|Big bucks are spent manipulating belief systems via the big screen.
In the novel ‘1984’, author George Orwell described life under a totalitarian regime in which a disingenuous Ministry of Truth regularly rewrote history to effectively promote the state. It might therefore be considered darkly ironic that the Central Intelligence Agency changed the ending to the movie version of the story. The change portrayed a less morally defeated main character than contained in the book and against the specific instructions of Orwell. The CIA apparently did not want movie goers to think Big Brother was all that bad.
That was the case according to Frances Stonor Saunders, author of the 2000 book, ‘The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters’. Stonor Saunders further reported the CIA purchased the film rights to Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ following his death in 1950. Agents were dispatched to visit Orwell’s widow and secure the rights so the Agency could present a more overtly anti-Communist message than the author saw fit to do in his original classic novel. Orwell used a tale of political unrest among animals on a farm to metaphorically suggest the fundamental difference between greedy, power hungry capitalists and greedy, power hungry Communists was impossible to discern, a point that seemed to have sat no better with the actual CIA than it might have sat with the fictional Ministry of Truth.
It is clear the media is used for propaganda purposes. The sources of such propaganda may represent a wide range of individuals and organizations, and the range of motives may be just as broad.
UFO censorship and propaganda
A review of such events in ufology might quickly turn our attention to insights provided by researcher Robbie Graham. A self-described independent scholar, Graham reports on such topics as processes by which Hollywood’s UFO movie content is shaped and the resulting impact on popular perception. According to his Blogger profile, Graham holds a Masters degree with Distinction in Cinema Studies from the University of Bristol and a First Class Honours degree in Film, Television and Radio Studies from Staffordshire University. He maintains the blog ‘Silver Screen Saucers’, has contributed content and interviews to numerous venues, and has collaborated on research projects with Matthew Alford. Their work includes a 2011 paper titled, ‘A History of Government Management of UFO Perceptions through Film and Television’, which presents many items of potential interest.
One such item involved a 1958 CBS broadcast in which the network subsequently admitted it was subjected to official censorship. During a televised discussion about UFOs in which military officers participated, the microphone of U.S. Navy Major Donald Keyhoe was cut. The major was muted when he made apparently unapproved statements, including suggesting UFOs were real machines under intelligent control. Nine days later, CBS director of editing, Herbert A. Carlborg, acknowledged that “pre-determined security standards were in place” and that deviations thereof were not authorized for release, resulting in the censorship.
Graham and Alford inform us that during the 1980’s the Department of Defense assisted in the production of a UFO fantasy film for children, ‘Invaders from Mars’. The DoD granted full cooperation, including providing Major Fred Peck and Chief Warrant Officer Chas Henry of the Los Angeles Public Affairs Office to assist the director. What’s more, a retired public affairs officer, Captain Dale Dye, prepared extras for the film.
There are many such examples. Government agencies clearly have certain levels of interest in productions involving UFO-related subject matter and controlling public perception of alleged alien space travelers. The history is long and well documented.
Some of the more recent events on the time-line include the splash Chase Brandon made in 2012 when he cannonballed into the deep end of the pool of ufology. Described by Graham and Alford as a 35-year veteran of the CIA, Brandon was apparently employed for some 25 years in undercover covert operations prior to his assignment in 1996 as an Entertainment Liaisons Officer. He was then involved for ten years in shaping film scripts, characters and concepts.
Brandon also claimed he knew about an official cover-up of alien bodies retrieved from Roswell or some such stuff. Such circumstances arguably give added meaning to the now classic line from ‘The Wizard of Oz’, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”
Just how influential are intelligence agencies in manipulating UFO-related film scripts, info presented in documentaries and so on? “Very influential,” Graham informed me via email, but that is by no means to suggest Hollywood is entirely controlled by the powers that be, because of course it is not.
“Whatever effect UFO movies have on our perceptions of the phenomenon,” Graham continued, “it is largely the result of a natural cultural process whereby Hollywood creatives feed off of existing UFO literature and debate, and incorporate these ideas into their narratives. Just because a film contains specialized UFOlogical detail does not mean it has been produced at the behest of the US government for acclimation or disinformation purposes. More often than not, it means the screenwriter has read one or more books on UFOs or watched some documentaries on the subject and thought it would be cool to incorporate some of these ideas into a fictional story.
“That said, and as Matthew Alford and I showed in our peer reviewed article, the US government and military have demonstrated a very keen interest in Hollywood’s UFO output since the early years of the phenomenon and have, on occasion, monitored and successfully interfered in the production process of UFO-themed movies and documentaries. So, is there a Hollywood UFO conspiracy? Yes and no.”
Identifying motives for the vast majority of investors in film and other forms of media is simple enough. Some want to increase public awareness of topics in which they have personal interests. Some are artists and support the arts. Many, of course, desire to profit from their financial investments.
In the case of government manipulation of media and resulting perceptions about UFOs, motives become more difficult to conclusively identify. The fact such manipulation occurs is clear enough, but precisely why it happens is the subject of debate.
Some would argue a gradual disclosure of an alien presence is taking place. Others would disagree, suggesting such a gradual disclosure is highly unlikely for reasons including it has seemingly been crawling along at a snail’s pace for over 60 years.
Others still would suggest government interference in the Hollywood-portrayed UFO phenomenon might be indicative of efforts to cover up an alien presence – not disclose it. Arguments to this effect commonly include citing circumstances of official censorship of potentially relevant events. Those who support such theories and the extraterrestrial hypothesis also tend to suggest the topic is intentionally made to appear silly in an official attempt to devalue its likelihood and oppress serious public consideration.
