Maybe the Sky is Really Green, and We’re Just Colourblind:
On Zapping, Close Encounters and the Commercial Break



Deep Space Homer, The Simpsons, season 5, ep. 5, 1994

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Boldly Going Where Everybody Had Been Before


Bart Simpson's Guide to Life had already warned us: "Maybe the sky is really green, and we're just colourblind!" The Simpsons' family paradigm reigned from the mid-nineties onwards. The metatextual gags played out in the TV series zapped across the entire media landscape. One episode, The Springfield Files,60 featured X-Files agents Scully and Mulder as special guests. The team pulls up in Springfield to investigate Homer Simpson's ET encounter and finds him jogging on a treadmill in his underwear. Another script saw couch-potato Homer, avid addict of the television remote, beer in hand, calling NASA to complain about the boring space coverage on television. NASA, frustrated over its drop in TV ratings, invites him to join the next mission, which turns into a Nielsen rating hit.61 But during his Deep Space Homer62 our accidental hero loses control of his potato chips and crash-lands—boldly going where everybody had been before: Springfield, the one and only town exempt from dystopian anxiety.63 The real NASA actually loved the episode, and sent a DVD copy on a supply ship to the International Space Station, where astronauts are now enjoying Homer's calamities.64

Homer Simpson was not the only zapping calamity. In 1997 wrestling control over the zapper started getting really out of hand. In downstate Illinois a thirteen-year-old honors student plunged a butcher knife into her fifty-two-year-old step-grandfather's chest after he switched channels. In October a woman in Florida shot her husband when he switched channels to watch The Philadelphia Eagles versus The Dallas Cowboys. She wanted to watch the news. A seven-year-old boy watching RoboCop (1987) shot and killed the family maid when she switched channels in order to watch Young Love, Sweet Love. In November, an off-duty Detroit officer shot and killed a twenty-one-year-old mental patient who he thought had pointed a gun at him. It was a remote for the video recorder.65

But 1997 was also a busy year for ufologists: Roswell, New Mexico, celebrated its 50th Anniversary of Ufology, to mark the infamous saucer crash of July 1947 nearby. Already on 13 March, earlier that year, the Phoenix Lights were widely sighted in the skies over Arizona and Nevada by thousands of people. Former Arizona Governor Fife Symington III, after initial denial, confirmed he too had witnessed a "craft of unknown origin".66 Meanwhile, smash hit Men in Black, released in July, showed a New York teeming with resident aliens. And that same month, when Jodie Foster's character deciphers a signal from outer space in the movie Contact,67 CNN host Larry King makes an appearance as none other than CNN host Larry King.

As the twentieth century drew to a close, people from the military, intelligence and science communities stepped forward to expose the UFO secret. In 1999 a high-level French study committee of experts, including General Bernard Norlain, retired commander of the French Tactical Air Force and military counsellor to former Prime Minister Mitterand, and Andre Lebeau, former head of the National Center for Space Studies, the French equivalent of NASA, published the COMETA Report. In it, they criticized the US for its policy of disinformation and military regulations prohibiting public disclosure of UFO sightings. In May 2001 the Disclosure Project convened a conference of witnesses to the National Press Club in Washington, DC, with the aim of persuading the US Congress to disclose the UFO cover-up.