Date: Sat, 6 Jul 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for July 6, 1996 (Part Two)

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Date: Sat, 6 Jul 1996 12:25:24 -0700 from: AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for July 6, 1996 (Part Two) Reply-To: aanews@listserv.atheists.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn # 88 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 7/6/96 (Part Two) "INDEPENDENCE DAY'' ~~ PSEUDOSCIENCE INVADES EARTH (AGAIN) (Part Two of Two) "What happened at Roswell, N.M." has become a topic explored -- mostly with little attention to accuracy and critical thinking -- in dozens of magazine articles, books and television programs. Roswell has evolved into a a linchpin in popular UFO lore, and a mainstay ingredient for programs like "The X-Files" or the genre of TV specials which claim to explore "unsolved mysteries." Nearly a half-century of faded memories, distortions, embellishment and probably a good deal of outright hoaxing has created a whole pop culture mythos around The Roswell Incident. It began in 1947 with the crash of what many thought was either a weather balloon or a craft of "unknown origin." The local press reported that the military had retrieved parts of an alien flying disc, but officials at a nearby army air base then insisted that the mysterious debris was really the remnants of a meteorological balloon. That story may indeed have been a cover, but not to conceal the existence of dead aliens and UFO's. The "balloon" could have been linked to U.S. intelligence operations which were trying to monitor atomic tests in the Soviet Union by obtaining air samples from the upper-atmosphere. The initial report which appeared in the Roswell Daily Record was generally ignored for the next twenty five years, except for a small fringe of UFO enthusiasts. In the 1980's, though, a curious resurgence of interest in flying saucers and aliens accompanied a rash of books dealing with new age, pseudo-science themes. Roswell was re-discovered, and alleged witnesses found by writers of UFO books and articles. The events of July 8, 1947 were re-christened "The Roswell Incident." Critics suggest that nothing truly unusual happened that night in Roswell, N.M. Considering the abundance of books and TV specials about the "incident," there are no photos of anything really spectacular or pieces of debris, or other sorts of verifiable evidence. And as with many claims of this nature, there remains only anecdotal testimony -- and a good deal of popular belief that "something" happened which the government has assiduously been concealing for decades. Meanwhile, Roswell has become a UFO-kind-of-town, complete with a museum and a realization by local business owners that, as USA TODAY notes, "the intergalactic crowd can mean stellar business." Debating the validity of claims about UFO's and aliens has become a Herculean task. Writers like skeptic Philip J. Klass, a former editor with Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine, face an uphill battle. The "unsolved mystery" style programs which have become increasingly popular offer tantalizing and exciting "stories" for the public to believe. Aliens can be beneficient and kind, as they were in movies like "E.T." and "Close Encounters," or of the menacing variety depicted in "The Arrival" and "Independence Day." Either way, they are contemporary manifestations of an ancient ethos -- sky deities who either watch over humanity, or prey on our minds and bodies. In typical postmodernist fashion, movies, books and TV programs dealing with these themes are not necessarily concerned with truth -- only the telling of a story. Fiction has traditionally required a willing, conscious suspension of dis-belief. Stories which employed the mythic dimension need not be "true" to have meaning; they can be tales, parables and metaphors of the human experience. But increasingly, the modern fascination with matters religious, occult and pseudo-science has obliterated that admittedly-wide line which separates truth from illusion. An exciting movie such as ID4 is deliberately and consciously linked by its creators to deeper -- and what some would describe as disturbing -- currents in the American psyche. The Belief in Coming Apocalypse Why the fascination with aliens, UFO's, miracles and other artifacts of the unusual and bizarre? Why the success of movies like "Independence Day," or the popularity of cheesy prime-time specials like "Alien Autopsy" which was purportedly film footage showing a dead extraterrestrial being disected? * With Communism and Nazis a thing of the past, these genres provide new enemies and threats. Says movie director Paul Verhoeven in the latest issue of Time, "Alien sci-fi films give us a terrifying enemy that's politically correct. They're bad. They're evil. And they're not even human." * Popular confidence in "the Enlightenment Project" as manifested in science and technology is ambivalent. Surveys indicate that while most people think that science is useful and can make life better, they nevertheless don't understand what science is all about. We are a nation of "scientific illiterates" according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Technology has also become a problematic enterprise; mention "nuclear power" and people today don't have the 50's Disneyland vision of abundant, safe and free energy. They think of piles of toxic waste, meltdown and health hazards. * Religion and pseudoscience offer simple and quick explanations of how the world operates. These accounts are often mysterious, exciting, and meet deep-seated human cravings, even fears. Postmodernist culture is more cynical about established institutions, including government and science; people search for everything from existential meaning to "answers" about "hidden mysteries." Skepticism about these claims can be difficult for many people, especially if they lack critical-thinking skills. * Modern culture is awash and pulsating with mystical and pseudoscience themes. Aliens are only part of the cast of characters in this pre-millennium stage show: include miracles, angels, quack health regiments, communication with the dead, ghosts, fortune telling, even the fulfillment of bible prophecy and the onset of "the last days." Beginning next fall, Fox will crank up the paranoia when Chris Carter (producer of "The X-Files") hits the world's television screens with his new