)? To raise our cosmic awareness and welcome us into their enlightened galactic community, like in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1997)? Or to annihilate us and strip-mine the Earth for its resources, like in Independence Day (1996)? We’d also wonder about the physical appearance these beings: might they be seven-foot-tall, towering dreadlocked hunters, like the Predator (1986)? Perhaps they’re diminutive pug-faced gardeners, like E.T. The Extraterrestrial (1982)? Or maybe they’re sentient robots akin to the Transformers (2007 – 2011), capable of disguising themselves as earthly technology? They could even be little green men, like in Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957), Aliens in the Attic (2009), Planet 51 (2009), the Toy Story movies (1995-2010), and the countless other films and TV shows that have perpetuated this meme over the decades. “Oh, God!” we might think to ourselves, “Let’s hope they’re not the insectoid child-snatchers of Spielberg’s Falling Skies!
The point I am making here is that, following Disclosure, in the short term, at least, UFO-themed movies and TV shows may very well have a bearing on how we interpret and react to the complex events that unfold around us. Is this good, or bad? Well, that depends on whether or not Hollywood’s historical depictions of UFO occupants bear any relation to the true nature and intent of the ETs themselves. A cursory glance through Hollywood’s back-catalogue of UFO movies demonstrates that silver screen aliens are not the friendliest of folk: most of them want only to enslave, eat, or otherwise eradicate humanity. Typically, these aliens are malevolent and physically monstrous creatures whose level of technological advancement far exceeds their moral, ethical and spiritual development.
As human beings, we are imbued with a natural fear of the unknown. Obviously, Hollywood’s hoards of fearsome aliens will do nothing to calm our post-disclosure nerves. But, of course, not all silver screen aliens are intergalactic boogiemen. Some of them do come in peace, bringing with them hope and inspiration for humanity. Here, movies such as Close Encounters, E.T., Starman, Cocoon and The Abyss spring to mind, and perhaps the types of aliens depicted therein have real-life counterparts. Perhaps some of these benevolent beings are, in fact, UFO occupants? If most – or even some – UFO occupants are friendly and enlightened, will Hollywood’s innumerable fear-based UFO movies make it harder for us to trust and embrace such beings? Indeed, would such movies make the beings themselves more reluctant to openly interact with us? After all, no one likes to be demonized – especially not through the all-pervasive medium of cinema.
The Ever Convenient ‘Other’
In its silent era Hollywood famously demonized African Americans in D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915), which presented black men as unintelligent, sexually aggressive primitives and the Ku Klux Klan as a noble and heroic force. Throughout the first half of the 20th Century and beyond, ethnic minorities – particularly African Americans – continued to be the subject of negative silver screen portrayals. But when the overt subjugation of African Americans became widely socially questionable during and after the civil rights movement that peaked in the late-1960s, and as America slowly began to acknowledge its colonial, genocidal history, Hollywood was forced to consider more appropriate ethnicities for its obligatory ‘Other.’ Arabs had long made for convenient silver screen villains, but the Munich massacre of 1972 – in which members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and subsequently killed by the Palestinian Black September Organisation – effectively branded all Arabs a threat to US national security and gave Hollywood the greenlight to produce innumerable ‘Arabs-as-terrorists’ movies in the decades to follow (see, for example, Black Sunday (1977), The Delta Force (1986), Navy Seals (1990), True Lies (1994), Executive Decision (1996), Rules of Engagement (2000), etc). However, following the Earth-shaking events of September 11, 2001, Hollywood became acutely self-conscious of its one-dimensional depictions of Islam and, not wanting to contribute to a potential war of civilizations, industry leaders sought – with only limited success – to encourage more balanced portrayals of Arabs and the Muslim world in both big and small screen products.5
In addition to Islam, Communism has also long provided Hollywood with a convenient ‘alien’ ideology against which to pit silver screen heroes like John Wayne (in Big Jim McLain (1952)), Patrick Swayze (in Red Dawn (1984)), and Sylvester Stallone (in Rocky IV (1985)), etc. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, however, which signalled a formal end to the Cold War, Hollywood has struggled to find its new ‘enemy nation’, its new bad guy – a guy whom it can vilify and demonise without fear of political or religious consequences and whose role as ‘malevolent subversive/invader’ can never be questioned. No matter; in the absence of suitable human villains, filmmakers throughout history have always had the luxury of falling back on the ET menace – from The Thing from Another World (1951) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) to The Fourth Kind (2009) and Battleship (2012). Trusty aliens and their dastardly ways. And this is perfectly fine, of course, because, officially, aliens don’t exist. But when the truth finally outs, Hollywood may face fresh accusations of racism and xenophobia. Will the industry attempt to redress its sixty-plus years of alien-bashing After Disclosure, or will its demonization of our cosmic visitors go into overdrive?
1. Richard M. Dolan and Bryce Zabel, A.D. After Disclosure: The People’s Guide to Life after Contact (New York: Keyhole, 2010), 16.
4. Ibid, 98.
5. See: Jack Shaheen, Guilty: Hollywood’s Verdict on Arabs After 9/11 (Northampton, MA: Interink, 2008).
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