I must confess that I have found researching my planned new book about midcentury moral panics to be surprisingly amusing. Typically, when I research a topic, the people involved turn out to be somewhere on the spectrum between unpleasant and evil. Many are wildly racist, and most have all the color and excitement of the sepia-toned photos in which they now exist. For the most part, the people I learn about don’t really do things so much as write about them, and many of the people are known only as names (cough, Annianus and Panodorus, cough), and that makes most of the research an exercise in textual analysis.
On Tuesday, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs asked President Donald Trump about flying saucers, and Trump promised to follow Dobbs’s lead in investigating objects in the sky. During Dobbs’s interview with Trump, the following exchange occurred:
As most of you know, I am doing some preliminary research for a book I am thinking about writing which would revolve around the various moral panics that began in the summer of 1947 and continued through the 1950s. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’m not interested in writing a textbook (nor do I have the ambition for the kind of granular research it would require), so I want to tell the story in a more impressionistic format, using the lives of real people to illustrate broader themes. I settled on making the life and afterlife of James Dean the central thread providing unity to the project. That, of course, involved learning about my subject to see how feasible that plan would be.
Weekend Omnibus: Younger Dryas Volcano, Elon Musk's Ancient Astronaut Tweet, Steve Quayle's Plagiarism, and More!
Yesterday was an extraordinary day for news of interest to my readers. Let’s take a brief survey of just some of the things that happened.
I’ll put the science first. A new study in Science Advances concludes that the global cooling triggered during the Younger Dryas was not the work of a comet or meteor but was instead brought on by volcanic activity. From the press release announcing the study late yesterday:
Yesterday was certainly one for the angels. Donald Trump’s new favorite COVID-19 doctor, who recently lobbied Congress, turned out to be a paranormal believer with ancient astronaut and occult ideas. According to the Daily Beast, Dr. Stella Immanuel is a believer in David Icke’s Reptilians, among other things:
She alleges alien DNA is currently used in medical treatments, and that scientists are cooking up a vaccine to prevent people from being religious. And, despite appearing in Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress on Monday, she has said that the government is run in part not by humans but by “reptilians” and other aliens.
Day 13 is a middling thriller that takes the basic story of the 1989 Tom Hanks comedy The Burbs and plays it completely straight, adding a large dash of Hitchcock’s Rear Window without any of Hitchcock’s archness. In fact, the movie plays the story so straight that it becomes stiff and wooden, right up to its bizarre climactic effort to transform a classic Twilight Zone episode into a crass, vulgar five minutes of exploitation. At the same time, it manages to fail at failing, never descending so far into sheer incompetence that it becomes interesting on its own. Instead, it’s a technical exercise in making a movie without passion or purpose, in which it seems that nobody is having any fun but everybody is pretty sure the film will make back its money once it ends up in some streaming service’s back catalog next year.
The high school drama is a staple of modern American television and movies, but the genre’s audience understands that its stories cannot be taken literally. To do so would invite troubling, dangerous thoughts. And so, the high school drama exists in two superimposed states. The surface level tells stories about teenagers barely into puberty navigating the trials and tribulations of adolescence. But the high school drama as a genre demands its audience look beyond the surface. It uses attractive actors of college age or older and asks the viewer to lust after them as they move through stories more appropriate to adults and reach levels of romantic ecstasy and agony that are on the surface absurd. Anyone who has had to look up the age of an actor on one of these shows to determine how guilty to feel about the sexualization of high schoolers recognizes that tension. Viewers understand, however, that the high school drama isn’t really an exercise in training potential pedophiles. Instead, we are supposed to look past the surface level to a mythic representation of archetypical ideals.
I am going to make a few notes here about yesterday’s New York Times article by Leslie Kean and Ralph Blumenthal about the government’s UFO investigation program. I wasn’t planning to write anything today, but these notes will primarily serve to remind me when I do my year in review that this happened.
This past week, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) made some controversial statements about UFOs when questioned about the Senate Intelligence Committee’s insertion of a requirement in legislation that the U.S. intelligence community produce a detailed reported about flying saucers. Rubio’s comments attracted a lot of attention an also served the more important purpose of distracting media attention from the ongoing catastrophe of Florida’s COVID-19 response and the Republican senate conference’s failure to reach an agreement on a plan to prop up the economy as the disease spreads uncontrollably. But, hey, a space alien! Over there! Look!
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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