Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Photograph: The Kobal Collection
The place of movies in the grand UFO conspiracy is a tricky area.
Depending on which theory you subscribe to, Hollywood’s steady stream of sci-fi is either a deliberate exaggeration, designed to make the “truth” look unbelievable (the “you’ve been watching too many movies” defence), or it’s a way of psychologically preparing the populace for staggering alien secrets yet to be revealed.
Mark Pilkington points to the CIA’s Psychological Strategy Board, founded after the second world war to promote U.S. propaganda. Associated with the board was veteran film producer Darryl Zanuck.
In 1951, Zanuck executive-produced seminal alien-visitation sci-fi The Day the Earth Stood Still, often cited as a government-sanctioned testing of the waters for alien contact.
Like Zanuck, the film’s writer, Edmund North, was ex-military, while director Robert Wise apparently became a UFO believer on account of discussions he had with Washington figures during the making of the movie.
Steven Spielberg is a less likely government stooge, though he has been obsessed by aliens his entire career, from Close Encounters and ET up to War of the Worlds and the last Indiana Jones film (not forgetting his producer role in Falling Skies, Transformers and, er, Men in Black).
If anyone’s paving the way for the big reveal, it’s Spielberg, but, after 30 years of paving, we’re still waiting.
Mirage Men finds an even more extreme example in the form of industry veteran Robert Emenegger, who claims that in 1971 he was approached by the Pentagon to make a film revealing,
“what the government really knows”.
The Pentagon’s big lure was that they would let him incorporate top-secret footage of an alien craft landing at Holloman Air Force Base in the 1960s.
Predictably, the footage never materialized but Emenegger – no less cryptic a character than Richard Doty – claims to have seen it, and still believes alien contact has been established.
He went ahead and made his documentary:
UFOs – Past, Present And Future
Presented by Rod “Twilight Zone” Serling, it culminates in a rather anti-climactic “reconstruction” of the Holloman UFO landing.
In the cold light of the post-cold war, the evidence is starting to look pretty shaky for UFOs. Numbers at UFO conventions and clubs are dwindling. The UK’s Ministry of Defence closed its UFO desk in 2009, and, like many countries, has declassified its UFO documents.
If there was any smoking gun, you’d imagine it would have been found in our current golden age of leaks and disclosures – but so far there’s only been more smoke.
On a Guardian webchat in 2010, relating to Wikileaks’ release of the U.S. embassy cables, Julian Assange asserted that “many weirdos email us about UFOs” but he’d come across nothing concrete.
There were references to UFOs in the cables, he noted, but mostly to do with UFO cults rather than UFOs themselves – in the same way that GCHQ’s Art Of Deception slideshow references UFO cults.
If nothing else, the leaked GCHQ document tells us the Mirage Men are still out there, sowing deception and disinformation. These days they’re more likely to be targeting suspect extremist religious groups, or hackers and online fraudsters.
Meanwhile, recent claims to have “deciphered” hidden backwards messages about UFOs (below video) in Edward Snowden’s interview only go to show how desperate the alien conspiracy cause has become:
here’s something else ufologists are a textbook example of:
cognitive dissonance – the mental distress of trying to hold two conflicting worldviews simultaneously.
The term was coined in the 1950s by psychologist Leon Festinger, who illustrated it with the example of a UFO cult shattered by the unfulfilled prophecy of an alien visitation.
Some tenacious devotees still refuse to accept Mirage Men’s findings, says Pilkington:
“If beliefs are strongly held, nothing can sway them and anything that appears to undermine them will just be absorbed and repurposed. So if you’re really, really dedicated, this is just chaff to throw you off the trail.”
Pilkington himself has been accused of working for MI5 or being a stooge controlled by the government, if not the aliens.
“If I’m under intelligent control from elsewhere then I’m unaware of it, and I’m a victim, and it would be against my programming for me to be able to prove it,” he reasons.
As always in the conspiracy-theory hall of mirrors, it’s possible to flip the hypothesis on its head:
Perhaps we’re no closer to knowing if the truth really is out there, but we can be sure “the lies are”…