I had one of those weird moments this morning that shades into disturbing. This morning at the grocery store a man I have never met walked up to me and asked, “Did you attend Ithaca College?” He told me that the reason that he asked is that he attended a conference there, and the school showed him pictures of its former students, in which he saw me. “I’m usually pretty good with faces,” he said, indicating that he recognized me from a 15-year-old photograph. I’m not sure whether it’s stranger that Ithaca College is using pictures of me (without my knowledge) or that even with different glasses and beneath a scarf and winter hat I’m that recognizable.
Recently, the New York Times ran a lengthy piece by Raquel Cepeda, a journalist best known for covering the hip hop industry, about her UFO vacation. Cepeda and her husband, hip hop journalist Sacha Jenkins, are huge fans of Ancient Aliens, so for their fifth wedding anniversary they decided to seek out a “spiritual” connection to ancient aliens and UFOs, which they did not necessarily believe in but were open to the possibility. What makes this piece especially interesting is that Cepeda is a Dominican-American Latina, while Jenkins is a Black Haitian-American—two ethnic groups whose experience with UFO culture and the ancient astronaut theory is rarely given prominent display.
Cepeda wrote that she and Jenkins consider Ancient Aliens a “guilty pleasure,” and in her piece she pretends not to know Giorgio Tsoukalos’s name, describing him only as a “talking head with the a tousled mane.” During a commercial break in the show, she and her husband formed a plan, one based on New Age fringe ideas:
And I knew from researching the region and from indigenous-American folklore that Arizona was considered by many to be an ethereal place, a spiritual vortex if you will. We would be exploring the world beyond our perception — terrestrial and astral — but essentially discarding cynicism to focus on a belief system that sounds as fantastic as the idea that soul mates actually exist. Not a bad way to mark an anniversary.
Therefore, the pair traveled to Sedona, Arizona, to take the Sedona UFO Sky Tour with professional UFO contactee Kim Carlsberg, whom Cepeda doesn’t tell readers is also a former guest on Ancient Aliens. Carlsberg claims that while working as a photographer on the TV series Baywatch she began to be abducted by aliens two or three times per week for eight years, and that the military also taps her phones and routinely abducts her to suppress the truth. She claims to have given birth to a hybrid alien child who visits her in her sleep. His name is Qual. As a result of her experiences, she claims to have formed a new worldview at odds with the “mainstream.”
Carlsberg guarantees that those who take her tour will see UFOs, for a minimum payment of $90. That seems pretty steep for standing out in the desert for two hours, but it includes the ability to look at the sky through Cepeda’s military-grade night vision goggles.
Cepeda and Jenkins arrived for Carlsberg’s tour, and they were joined by a man who called himself Jude and babbled endlessly about aliens and his journey as a believer. I think we’ve all met one of those people, who are all too common in fringe circles. During their adventure, Cepeda claims that she saw forty UFOs in two hours, and that she became “swept up in the sense of euphoria that came with abandoning doubt.” She claims that none of these lights was a plane, or satellite, or drone—but she also admits that as a longtime resident of light-polluted New York City, she hadn’t seen dark night sky to know what was up there. For her, the experience wasn’t about meeting aliens—which, by rights, ought to be at least as terrifying as meeting a lion or a bear—but about spirituality, in which lights in the sky are the physical manifestation of the New Age:
There we were, just four of us there, necks craned, hoping to catch a glimpse of what might lie beyond our planet in this vast world. You had to open yourself to the ludicrous, be a fool, so to speak, to have faith, in life and in love.
She is here alluding to 1 Corinthians 4:10, in which St. Paul writes ironically that he and the Apostles are “fools in Christ,” against the false sophistication of the Corinthians. Cepeda notes, too, that she and her husband—journalists both—refused to look for other, scientific explanations for what they saw that night because “that would have seemed a surrender to skepticism.” In short, they wanted to have a spiritual experience, one that connected them to the cosmos, to indigenous cultures, and to an alternative to the mainstream; and they purposely chose ignorance to preserve what even they suspected was a mere illusion.
If you’ve read this far, you probably noticed that in her piece, Cepeda equated “doubt,” “skepticism,” and “cynicism” and set all of them in opposition to the “euphoria” and joy of believing. It is, frankly, astounding to hear a journalist make such claims, particularly though the claim that the search for truth destroys joy, for ignorance is bliss.
It is not the most ringing endorsement of UFO culture, but probably a true one.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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