Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Page 170: The day that UFOs turned bad

I recall vividly the day that UFO culture changed in my eyes. It wasn’t a gradual shift in the zeitgeist, but a seismic event. One day aliens were benign scientists gathering data about our curious blue marble and the even more curious humans that inhabited it. Television characters like My Favorite Martian and The Great Gazoo from The Flintstones, the optimism of Star Trek, films like Close Encounters and ET, popular songs like Klaatu’s Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft (famously covered by the Carpenters) and Yes’s Arriving UFO, and all the ancient astronaut books claiming that aliens had visited and helped manking through the ages: these popularized a benevolent image of UFOs throughout the 1960s and 1970s. When there was a UFO flap in my town, for days I watched the skies expectantly hoping to glimpse an alien visitor.

This comic from Close Encounters Studios sums up my feelings about nu-alien culture.
Then one day I opened my eyes to find we had rekindled the paranoia of earlier generations: the horrors of 1950s moviegoers, the hostile invaders of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds (1897 for the book, 1929 for the radio play, 1953 for the movie, and 1978 for Jeff Wayne’s musical). For me, that day arrived with the April 1978 issue of Official UFO magazine, which purported to show photos of alien spacecraft destroying—and then reconstructing—the town of Chester, IL. For a young person, it was scary, exhilarating, and AWESOME. This paranoia paved the way for everything from scary-alien movies like ID4 to the whole grays-vs-black-slime-vs-bee-clone alien confusion that was The X-Files. And let us not forget Lord Kinbote.

The April 1978 issue of Official UFO was a game-changer for tween me.
The conversation on page 170 of The Billionth Monkey reflects my off-the-cuff perceptions about this time. Could this supposed change just be a reflection of a dewey-eyed tween’s loss of innocence, recognizing the scary alien trope that has always been there? Perhaps, but it seems that the tenor of conversations about UFOs definitely changed in those days from the scores of mass-market UFO paperbacks that had littered my bookshelves. While other people may have observed this shift at different times or places, Official UFO is when I first noticed it. I saved that magazine to this very day (the image above is a scan of my copy).

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