Thursday, November 03, 2005

ALIEN ABDUCTION REPORTS ARE RISING — AS SEEN ON TV

Alien Outside Window
By Amy Wilson
The Lexington Herald-Leader
11-3-05

     A few quick questions: Have you seen beams of light come into your room through a window? Have you ever woken up startled? Do you have chronic sinusitis? Do you have to sleep against a wall? Ever been afraid of your closet? Have ringing in your ears? A fear of doctors? Had the feeling you were going crazy? Are you aware of the cosmos, interested in ecology, the environment, vegetarianism?

     Did you answer "yes" to one or more?

     The good news is, welcome to the club. The bad news is, according to a study conducted in 2002 by the Roper Center for Public Opinion, these are a few of 58 positive indicators that you might be one of the 3.7 million Americans who say they have been abducted by aliens.

     Even better news? There's about to be a bunch more of you.

     It seems that you can Google "alien abduction," read big books, do extensive research and still come up with one conclusion: The more TV you watch, the more knowledge you have of the appearance and behavior of abducting aliens. And the more knowledge you have, the more likely you are to be abducted.

     Or think you've been abducted.

     Or are willing to try to convince the rest of us that you've been abducted, experimented on, had your eyes pulled out, your private parts probed and your nose implanted with some kind of thing that only the aliens can find on careful review.

     So with the loyal sci-fi audience success of the new alien-themed dramas Threshold on CBS and Invasion on ABC -- last week, they netted 6 million and 3 million viewers, respectively -- the aliens might be coming soon to a back road, bedroom or bus station near you.

     Ever since 1966, when Betty and Barney Hill first went public with a tale of aliens sampling their DNA, there has been a virtual epidemic of alien takings.

     The abduction of the Hills made big news at the time. In 1961, the couple had reported only seeing bright lights.

     But in 1966, when they went to a hypnotist, Betty revealed her brave endurance of a painful nose probe and, as if that weren't enough, she gave researchers a star map she'd glimpsed while aboard the ship.

     Barney was a little less specific under hypnosis. So the practitioners asked him to draw a picture of his abductors. He did: big bald head, little slanty black eyes, no mouth, skinny. Today, it's a kind of prototype of creatures known by alien experts as "grays."

     Thing is, Barney's description was exactly what the aliens had looked like on an episode of The Outer Limits. That episode, "The Bellaro Shield," had aired a little more than a week before Barney drew his picture.

     Many believers

     According to the Roper poll -- which, it should be noted, was conducted for the Sci-Fi Channel -- "two-thirds of Americans say they think there are other forms of intelligent life in the universe, and nearly half say they think UFOs have visited the earth in some form or that aliens have monitored life on earth. In fact, more than one in three believed that humans have interacted with extraterrestrial life forms."

     As to alien kidnappings and probings, "one in five Americans say that abductions have taken place." And among those who believe in abductions, one-third claim to have experienced, or know someone who has experienced, a close encounter.

     Elizabeth Loftus, the much-acclaimed psychologist at the University of California-Irvine who successfully debunked the theory of repressed memory, said television "gives visual plausibility to an abduction explanation" for any number of things -- nightmares, moles on our skin, loneliness, sexual abnormalities. People simply want to understand why they are experiencing some abnormal, frightening or confusing things.

     In the 1980s, those same symptoms were typically explained away as "suddenly remembered sexual abuse," she said. It depended, she said, on which kind of therapist was consulted.

     "If you were steered to a satanic therapist, it was Satan doing it," she said. "If you went to an alien-abductionist therapist, it was the aliens. If you went to a therapist who believed everything stemmed from forgotten child or sexual abuse, bingo, that was it."

     Loftus, who has served as an expert witness on many such cases, has proved in the laboratory that such memories can be implanted. The problem in those cases, she says, is that there is no evidence that any of that -- the alien abduction, the sexual abuse, the satanic visitation -- ever occurred. (No doubt, she said, tragic and horrible sexual abuse does occur, but rather than being repressed, it is vividly remembered. The kind that needs to be "suggested" to a patient is something else altogether.)

     Susan Clancy, a psychologist at Harvard University, agreed. In her just-published book, Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens, Clancy postulates that increased claims of abduction are "false memories," which are not the same as lies. They are created explanations, maybe even a part "of a larger spiritual quest," she said. "They're looking for answers to something bigger. They are looking for a meaning they don't get from science."

     And where do they get the palette?

     In the 1950s and '60s, Clancy said, aliens were represented in movies as robots or serpents, but the Outer Limits-Barney Hill drawing won the day. That's who people see. That's who they expect to see.

     "Today," Clancy said, "my 2-year-old, who can't tell you the difference between a dog and a cat, can pick out the right alien. TV taught her that."

     Eerie coincidences

     So where does this leave the famous Stanford, Ky., abduction case -- which many believers cite as the one that can't be explained away -- nearly 30 years after its original telling?

     On Jan. 6, 1976, Mona Stafford, Louise Smith and Elaine Thomas, three ordinary rural Kentucky women, reported that they had been driving on U.S. 27, 35 miles from Liberty, their hometown, when their car came under the control of outside forces, they said. A glowing laserlike beam sucked them off the road. Then things kind of went blank.

     When the women came to, they said, they found themselves in the car -- but all were missing about 90 minutes of their memories. They called the police the next day. Their story was in all the papers. Polygraphed, they were unshakable.

     Coincidentally, The UFO Incident, an NBC-TV movie starring James Earl Jones as Barney Hill and Estelle Parsons as Betty, was first shown Oct. 20, 1975, just 10 weeks before the eerie episode on U.S. 27. In fact, the number of reported UFO abductions after that television movie aired simply mushroomed.

     Also, the National Enquirer tabloid had offered a cash prize of $100,000 for definitive proof of extraterrestrial life, but in 1976, the year of the U.S. 27 incident, the prize was bumped to $1 million. In the decade before 1975, there had been 50 abduction-type reports -- about five a year. From 1976 to 1978, the rate was about 50 a year.

     Still, the Kentucky case remained famous because the women -- two are now dead and one moved west, where she could talk about the experience and not be ridiculed, she said -- stuck to their story. The academic who hypnotized them and the Lexington police lieutenant who polygraphed the trio are both dead. The Mutual UFO Network investigator who interviewed them is likewise unreachable.

     Abduction reports tend to come in waves, almost as if they are the fashion. Why? Because socially, the experience has no downside. Unlike people who are sexually abused or who are victims of satanic rituals, alien abductees tend to be proud and talkative about the experiences. It makes them special.

     It has done something else, Harvard's Clancy said. Three good decades of TV and movies have made aliens less scary than, say, terrorists. So we embrace them, especially now.

     ABC and NBC, the networks behind Invasion and Threshold, are counting on it.

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