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



U.S. President Ronald Reagan speech before the United Nations General Assembly, 1987

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An Alien Force Among Us


Whereas the media networks hijacked reality for entertainment, the global political game entertained a fear factor for reality. On 21 September 1987, in a speech before the United Nations General Assembly, former Hollywood actor turned US president, Ronald Reagan hinted at the possibilities of a hostile extra-terrestrial threat to Earth: "Perhaps we need some outside universal threat. Our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world. And yet, I ask you: is not an alien force already among us?" He had used the same analogy in 1985 as a rationale for governments to put aside their differences at the Geneva summit meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet president. Gorbachev's aspiration, though, was to quit the nuclear poker game, one which already had 1.5 million Hiroshima-sized chips on the table. However, when he suggested the unprecedented move to liquidate all nuclear arsenals worldwide, Reagan bluntly counter-proposed with his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). "Star Wars", as it was dubbed by the media, was publicized as a "planetary defense shield" against incoming Soviet ballistic missiles, but many UFO researchers claimed differently. In fact Star Wars was only a public cover for its real mission: shooting star-ships out of the heavens in order to retro-engineer its foreign technology.34

Crushing military expenditures had brought the crumbling Soviet superpower to the brink of bankruptcy. In similar fashion, the militarization of the American economy, which nearly doubled under the Reagan administration, had left the US with "ramshackle cities, broken bridges, failing schools, entrenched poverty, impeded life expectancy, and a menacing and secretive national-security state that held the entire human world hostage".35 Symptomatic of this context was the waning US space programme: NASA's space shuttle fleet remained grounded in the wake of the January 1986 Challenger disaster. Instead of exploring outer space, outer space was suddenly colonizing us.36 Steven Spielberg's ET (ET: The Extra-Terrestrial, 1982) had already nestled himself comfortably in an American suburb, checking out the fridge, getting drunk as he was channel-surfing UFO flicks on the telly. Meanwhile, waves of alien abductions invaded the American bedroom. The media now portrayed the contactees as abductees zapped inside the UFOs, their bodies' intimacy breached. Obsessed with the human reproductive system, the ETs had their hands full harvesting ova and sperm to create a hybrid race in space.37 In May 1987, a couple of months before Reagan's infamous speech at the UN, the alien account Communion by abductee "experiencer" and author Whitley Strieber reached number one on The New York Times best-seller list.38 The cover with the image of a bug-eyed "Grey" alien was suddenly catapulted into the mainstream. "Abductees evoke a nostalgia for a future we seem to have abandoned," writes Jodi Dean, "as the dark underside of official space, as a return of the repressed dimensions of astronaut heroics. They point to the shift from outerspace to cyberspace, and the widespread crisis of truth as we begin dealing with the virtual realities of the information age." The abductee narratives seemed to mirror the alienation felt towards an ever-increasing complex and uncertain reality of a corporate techno-culture taking over the world. "They bear witness to a lack of control, insecurity, and violation, to a lack of response from those who are supposed to protect and care."39

Harvard psychiatrist John E. Mack, who co-chaired with physicist David E. Pritchard the 1992 Abduction Study Conference40 at MIT, observed that the restrictive epistemology of a prevailing scientific paradigm was perhaps not adequate and incomplete to account for what was happening. At the core of the abduction phenomenon "experiencers" were coping with an "ontological shock"41 that fundamentally challenged the "consensus reality" of a western scientific worldview. Both traumatic and transformative, the abuctees recounted a narrative of radical ecology connected to the fate of this Earth, that had been ravaged by rational materialism and greed. In a post-conference interview Mack called for a "politics of ontology"42 to acquire a shift in worldview that can expand our understanding of reality—or rather, realities, in plural. An exploration into the possibilities of human consciousness ought to reconnect to "profound questions about how we experience the world around us and how as a society we decide what is real".43 The abductees' narratives of ecological redemption sounded light-years away from Reagan's plea for a Star Wars build-up. Reality itself was now at stake, and with it a planet in peril.