Saturday, July 29, 2017

How Did The Paranormal Community Get Co-Opted?

Despite decades of being a skeptic, venturing into the realm of the paranormal is like junk food for my brain. Having grown up with In Search Of…, the often open-ended and inconclusive exposes on everything from cryptozoology to alien abduction and hauntings do occasionally get my attention. I've even enjoyed the experiences offered by The Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas, before Dawkins, Shermer, et al proved to be die-hard misogynists.

I watch them for the music, really!

One of the main reasons I dig up these shows and “documentaries” from the 1970s is the music. It’s always an interesting mix of traditional instruments, the obligatory Theremin, and some analog synth. I blame Rinder & Lewis, who composed the theme to In Search Of…, but it doesn’t end there. Horrible movies such as Overlords of the UFO, Journeys from Beyond Earth, UFOs Are Real, UFO Top Secret, The Amazing World of Ghosts, and more have such similar sounds that “crappy paranormal music” or “gullible jazz” should be its own genre. (I’ll link my entire playlist of the Best of the Worst at the end of this post.)

I take it back, I also watch for the bad science

One cannot see Anna Mitchell-Hedges lying through an interview about her crystal skull, Erich von Daniken’s not-so-subtle colonialism (because if non-western civilizations made great things, then it had to have been aliens, right?), or literally any photograph from the Billy Meier collection without wondering how people bought into any of this. There was a wonderful episode of Nova, also from the 1970s, in which Carl Sagan took on the ancient astronaut theory as “new dress for old-time religion.” As for the others, it is easy to see how little we really knew in the 1970s. Everything from the hollow earth theory, to the burgeoning concept of black holes, and even nascent (at the time) musings on quantum physics.

So here we are, 40 years later

I’ve been delving into Art Bell’s Coat to Coast and Clyde Lewis’ I Have No Critical Thinking Traits, or whatever the hell he calls his show, and something occurred to me. Since when did the paranormal community get co-opted by the petty, scared, and insular demographic of the far right? I understood when Dr. Stanton Friedman considered the crash at Corona, NM and the documents surrounding it to be “a cosmic Watergate.” Dr. Friedman hasn’t deviated much from his intentions since then. But for every Stanton Friedman, there’s a Travis Walton, Charlie Hickson, and, in present times, a Clyde Lewis, clamoring to keep relevant, even though they are nothing more than low-rent Alex Jones knock-offs.

But how did we get here?

Back in the 1970s, nuclear physicist Dr. Stanton Friedman coined the term “Cosmic Watergate.” This was about the stonewalling and perceived cover-up of whatever happened in Roswell, New Mexico. The paranormal enthusiasts were ready for this. Richard Nixon left the citizens of the United States with a feeling that they could no longer trust the intentions of the government. Extrapolating on the sentiment, many conspiracy theorists drew connections to President Eisenhower’s warning against the “military industrial complex,” which has become a mantra of sorts among the paranormal community, to this very day. This is the closest point I can identify as to where this whole thing ran off the rails. On one end, you had Dr. Friedman pushing for hard evidence (even he distanced himself from cases where Wendelle Stevens and others gave in with full credulity). We compounded this with statements by President Reagan, wondering what we would do as a world society, if faced with a threat from beyond Earth. If the President was willing to hint as an outside force, how could it not be real? (That’s sarcasm, for those trying to read too much into my words.) Sometime in the late 1980s/early 1990s, there was an expose hosted by Stacy Keach, which explored the possibility that the transistor was given to us by extraterrestrials. There is no doubt that the advent of the transistor has prevented us all from living in the world portrayed by the Fallout game franchise, and made huge leaps in technology possible. But aliens? Really? This then, of course, veered off into tangents about the mysterious Area 51, and what may be stored there. Again, when we do not want to recognize the ingenuity of humans, we believe there is some divine intervention. In a post-religious Cold War, we put gods in different costumes and were willing to believe in George Adamski’s aliens. The paranoia of the Cold War yielded some very strange outlooks on the world. We could not trust the government. We could not trust the media. Did we make an exchange where we received technology in exchange for the occasional abduction of seemingly very broken people? Did we break that covenant when we shot down an extraterrestrial craft over a ranch in New Mexico and held the extraterrestrial biological entities (EBEs) in confinement, while we milked them for information? Is that the simplest way to handwave away the fact that we’re pretty damned smart on the technological front, and that some people want to feel special? Sleep paralysis is a thing. Most people do not understand technology, astronomy, or what is in the sky at any given moment. Is it all aliens and ghosts in our demon haunted world? In a word, no. Has that prevented people from buying into conspiracies, or carving out a niche for themselves by promoting conspiracies where there are none? See the previous answer.

Conservative appeal? Conspiracy insiders? Enablers of ignorance?

Art Bell did a lot of political talk on radio, before realizing that embracing the fringe listeners in the wee hours of the night would be more lucrative. Bell’s views hover somewhere between the alt right and libertarianism, but he managed, for the most part, to keep his views in check. The successor to the Coast to Coast throne, George Noory, is one of the more vapid right wing paranormal hosts, with a line-up of guests promoting the conspiracy du jour, along with snakeoil, and buying into the latest schemes by repeat hoaxers in the paranormal community. Clyde Lewis, a self-proclaimed conservative, will happily tell you politics don’t matter because of the movements of figures behind the veil of our perceived reality – the real puppetmasters. Clyde is an idiot who regularly synthesizes poorly researched topics through a casual perception of the works of Lovecraft (which he may or may not have read), references to Charles Forte (which I'm certain he's picked up in passing, rather than, you know, actually reading) as well as conflating the notion of aliens with an eternal war between angels and demons, as he calls back to his less-than-literate grasp of both the New and Old Testaments. Rather than posit more critical thinking, the hosts mentioned above have a wonderful track record of adding fuel to whatever misguided conspiracy callers profess, be it professing certain politicians (who are not leaning to the right) are secretly reptilians, a-la David Icke’s racist and anti-Semitic views, to (and yes, we’re circling back again) getting into discussions about how aliens helped the “non-melanated” (callers words, not mine) people of Earth. (As opposed the tall, beautiful, and peaceful Nordic aliens – it’s a thing, apparently – who want to save everyone involved in the mostly white, under-educated, target audience for extraterrestrial experiences.)

If you think you have the solution, then you’re part of the problem

I’m never going to tell anyone to completely avoid the more vociferous members of the paranormal community. Hell, between these shows and a steady diet of lead paint chips, I turned out fine, right? The odds are pretty good that anyone who is a believer/experiencer/conspiracy theorist is never going to read this post. If they take umbrage with my statements, I’m certain their objections will appear in the comments.

What I’m trying to say is to use your minds. If Noory, Lewis, and the other radio/podcast hosts are claiming to have the inside line on how things really work, ask yourself why more people aren’t flocking to their shows. The usual response is that the mainstream media doesn’t want this kind of information to be readily accessible to the masses, so they are relegated to the hours between midnight and 4am, when all of our brightest thinkers are surely awake and sober (so types a terminal insomniac).

There is, of course, a much simpler answer. The hosts are not skilled enough to be real pundits or journalists, so they took to the airwaves as carnival barkers for the last media outlets available in a world where science, facts, and rational thinking are becoming more prevalent. I love science fiction. I love fantasy. I love suspending my disbelief and losing myself in an adventure or abstract train of thought. I also know when to close the book, turn off the video clips, and realize that I’m not living in some large simulated universe.

Because I mentioned this above, here are the playlists. A word of warning: You will come away feeling stupider after watching these “documentaries,” but the music is great.

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