Invasion of the Barbarian Monsters from Heaven and Hell

Nigel Watson
Magonia 54, November 1995.

UFOs are the key to discovering Heaven and Hell. It is appropriate that our modern technological societies have incorporated the old Gods and religions into ‘new’ technological belief systems. Since the 1950s the question ‘Was God An Astronaut?’ has been put forward and popularised. From there it didn’t take a genius to equate reports of UFOs in our own time with the Return of the Gods.

The ‘scientific’ ufologists have usually wanted to ignore such elements, whereas from the very beginning, the beings encountered by the contactees are thinly disguised religious entities who make bland religious statements that will help ‘save our planet’. Even those who have only seen lights in the sky have often reported numinous feelings that can easily lead to more complex encounters.

The mastery of space exploration and the culminating space race quickly made us wonder if we were evolving into Gods ourselves. In Kubrick’s 2001' A Space Odyssey humanity’s technology leads to evolutionary change, in TV’s Star Trek we would become secular rulers of the universe (and spiritual leaders in The Next Generation). By the early 1970s people felt that poverty, famine and disaster could be eradicated if as much effort was put into these problems as the Apollo moon project. The power of money, science, technology, indeed the whole military-industrial complex, also had its dark-side that revealed how false these hopes were; that dark-side was the Vietnam debacle. Watergate only emphasised that the forces of human Government were conspiratorial and far from democratic.

It is no wonder that virtually all 1970s movies had to have gloomy, down-beat endings. Nature and science seemed to conspire against civilisation, the common person was trapped in a web of conflict and disaster. In the cinema, the answer was to look to the skies. Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind showed the emptiness and superficiality of suburban existence which is contrasted by the power and majesty of the UFO craft and their benign Ghandi-like occupants. At the same time Star Wars showed that life amongst the stars is adventurous and dangerous. Luke Skywalker, the main protagonist, has to learn the difference between good and evil. Star Wars clears the slate of modern-day anxieties and puts us in a period where there are obvious goodies and baddies – a concept that was to be Reagan’s main inspiration. Andrew Britton puts it this way
The Reaganite space and horror cycles…answer to one another. In the one case, Good is affirmed through the spectacle of its robustness and it’s pre-given triumph, and in the other through the spectacle of its terrible vulnerability to appalling alien forces or the punishment of deviations from it. The banality of the films derives from the undialectical conception of Good and Evil, and the reduction to the level of routine of the contest between them…. (1)
This regeneration of belief in space exploration and contact with extraterrestrials is highly paradoxical since in reality the Space Race was the direct outcome of the Cold War and the race to develop ever-more powerful and sophisticated weapons of mass destruction. The same can be said of Ufology in general; we believe in the absolute power of these spiritual saviours from the skies who treat us like easily duped children (or cattle) yet they use vehicles that are always falling out of the skies. Our new Gods have feet of clay. Indeed, our ability to build space craft and atomic bombs seems like a route to understanding or at least invoking these Gods. We can learn from the new Gods who have perfected their technology without killing themselves off. Equally, we can learn from the Gods who have ruined their own planet and plan to invade our blessed planet (as in Wells’ War of the Worlds or the ‘factual’ case of the Janos People).

Having lost faith in our own leaders the space visitors represent new leaders who can show us how to use advanced technology without destroying our planet. This blind belief in the space visitors reverts us to an immature level as defined by Immanuel Kant in his attempt to define ‘What is Enlightenment?’. He wrote, ‘Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity…Immaturity is the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another’. (2) By extension the belief in UFOs represents an immature view of the world which denies us the ability to resolve our own problems. In our increasingly compartmentalised and alienating societies we feel powerless to change things, it’s far better to leave it to the space visitors to save us. As Keith Tester notes:
If enlightenment means making sense of the world for oneself, without a belief in ghosts in the machine, then the operation of the culture industry means that a belief in such ghosts increases.’ (3)
His argument is that the culture industry (newspapers, TV, radio, films, books, etc.) has a tendency to be barbaric in a moral and cultural sense. The culture industry revels in rendering its audience to the level of immature imbeciles. We are not meant to think, we are to indulge in the passive absorption of media images to pass the time and escape from the cruel realities of day-to-day life. The only response that is required is to keep viewing and buy the products advertised

UFOs fit neatly in this scenario. In terms of the culture industry UFOs are an entertaining sideshow. The cheap tabloids shamelessly exploit the popularity of such subjects and the broadsheets stay aloof. Criticism and analysis is at best ill-informed. This is especially true of the broadcast media which is more interested in debating whether ‘they’ are true or not. This constant emphasis on ‘believers’ and ‘sceptics’ misses the opportunity to look at the subject in a wider context

The bottom line is that books, articles and programmes have to play to the believers; they are the ones who are willing to part with their cash. The sceptics can say that such material is rubbish but they are usually buried under the banner headlines and sensational snapshots of alien autopsies. The few facts that do exist are the cheese in a media game of cat and mouse

The culture industry takes the UFO cases away from the ufologists and turns it into sophisticated forms of high-action entertainment (The X Files is a good example of this phenomenon) or it dramatises this material , often with the help of ufologists, in ‘factual’ programmes or films (e.g. Strange But True, Fire In The Sky, Communion

