Who's watching the ufologists?

Whitley Strieber. Communion. Century, 1987

Budd Hopkins. Intruders: the Incredible Visitations at Copley Woods. Random House. 1987

So finally abductions have joined adultery, ambition and AIDS as subjects for the TV soap operas. The final scene of The Colbys, as one of the female characters was enticed aboard a Spielberg saucer produced reactions ranging from bafflement hilarity (and not much between) amongst the viewing public. Now we hear that other soaps, including our own dear Coronation Street are falling over themselves to work this jolly wheeze into their plotlines.

So be it. But where, ever again, will we find the touchingly naive abductee who, so the investigators tell us, knew nothing about abductions before their traumatic adventure. Now - as far as Western Europe and the USA are concerned - abductions are part of the common currency of pub-talk and back-yard debate. But weren't they ever so? Two important new books offer some suggestions

Whitley Strieber's book, for all the hoop-la that surrounded its release, in some ways raises the fewest questions: either you believe it or you don't. I have been surprised by how adamant some commentators have been that the book is 'clearly fiction', to quote one. I suspect some of the hostile reaction from within the UFO ranks has not been untainted with sour grape. A million-dollar advance and umpteen weeks in the US best sellers in dispiritingly more than most UFO authors can expect, and to make things worse is not even a member of the union! Instead of working his way through the ranks of unpaid magazine articles and derisory royalties from books which were not so much released as escaped, the man arrives as a fully fledged professional writer and sews up a massive financial deal taking the bread from the mouths of starving ufologists. He must be a phoney!

Maybe, but I see no reason why. His story ring true. And that brings up the question: 'true' to what? Well, true to the confused and disorganise state that most UFO abductees find themselves in. Although Strieber uses his professional talents to hone his experiences into a smooth narrative, the fragmented and disjointed quality of such experiences cannot be disguised.

Even before his 'abduction' Strieber's life followed the classic confused pattern we have seen in a hundred other abduction and contact cases. He seems a restless character, moving house on a whim, or roaming Europe in a dream-like state. There are a number of childhood incidents, fragmentarily remembered and elliptically described, which raise serious and disturbing questions as to the psychological impetus behind aspects of his abduction experience.

Unusually, Strieber feels that his principal 'contact' was female. This entity subjects him to a form of mechanised anal rape. No doubt this account will cause a great deal of hilarity amongst some, and a vast amount of pseudo-Freudian backyard psychoanalysis amongst others. Perhaps the best comment on it comes from our American correspondent, Martin Kottmeyer, writing in Jim Moseley's Saucer Smear : "How could [one] fail to appreciate the undercurrents of powerlessness in Strieber's writings, and how it shaped the narrative, e.g. in the pseudo-homosexual rape."

Strieber is the ultimate victim: moving to a new neighbourhood, he is harrassed by wierd figures pouring through the window windows of his apartment, the streets ring with eerie cries - the scene increasingly resembles a Charles Bronson 'Death Wish' urban nightmare. Strirber's life and fiction seems totally concerned with a variety of contemporary fears - social and environmental - which increasingly portray humanity as victims of greater and more sinister forces. His visitors seem at once to embody these forces, in the way they dehumanise the abductee, and in some strange way offer a resolution to his terror.

He becomes annoyed with investigators who do not accept his own interpretation of his experiences: "I am increasingly becoming certain that there are large elements of the UFO community who cannot successfully address the issue of abductions". Recently he has very forcibly announced his total disenchantment with the ufological community. He has set up a network of abductees who discuss their experiences and counsel each other, and which seems to be operating almost as an abductees' trade union, protecting its members from investigators who "would probably swim in like sharks, feeding on [them]".

Obviously, once such a network has been set up we are moving out of the area of scientific investigation, and into aspects of group psychotherapy. No objective 'ufological' research into the abduction phenomena can take place under such circumstances. We should perhaps consider further whether this is or is not a bad thing

Budd Hopkins takes a direct view of the abduction experience. Here there is none of the philosophical self-doubt, nor any of the painful self examination of Streiber's account. Here the abductions are the work of ET's in nuts-and-bolts spaceships which land in back-gardens in Indiana and do unspeakable things to the locals.

According to Hopkins, the ETs are engaged in a programme of genetic experimentation and interbreeding with humankind. The techniques used seem closer to artificial insemination in the farmyard than what we may imagine of an advanced extraterrestrial race. This extremely unpleasant process seems to have happened to many thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of women throughout America, although most apparently do not yet realise it. By coincidence most of those who do know what has happened to them are friends of friends of Mr Hcpkins, or have read his previous book. However, the cases we know about are apparently only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

If my approach to Hopkin's book may seem flippant, such flippancy is aimed at the author's naive approach. There is certainly nothing to be flippant about in the traumatic experiences that many women do seem genuinely to have undergone (or rather recall under hypnotic regression). It seems that most of the cases which have come Hopkins' way have been people responding to his earlier book, Missing Time or to numerous radio and TV broadcasts

Along with Strieber's best selling book, and the introduction of abduction themes into popular soap-operas, we may reasonably assume that there are very few people in the US who are not now aware, in broad outline at least, of the form of the abduction experience, and know the correct responses to make under hypnosis. No wonder we seem to have an American abduction epidemic.

In taking the hypnotic narratives so literally, and in seeking out ever more abductees, Hopkins is heading rapidly along a dangerous road. It now seems almost certain that anybody, particularly a woman, has had some puzzling, anomalous experience at some stage in her life, and who undergoes hypnotic regression to find the cause of it, is going to come up with a story involving artificial insemination by alien creatures. Can you imagine the long-term effect this may have?

It is only recently that the public in general has become aware of the psychic dcmage caused by rape, which is at least an assault by another human being: can anyone imagine the trauma that must be caused by the belief that a rape had been performed by an alien, inhuman entity, or the attitude a woman who believes she has undergone such an experience may adopt to any children she subsequently bears? Yet this is just what Hopkins is encouraging people to believe. I find it hard to imagine anything more dangerous.

These books only tend to confirm my suspicion that the time is coming, when ufologists should get out of the abduction business. It is increasingly clear that it has little to do with unknown phenomena, and everything to do with well-known psychological processes. We are not trained psychotherapists. We have no right to subject people to what is in effect mental rape. If ufologists do not proceed very carefully we shall most certainly deserve Streiber's description of us as 'sharks'. -- Reviewed by John Rimmer,  first published in Magonia 28, January 1988.


1 comment:

Terry the Censor said...

> I find it hard to imagine anything more dangerous.

Hypnotising children and convincing them they too have been abducted.

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