I want to call to your attention a fascinating article (promoting a new book) in the Paris Review that traces the early history of the cover illustrations for UFO books. Aside from the unintentional humor of the silly covers, the article makes an important point. The stereotypical UFO—described here as the lid to a 1937 Electrolux vacuum cleaner—is less a product of observation than of art. The illustrations chosen and developed to create what author Jack Womack calls the “visual shorthand” of space invasion became the mental architecture used to define not just the genre of book but also the cultural understanding of the flying saucer. As Womack points out, early UFO reports were all over the place in terms of description (in size, shape, color, texture, brightness, etc.), and so too were the very first UFO books. But the canonization of the Electrolux lid as the shape of a flying saucer, both on the covers of these books and in key Hollywood flying saucer movies of the 1950s, resulted in a decisive shift in UFO reports, through which aesthetics seemed to dictate what people saw when they looked up into the sky.
Speaking of the aesthetics of ufology, you may also have seen that the Mutual UFO Network hired a PR agency to rebrand the organization for the twenty-first century. In order to hit the cutting edge of what’s new in ufology, MUFON executive director Jan Harzan says the group wants to emphasize that it investigates “the real-life X-Files,” referencing the popular Fox television series, which debuted in 1993. By ufology standards, that is certainly a modern upgrade to a discipline that routinely reaches back to its midcentury glory days.
The rebranding will be done by the Eisen Agency, an Ohio-based PR and marketing firm:
The Eisen Agency CEO Rodger Roeser says his firm will be directing an initial rebrand of MUFON, which includes updated look and brand narrative, followed by a robust national member recruitment and field investigator campaign, national media relations, merchandising, social media campaign, web development, and promoting the Annual UFO Symposium the group puts on which will be in Las Vegas in July 2017.
We can only hope that the rebranding helps to modernize an organization whose aesthetic is decades out of date. Their webpage, for example, looks like it was designed in the early 2000s and never changed. Versions of its space-agency-style logo really have been in use since at least 2004, and its website has actually undergone a number of redesigns since then (including one with tiny cows being abducted by a giant flying saucer!), without really improving its aesthetic any. They really like sprinkling in as many badges, doo-dads, blinking things, and buttons as possible.
Neither MUFON nor the Eisen Agency released details of what the new “brand narrative” will be, but it will be interesting to learn whether aesthetics can help to draw younger demographics to the aging ranks of UFO investigators. Perhaps the “brand narrative” will expand MUFON’s reach to bring to the surface what has long been true, that they are increasingly a full-service paranormal investigation unit and not limited to flying saucers. (The organization features a “Cryptid Studies Coordinator”!)
There isn’t any good transition from this goofy story to a more serious one about the growing influence of Henry Sinclair theorizing in Canada. For some reason, Henry Sinclair is on the upswing again. Yesterday I received an email from a leading Canadian newspaper looking for my input after they were contacted by a woman who is trying to pass a messages to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to let him know that his mother, who was born Margaret Sinclair, is heir to the legacy of Henry Sinclair and his discovery of America.
Since the paper did not tell me the woman’s name, I don’t know whether she is connected to Jackie Queally, a British poet and New Ager (she likes to explore how Celts and Templars employed ley lines and geomancy). Queally will be in Nova Scotia next week to give a lecture on Henry Sinclair’s alleged 1398 voyage to the New World, along with how to use trees to study your soul. While this isn’t terribly exciting in and of itself, what was surprising is that the Kings County Register/Advertiser, a local community paper, ran an article about it that baldly stated in its summary lede that Sinclair’s fictitious voyage to America really happened. Worse, Queally’s recycling of bad fringe history is sponsored by the Wolfville and Area Historical Society.
But that’s not all! A Prince Edward Island man claims to have found a silver brooch from the 1400s using his metal detector, and he linked it to Henry Sinclair. Treasure hunter Rick Barton says that a jeweler told him the brooch is old and “not fake,” so naturally he concluded that Henry Sinclair dropped it while discovering America in 1398. (Yes, I know that 1398 happened before the 1400s, and, no, Barton didn’t explain the discrepancy.) According to the CBC:
The Prince Henry Sinclair Society of North America believe Prince Henry Sinclair left Scotland and landed at Chedabucto Bay, Nova Scotia in 1398. Barton said he believes the travellers may have left it behind, after [they] replenished their water supply at a natural spring near Lord Selkirk Park.
I don’t know what is going on in Canada, but it’s surprising and disturbing that Henry Sinclair is having such a moment up there.
Of course, we shouldn’t overlook that fact that Henry Sinclair is still pretty popular here. American Free Press, a white nationalist weekly newspaper, just (re-)published a glowing review of Scott Wolter’s work on the Kensington Rune Stone, the Templars, and Henry Sinclair by none other than former Nazi party leader Frank Joseph. In the review, Joseph, a convicted child rapist, singles out the foreword that fellow convicted child rapist Niven Sinclair wrote for one of Wolter’s books (before Sinclair’s convictions were known to the public, or presumably Wolter), citing Sinclair’s assertion that “History needs to be rewritten.” It is hardly surprising that men like Sinclair and Joseph, with their horrific pasts, are so keen to rewrite history in their favor.
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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