Hypnotic Media and Deja VU’FO – A Brief Analysis of Public Interest in Flying Saucers from 2004 to 2021

Posted in > BLACK CADILLAC REVIEW by David on May 31, 2021

“If you’ll notice the way the media handles this, the general media has no past for the most part…and since the government has only released videos dating back as far as 2004, it’s as if all this all started in 2004, which is of course entirely false, it’s not the case.” – Whitley Strieber, Dreamland Podcast, May 27, 2021 (1)

With so many in the media focused on an upcoming Pentagon report detailing potential government investigations into the UFO phenomenon it’s been an opportune time to reflect on cultural amnesia and the effects of hyper-communications. Exciting as it was to see the UFO flying high again, its presence in the contemporary media has provoked a rather skewed view of the mysterious shadows that drift at the edges of our shared experience.

As journalists and pundits have turned their eyes to the skies, it’s been astonishing to witness the past rewritten so quickly. Since the now famous 2017 New York Times article, Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program, by Helene Cooper, Leslie Kean, and Ralph Blumenthal, we’ve seen a drastic narrowing of journalists’ sense of history despite the expansive potential that the UFO offers in terms of investigation. (2) This closing field of view reached a credulous crescendo on May 29th when Adam Gabatt, in an article for The Guardian, began with the surprising statement that:

“2021 has seen arguably the first ever serious discussion of unknown flying things.”(3)

While it’s true that we are seeing an intensification of official focus on the topic these days, spurred in large part by the ability of social and digital media platforms to speed up the news cycle, items like the one below from a 1968 edition of the Flying Saucer Review should give us pause as we consider what exactly the current mediation of the UFO foretells for future embrace of a more serious study of the topic:

The laser point focus on a handful of key encounters within the military apparatus is a useful mechanism for kicking the state leviathan into action – however, it’s not reflective of the history of the phenomenon and it certainly doesn’t capture the frequency of these encounters in the public at large, nor is it a good marker for the public’s interest in the topic. Tempting, and perhaps informative, as it would be to go back and look at the rise and fall in the media’s coverage of official interest into the UFO enigma over the decades there is actually a surprise in store for us if we simply go back to 2004 and look at some basic analytics on public attention towards these mysterious aerial messengers of the unknown.

With the way things are framed in the current conversation one might think that we are at the height of recent interest in the topic…it turns out that’s not the case at all:

Multiple New York Times articles, headlines in all of the major newspapers, a documentary series on History, a 60 Minutes feature on CBS, the full force of social media, and frequent coverage by numerous network pundits and interviews with alleged experts and on site witnesses to the military encounters hasn’t put today’s UFO interest at a higher level than it reached in January, 2008 when witnesses reported seeing an unidentified flying object over Stephensville, Texas!

“The Stephenville Empire-Tribune, which has written about the mysterious object, said about 40 people saw the thing — though some were too sheepish to admit the sighting until others came forward.

Law enforcement officer Lee Roy Gaitan said he was walking to his car when he saw a red glow that reminded him of pictures he’d seen of an erupting volcano. Article continues after sponsor message He said the object was suspended 3,000 feet in the air.

Gaitan said he was so awestruck that he called his son to come and see — but he didn’t talk much about the sighting until he saw a story about a UFO in the local paper.” (5)

Coming hot on the heels of a UFO sighting at O’hare International Airport in Chicago, the Stephensville sighting stoked more curiosity from the U.S. public than the revelation in 2017 that there was a program with Pentagon backing tasked with investigating military encounters with flying saucers. (6) Another key detail that makes this Texas sighting’s popularity notable is that most of the investigative journalism on the case was done by a local reporter, Angelia Joiner.

As Miguel Romero writes in his article, Trickle-Down UFOnomics VS Grassroots Reporting:

“In 2008, she was a reporter working for the Empire-Tribune, the local newspaper in Stephenville, Texas; a small town content with labeling themselves as the “Cowboy Capital of the World.” But the tranquility of this community was suddenly disturbed when several residents reported multiple sightings of strange lights in their skies –lights, some of them claimed, that were even chased down by fighter jets.

(…) Perhaps it was because the news cycle was going through a downtime due to the time of the year. Perhaps it was because the Chicago O’Hare UFO sighting of 2006 was still fresh in the collective memory of the American public. For whatever reason, Angelia’s article was picked up by the mainstream news agencies and exploded into an international sensation. Add to it the fact that initially the Air Force had claimed they didn’t have any airplanes in the area, but later they retracted and stated they had actually had a group of F-16s jets performing ‘military drills’ at the time of the sightings. Not only that, but the FAA confirmed that unidentified targets flew on a trajectory that would have led them straight into the private ranch of President George W. Bush (who was not present in the premises at the time), a no-flight restricted air zone.”(7)

Joiner paid a price for her diligent investigation of the case, eventually being fired as a staff reporter at the Empire-Tribune and moving on to freelance writing and podcasting.(7) A familiar fate for those who step over the enchanted boundary and continue following these mysteries beyond repeating the press release synopsis that finds acceptability with the status quo.