production titled "Millennium." NBC will unveil "Dark Skies," which pits a resistance movement against an alien-human cabal in a battle spanning the historical events of the late 20th century, everything from the Kennedy assassination to the New York City blackout of 1965 and the Challenger disaster. It's "the final showdown between humans and aliens on the eve of the millennium." * Apocalyptic themes are already building as we approach not only the end of our century, but the end of the second millennium of the current era. Science writer James Oberg sees "a synergistic climb toward panic" as we count down to the year 2000. End-of -the-world scenarios can be expected to proliferate, whether they involve the Antichrist, aliens or some other form of global catastrophe. Groups like the Aum Shinri Kyo cult in Japan, or the suicide-prone Order of the Solar Temple may proliferate and engage in drastic extremes of behavior. It won't just be some Freemen-style check kiters digging their way into cult compounds. You may find more Jehovah's Witness types tapping on your door, or trying to knock it down. But there's hope yet. It's doubtful that anything near what is portrayed in "Independence Day" is in humanity's future. Ditto that for Book of Revelation style scenarios where the Antichrist and Messiah slug it out for the second (and final) time around, and where neighbors like "The Simpsons" Ed Flanders go flying off to a heavenly reward during The Rapture. We may be working on a kind of "secular armageddon", of course -- over-population, war, ecological catastrophe, global financial collapse -- but there is good evidence to suggest that those more mundane problems are manageable, especially if we employ science, technology and plain 'ol common sense. Humanity DID survive previous calamitous epochs. Meanwhile, the head-long charge into mysticism, religious fundamentalism, pseudo-science and fantasy may end up being just so much "apocalypse chic." Alien autopsies, unsolved mysteries, UFO invasions and ancient prophecies need not require much basis in fact to sell at the box office, and as postmodernist stories, they possess an incredible immunity from truth and rational inquiry. "Independence Day" is both a big screen spectacular, and like its genre predecessors, a window on the culture. Time quotes an editor at Tor Books, David Hartwell: "The alien represents metaphorically what's in the real world." Movies like "E.T.", "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "Close Encounters" depicted a different cultural landscape, a world of benign mystical transcendence and "warm and fuzzy" sky gods. ID4's world is less forgiving;and the steroid rage of alien invaders perhaps typifies our own discontents and frustrations with our own mundane world. For some of us, movies like "Independence Day" are a good excuse the indulge in cinematic fantasy offerings, and a large tub of unhealthy, buttered popcorn. But we live in a culture where nearly half of the popuation gives credence to the existence of UFO's, alien encounters, and other artifacts of the pseudo-science imagination. Others believe that god, angels, spirits or other entities directly intervene in their lives. As the 20th century draws to its own tumultuous close, these are statistics which are certainly cause for reasoned concern. For many folks, what's up there on the big screen is a lot more than just a movie. ************************ Resources Pertaining To This Article... Check out the "Independence Day" web site at http://www.id4.com; there are plenty of links including the "Arcanum" section which will guide you through some of the fringe backwaters of pop-culture pseudoscience, from the "Hollow Earth" to crop circles, the face on Mars and some sites that may well verge on psychosis. A curious site linking UFO folklore and biblical apocalyptic belief is at http://www.qtm.net/~beibdan/watcher.html. E.T. meets the Antichrist. Time Magazine's excellent cover article for the current issue is at the Time website; their regular URL (timemag.com) was not connecting as of earlier today, so try http://pathfinder.com. "The Invasion Has Begun" is a stimulating article by Richard Corliss. Those interested in literary genres such as cyberpunk should also read Michael Krantz's piece, "The Literature of Nerds Goes Mainstream." The "Parascope" site can be accessed via the web, or directly through AOL. This is a treasure-trove of just about every crank, fringe and occult belief you can imagine mixed in with conspiracy politics and wild speculation. Was that really Elvis on the Grassy Knoll when Kennedy was shot? You won't have to travel far to locate any newscoverage about the "Independence Day" release. Cable News even has quick time snippets and links at http://www.cnn.com/showbiz. Use the SEARCH feature for locating ID4. There are abundant web resources about UFO's and over-sexed aliens. I strongly recommend the book "UFO Abductions: A Dangerous Game" by Philip J. Klass" as a sort of "innoculation" against the web-craziness you will inevitably encounter. Those wishing to keep current with millennialist hysteria should check out Millennial Prophecy Report, edited by folklore expert Ted Daniels. You can call 1-800-666-4696 to request a brochure, or e-mail to: mpred@aol.com. In addition, http:www.capcon.net/users/lbenedet/gonzo.html is a page of great "Gonzo Links -- Your Online Guide to Millennial America." Explore web sites of people so far out that even aliens would want nothing whatsoever to do with them. Finally, if you do see ID4, see it on the big screen. Video won't do justice to the special effects. Try seeing "Independence Day" in a large-screen theatre; besides, you might end up getting a seat next to Elvis. *************** About This List... AANEWS is a free service of American Atheists, a nationwide movement founded by Madalyn Murray O'Hair for the advancement of Atheism, and the total, absolute separation of government and religion. For information about AA, send mail to: info@atheists.org, and include your name and postal address. You may forward, post or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to AANEWS and American Atheists. For subscribe/unsubscribe information, send mail to: aanews-request@listserv.atheists.org, and put "info aanews" (minus the quotation marks, please!) in the message body. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER.

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