Ufologists are more likely to ‘investigate’ cases that conform to those already defined by the culture industry and therefore have the potential for exploitation.. In the rush for headlines any old rubbish will pass-muster if it feeds the media with sensational copy and (preferably) pictures (the Roswell film footage springs immediately to mind). Indeed, many ufologists never publish any of their findings in any useful form, they are just publictity/money obsessed saucer chasers who enjoy playing with the media. Other characters are foolhardy enough to publish endless reports about their investigations which usually show how much they have distorted the facts to conform to their pre-fixed ideas. The whole subject is riddled with sad believers or cynical exploiters who justify their money-raking by saying that it will fund their more serious research endeavours

The following statement by Adorno (4) is about astrology but it can be equally applied to ufology
While the naive persons who take more or less for granted what happens hardly ask the questions astrology pretends to answer and while really educated and intellectually fully developed persons would look through the fallacy of astrology, it is an ideal stimulus for those who have started to reflect, who are dissatisfied with the veneer of mere existence and who are looking for a ‘key.’ but who are at the same time incapable of the sustained intellectual effort required by theoretical insight and also lack the critical training without which it would be utterly futile to attempt to understand what is happening
This might seem unnecessarily harsh but with a subject like ufology we should be more critical of the evidence because it is so contentious. In reality the reverse seems to happen. You just tell a well-known ufologist that you have had an encounter similar to one in their latest book, and next thing you know, you’re in their abduction support group or documentary programme.

What happens when your cast-iron evidence is proven to be as watertight as the Titanic? Does it sink without trace? Well, there are several strategies to cover this contingency, you can say that you were just presenting the facts in good faith and were not aware of any duplicity. Usually the faith in the reality of UFOs is unbroken because there are millions more cases out there that will provide the necessary proof. Another tactic is to say it’s part of some plot to discredit yourself and the witness(es) and that it’s all true, honest. You either believe or you don’t, any evidence pro or con seems irrelevant, since there’ll always be new twists to the UFO stories to titillate the public

Andrew Britton makes this statement about contemporary cinema productions
Entertainment tells us to forget our troubles and to get happy, but it also tells us that in order to do so we must agree deliberately to switch life off. (5)
This can be easily changed to state that ‘UFO stories are there to forget our earthly troubles’ in the sense that we are not expected to do anything about the problems of the world because the UFO entities have absolute control over us and our Governments. As Britton goes on to argue
Entertainment asks us to believe that it is supremely wonderful, as it must do if its main claim to represent one of the capitalist system’s rewards, one of the tokens of that system’s superiority to other systems, is to carry weight. (6)
By the same token UFOs are used by the culture industry to show that it is one with popular beliefs and it rewards us with wonderful visions of UFOs on our TV and cinema screeens. In this sense Britton’s statement that ‘Entertainment helps one to feel normal” is helpful with regard to UFO material, as it shows that you are not mad if you see, or believe, in UFOs

The culture industry gobbles-up UFO material that is shovelled into it by willing ufologists, then it is crapped all over us whether we like it or not. As such the very spirit of wonder and defamiliarisation with the everyday that UFOs might inspire only serves to feed the dominant socio-economic structure. Ufology is a proto-religion or techno-religion that has sold its soul to commerce. UFO material can then be regarded as nothing more than a product to be consumed rather than as something to be analysed and studied

At this stage it would be easy to invoke capitalism (which is at the root of the culture industry) as the nasty Devil that has corrupted ufology and brought the space Gods crashing down to earth. That is an easy line-of-thought but like most aspects of ufology things are more complicated and paradoxical. In our society we all need money and if research, or sightings of UFOs can generate it, that is obviously helpful to the people concerned. That doesn’t mean to say the research or the sightings are invalid, though it does provide a powerful incentive for elaborating UFO cases for the sake of financial gain. This is obviously a greater motive in the USA than anywhere else (in Britain very little money is earned from Ufology – ask my bank manager for ample evidence of this

A greater motive, I think, is that the investigator or witness has a strong belief that they want to promote to the world at large. The belief is that there is something beyond everyday reality but the problem is that the believer cannot quite put their concepts into an adequate structure. That’s why most messages from the space visitors are garbled reflections of our own worldly concerns. In contrast, the scientific investigator believes they are presenting hard-won facts to the scientific community when they wouldn’t know ‘science’ from a plastic trog. Indeed, I prefer the contactee-type cultists in the sense that they at least try to peddle some sort of message for the greater good, whereas the abductees and the rest of the abductee industry tries to sell us the idea of nasty, merciless space beings with all sorts of hidden agendas and preconceptions mixed-in for good measure

The will-to-believe in visitors from beyond our everyday realm is strong but at the same time it takes us into the grip of the culture industry that firmly imprisons us in the everyday. The beings that pilot the flying saucers are as substantial as today’s headlines.

This article prompted the American UFO author Jerome Clark to write a Forum piece for Fortean Times magazine (Oi! Investigator, Shut It!- FT88) bemoaning the cynical state of sceptical ufology. He was promptly set upon by Magonia’s own Nigel Watson and Peter Rogerson in FT’s letters pages.

  1. Britton, Andrew, ‘Blissing Out: The Politics of Reaganite Entertainment’, Movie, Winter 1986, No 31/32, page 11.
  2. Kant, Immanuel, 1970 ‘An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?’ in H.Reiss (ed.), Kant’s Political Writings, Cambridge University Press, page 54
  3. Tester, Keith, 1994, Media, Culture and Morality, Routledge, page 49.
  4. Adorno, Theodor, 1974, ‘The Stars Down to Earth, The Los Angeles Times Astrology Column’, Telos, No 19, pages 87-88.
  5. Britton, ibid., page 4.
  6. Britton, ibid., page 4.