Even now with editorial teams excited to smear saucer proudly across their headline news, some portion of the cultural amnesia apparent as journalists tackle the topic is due to their reticence to move outside of what has been written in previous pieces. How many times can we see the same stale screenshot of a blurry blob in gun sights from the 2004 Nimitz event? How many times can the same facts be repeated about the same limited number of cases? We’ll surely find out in the coming years.

The Stephensville sighting may be the biggest spike in interest shown on our graph, but it isn’t the only one…

Footage from Mexican Air Force pilots, filmed March 5th, 2004.

In May, 2004 the public took interest when the Mexican Air Force released radar returns of anomalous objects encountered in their air space over the coastal region of Campeche in March of the same year.(8)

In January, 2007 the media continued to digest the November, 2006 UFO sighting reported by pilots and passengers over O’Hare International. (6)

In July, 2010 a UFO sighting lead to the shut down of Xiaoshan Airport in Hangzhou, China. (9)

In October, 2010 interest continued with a UFO sighting over Manhattan, which skeptics attributed to sun light glinting off balloons. (10)

In February, 2011 an alleged hoax featuring footage of a UFO over Jerusalem brought the topic into the news, again. (11)

In July, 2013 we see a smaller spike, perhaps tied to a Bloomberg feature on Edgar Mitchell calling for an end to UFO secrecy, or media surrounding the 66th anniversary of the Roswell Incident – or more likely related to the UK Ministry of Defense releasing the last of their UFO files (Not to be confused with the release of more classified UFO files in 2020.) (12, 13, 14, 15)

In November, 2015 a Navy missile test had skywatchers in California shouting saucer. (16)

And finally, if you’ve been tracking along the chart, we reach the spike for December, 2017 and the New York Times article which is the corner stone in our latest episode of the perennially popular day time drama, As the Saucer Turns. It’s a significant spike in interest, but it is not the largest, nor is it larger than many of the preceding bursts of interest since 2004. What is different now is the narrative that the media is taking, more than the interest that the public is showing.

As I noted in my post Project Blue Book and the Priming of Paranormal Belief – On the effects of history and its re-presentation – if we look at the Chapman University Survey of American Fears chart featuring the changes in reported belief from 2016 to 2018 we see that the largest increases are related to the idea that ‘Ancient, advanced civilizations, such as Atlantis, once existed‘ and ‘Aliens have visited Earth in the ancient past,’ both of these topics correlate rather well with the most popular show in this arena, Ancient Aliens:

In general the public focus on UFOs, at least in terms of the Google Trend chart, has been trending slightly down since the NYT article, and adding UAP to the terms in the analysis doesn’t really make up the difference.* When it comes to public belief all of the areas that have seen dramatic increases from 2016 to 2018 are areas that have been consistently promoted over the past decade by Ancient Aliens and more recently through media franchises run by Gaia, Inc., which posted $66.8 million in revenue in their 2020 earnings report. (18) For all the furor in the major news outlets over the New York Times article and the Pentagon backed UFO program, the shift in interest really isn’t much compared to that generated by well reported local news, like the Stephensville Sighting, or well liked popular media like Ancient Aliens and Gaia, Inc.’s streaming media productions.

So why does this current focus feel so groundbreaking for so many people, myself included?

Charles Fort appropriately observed that, “almost all people of all eras are hypnotics. Their beliefs are induced beliefs. The proper authority saw to it that the proper belief should be induced, and the people believed properly.” (19) The current focus feels different, because we’re told it is different, because journalists are writing headlines and ledes like – How the Pentagon Started Taking U.F.O.s Seriously – For decades, flying saucers were a punch line. Then the U.S. government got over the taboo – in cultural bastions like the New Yorker.(20) And we forget, as individuals or as a culture, that back in 1967 LOOK Magazine ran the strikingly similar headline – Flying Saucers, Why the Pentagon finally quit shrugging them off and called on scientists for help.

Deja VU’FO is real.

Does it mean that the current interest will come to naught?

Who knows, perhaps the ebb and flow of the current media cycle will add continued weight that will tip the scales that have been teetering since Kenneth Arnold’s sighting in July, 1947 started the modern interest in UFOs. A start, it should be noted, that came after UFOs were already making news with items like the 1946 sighting of the ‘Kareeta’ reported in San Diego, and war time reports of Foo Fighters and Ghost Rockets. (21) We are seeing more frequent peaks since 2017, even though they are not as high as some of the other ones within our time range. It may be that shaping public perception in this area is more lasting with numerous small peaks over a short period of time, rather than much larger peaks in interest spread out over the years.

