The good news is that my new boiler was installed yesterday. The bad news is that the old lead water main sprang a leak below the shutoff valve, and the outside cutoff is also broken. The pipes were designed to last 75 years, and they turned 85 this year. Two different plumbers both said I need a new water main installed at an astronomical price. One wanted to remove the front porch to excavate a trench for the new line. Needless to say, it has not been a very good week.
So, anyway, yesterday I linked to an article in the Uniontown Herald-Standard about an upcoming MUFON conference on whether Bigfoot is really a space alien. The question of Bigfoot’s extraterrestrial origins is one I’ve covered before, so I don’t really want to revisit that. Pretty much everything you need to know comes from the words of Bob BeHanna, the Section 6 director for Pennsylvania MUFON, who thinks Bigfoot may be a ghost, alien, or trans-dimensional being: “If you think about it, we’d have found something if it was flesh-and-blood.” Non-existence doesn’t cross his mind, only ever more elaborate rationalizations for how it might exist unseen and un-evidenced.
But I do want to highlight the article’s admission that television is the driving force behind the ecosystem of insanity that is the wacky extremes of fringe science. Take a look at the article’s description of the list of conference speakers for the MUFON event:
Many of them are appearing on television shows. They include journalist Nick Redfern, who appears in "Ancient Aliens" on the History Channel, Derrel Sims, who appears in "Uncovering Aliens" on the Discovery Channel," PA MUFON director John Ventre, of Greensburg, who appears in "Hangar 1" on the History Channel and "Alien Mysteries and Close Encounters" on the Discovery Channel. [Center for the Unexplained director Brian] Seech also appears on "Monsters and Mysteries" on Destination America.
(Ancient Aliens and Hangar 1 actually air first-run episodes on H2. Alien Mysteries aired on the Canadian Discovery Channel before rerunning on Destination America.)
According to MUFON’s Ventre, these television programs are the driving force behind what he says are an uptick in MUFON memberships and case reports. If true, this would reverse a decades-long decline in MUFON’s reach, which had fallen along with the popularity of traditional nuts and bolts ufology. Part of this can be attributed to MUFON branching out to include paranormal topics like Bigfoot and inter-dimensional beings alongside traditional ufology, but Ventre specifically cites cable TV as a driving force in the group’s renewed fortunes. Today, Ventre says that Pennsylvania MUFON alone receives a new “case” nearly every day of the year, many of which involve Bigfoot.
I would love to see hard numbers that show how strong a correlation there is between UFO/Bigfoot/ghost reports and the number of airings of paranormal TV programs rather than anecdotal accounts from obviously biased paranormal researchers. Does the sheer volume of this programming normalize a belief in the supernatural to the point that it motivates viewers to participate in supernatural or occult culture?
If we can rely on the data collected by the National UFO Reporting Center, which I’ve assembled in this chart covering the past 20 years, the number of UFO sightings seems to track rather well with the increase in cable TV programs on aliens.
(Download a full-sized version of the chart with the file linked above.)
If I had to guess, I’d think that the spike in the mid-1990s correlates with the popularity of the X-Files after its first season, while the huge leap between 1998 and 1999 probably represents not just Millennium-tinged anxiety but the widespread adoption of the internet, thus making reporting UFO sightings easier. After that, we see what seems to be relatively slow increase in UFO reports until the 24-hour, around-the-clock UFO documentary wave, which began in large measure after the unexpected success of the Ancient Aliens pilot special in 2009 and the launch of the Ancient Aliens series in 2010, with competing shows springing up on every channel in short order. I don’t know enough about ufology to know whether there are other factors (such as a change in reporting method) involved in the recent surge of reports.
West Virginia MUFON director and Bigfoot researcher Fred Saluga said that the Hangar 1: The UFO Files program, produced in cooperation with MUFON, along with other cable shows has emboldened viewers to defy authorities and reveal the truth: “I think people are starting to come out now with shows like ‘Hanger (sic) 1’,” he told the Herald-Standard. One might more logically conclude that exposure to such programs influences individuals to believe what they see on TV and interpret their own experiences through that lens.
Neither Ventre nor Saluga is recorded as expressing any concern that the show they cite, and on which Ventre appeared, Hangar 1, engaged in misrepresentation and outright deception—forging fake documents—to make a case for a government UFO conspiracy.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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