During a recent appearance Whitley Strieber, whose 1987 book Communion opened a new chapter in the public’s awareness of the phenomenon, spoke of the effect that the iconic cover image had in awakening many people to experiences that remained elusive in their memories.

“From the beginning there were a large number of people whose minds were open to this….When this picture was painted. I remember sitting with the artist and I told him exactly what to do…What I didn’t know was that millions of people had seen that same face in their own lives. 

Most of them thought of it as a dream of some kind. That surely it had been a dream – but then they saw this book cover out there and they were stunned. They ended up thinking to themselves not a dream, not a dream at all.

This is the beginning, as far as I can tell, of Contact. This is when it began. When something that had already been, it had already embedded itself in our lives and in our world and the picture, more than the words in the book certainly, it triggered, it activated all of these people all over the planet. Now we are finally, after an extraordinary amount of resistance, coming gradually to a place where there’s going to be more openness, I hope.” (22)

Having myself experienced the power that this cover image has to awaken unexpected experiential dimensions and past memories I am particularly struck by the lack of mythic resonance in the FLIR image from the Nimitz encounter that has become the stock photo for so many stories since 2017. (23) Yet, resonant or not, for many it has solidified the sense that something is out there. Its repeated use in article after article confirms for those waiting for the nod from more official sources that they can open their minds to the wider mysteries of life.

As Strieber points out, his book was a catalyst to awaken individual imaginations to a possibility – and perhaps, although so much of the current media is dazed with cultural amnesia, it will serve to further the process of contact with the Other that began so long ago, far beyond the 20th century and far beyond an amnesia that defines our very quest to understand what it is to be human in a universe that seems so alien and yet so intimately familiar.

(1) https://www.unknowncountry.com/dreamland/ghosts-of-atlantis-how-the-echoes-of-lost-civilizations-influence-the-modern-world/
(2) nytimes.com/2017/12/16/us/politics/pentagon-program-ufo-harry-reid.html
(3) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/may/29/ufos-uap-america-pentagon-report
(4) Flying Saucer Review, Vol. 14, No. 5, September/October, 1968
(5) https://www.npr.org/2008/01/16/18146244/dozens-claim-they-spotted-ufo-in-texas
(6) https://www.chicagotribune.com/redeye/ct-redeye-xpm-2013-03-20-37880251-story.html
(7) https://www.dailygrail.com/2021/01/trickle-down-ufonomics-vs-grassroots-reporting-vale-angelia-joiner-1961-2021/
(8) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/3707057.stm
(9) https://abcnews.go.com/International/ufo-china-closes-airport-prompts-investigation/story?id=11159531
(10) https://www.cbsnews.com/news/ufo-over-manhattan-caught-on-tape/
(11) https://www.cbsnews.com/news/holy-land-hoax-jerusalem-ufo-not-kosher/
(12) https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-07-16/ufo-cover-ups-must-end-moonwalker-edgar-mitchell-says
(13) https://www.nbcnews.com/sciencemain/after-66-years-roswell-ufo-incident-belongs-ages-6c10570916
(14) https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2013/jun/21/last-release-mod-ufo-files
(15) https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/uk-ministry-of-defense-releasing-classified-ufo-files
(16) https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/nov/08/navy-missile-launch-california-bright-light
(17) https://davidmetcalfe.wordpress.com/2019/01/02/project-blue-book-and-the-priming-of-paranormal-belief-on-the-effects-of-history-and-its-re-presentation/
(18) https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2021/03/01/2184682/0/en/Gaia-Reports-Fourth-Quarter-and-Full-Year-2020-Results.html
(19) Charles Fort, Wild Talents (Claude Kendall, 1932)
(20) https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/05/10/how-the-pentagon-started-taking-ufos-seriously
(21) https://thesaucersthattimeforgot.blogspot.com/2017/08/1946-before-saucers-kareeta-ufo-contact.html
(22) https://youtu.be/xIKEcLzLxek*
(23) https://davidmetcalfe.wordpress.com/2018/02/19/encountering-the-super-natural%E2%80%8A-%E2%80%8Aan-experiential-review/

* The Google Ngram chart for UFO also shows a decline in the use of the term in publishing since 2004 – although UAP has become the specialist terminology for these sightings, UFO remains the popular designation and for now is the best way to track interest:

Note on the inspiration for this piece – During the videocast appearance featuring Whitley Strieber, Zenka Caro from the Exo-Metaverse project showed some of the ways she has been using data analytics to track cultural changes around the topic of UFOs and contact with non-human intelligences. When a friend of mine showed me another Google Trends chart tracking public interest in Demons compared to UFOs I realized this was a great tool to analyze the current mediation of the UFO in light of past interest. I was surprised to see that past popular interest spikes were actually higher than what we are seeing today.

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