Yet others argue government manipulation of public perceptions about UFOs might be due to it being a scam – that select members of the powers that be actually want us to believe in a nonexistent alien presence. Supporters of this school of thought suggest the intelligence community finds it advantageous to conduct some of its covert operations, such as certain projects involving advanced aircraft or psychological experiments, within the confusion and resulting cover provided by an alien meme. Some suspect the intelligence community has essentially perpetrated an alien hoax for numerous advantageous reasons.
Perhaps the truth is found somewhere among and between such possibilities, not entirely within or without any of them. Perhaps certain events indeed involve circumstances that confound many of us, but in reality have nothing whatsoever to do with interplanetary spaceships or their alleged occupants, interesting and fascinating as correct explanations might actually be. And perhaps sometimes the intelligence community indeed manipulates perception of such circumstances for many reasons.
Robbie Graham on UFOs in the movies
“Feature films and documentaries influence our opinions about pretty much everything, including UFOs,” Graham explained, “to a very great extent indeed. Outside of the UFO community – which is relatively very small – almost no one reads factual UFO literature (and most UFO literature isn’t very ‘factual’ anyway). For most people, ideas about UFOs and potential ET life come via TV and cinema – either in the form of ‘factual’ documentary series (such as ‘Ancient Aliens’, for example), or, more traditionally, through the fantastical imaginings of Hollywood creatives. TV and cinema are, without question, the two biggest ‘spoons’ feeding us ideas about UFOs and ET life.”
Graham suggested cinema is more powerful than television, lingering much longer in the memory. He gives television its due in cultural influence, but described cinema as having a mystical ability to completely detach us from our physical environments while creating a vivid realm of perception.
“But regardless of the medium through which they are screened, movies can pack a punch that we feel for weeks, months, or even years afterward. The power of the story – of storytelling – is primal, and essential. Movies, in their slick, neatly packaged, self-contained way, serve to narrativize the frustratingly non-narrative, and therefore unpredictable and confusing events, processes, and ideas that constitute our world. Life rarely makes sense, but movies usually do, and in that we take comfort – rightly or wrongly.”
How does Graham assess the overall accuracy of UFO documentaries, films based on true stories and similar such productions?
“Most TV documentary series about UFOs are sensationalized pap,” he replied. “This is a shame, because even the worst of them do include demonstrably factual and important information about the phenomenon; sadly, this information is usually presented in the tackiest and most hyperbolic manner, which has the effect of discrediting the actual material.”
Graham thinks there are a handful of very good documentaries dealing with the UFO issue, including ‘Out of the Blue’ and ‘I Know What I Saw’ by James Fox. This would be the case, Graham added, even though Fox himself criticized what Graham termed “the impossibly ridiculous” National Geographic TV series, ‘Chasing UFOs’, in which Fox appeared last year.
As for films, Graham gives thumbs ups to the 1994 TV movie ‘Roswell’ by Paul Davids, ‘Fire in the Sky’ about the Travis Walton saga and ‘Communion’, in which the Whitley Strieber story is presented. The films do not always represent details in entirely accurate manners, Graham observed, but the films are nonetheless memorable and reasonable portrayals of the stories.
“So, while some UFO movies are arguably quite accurate in their depiction of certain aspects of the phenomenon, I think it’s impossible for any UFO movie to give an entirely accurate depiction of the phenomenon as a whole because, quite simply, no one in the world can claim to have a complete understanding of what we’re dealing with. Still, it’s fair to say that the vast majority of UFO/alien-themed movies take a considerable amount of artistic license with the UFO phenomenon as experienced by millions of people. And that’s absolutely fine, of course – Hollywood is interested in entertaining, not educating. But we do need to constantly remind ourselves of this fact, especially when watching films dealing with the UFO/ET issue: movies, no matter how realistic they are in the events they depict (and regardless of the nature of the events they are depicting), are not real life. They are, at best, reflections of our reality, snapshots of it, simulations of it, skewed and distorted through the ideological framework of those who have made them.
“Movies masquerade as the final word on a given topic. No matter what the subject, and regardless of how much that subject has already been written about and debated, once it is committed to film – once it has received the full Hollywood treatment – it is embedded in its glossy cinematic form firmly and forever into the popular consciousness.”
Commenting further on the extent such films result in largely inaccurate beliefs held by the public, Graham continued, “Cinema and TV are meme generators, or at least meme magnifiers. Think, for example, of the idea of ‘Little Green Men’. Actually, although little green beings were reported in the Hopkinsville, Kentucky ‘farm siege’ of 1955 and the ‘little green men’ term itself was coined by the press in their reporting of that event, it was Hollywood that took this meme and ran with it in the 1957 movie ‘Invasion of the Saucer Men’, in which little green men terrorize a small town in rural America. One of the characters describes the alien she encounters as ‘a little green man.’ Hollywood has thrown the ‘little green men’ meme at us ever since in movies too numerous to list (though the ‘Toy Story’ movies immediately spring to mind, as do ‘Planet 51’ and ‘Aliens in the Attic’). But actually, as anyone who has studied this subject knows, green beings – little or otherwise – are almost never reported by UFO witnesses.”
What does Graham think is most important for us to understand about the relationship between the film industry and UFO subject matter?
“Quite simply, when it comes to our understanding of UFO phenomena and our expectations regarding potential extraterrestrial life – make no mistake about it – movies matter… perhaps more even than anything else. As audiences, we should therefore seek to actively engage with Hollywood’s depictions of UFOs and extraterrestrials – to look up from our popcorn once in a while and acknowledge that such phenomena spring first and foremost not from the minds of Hollywood creatives, but from the fabric of our lived historical reality. By more actively engaging with Hollywood’s UFO movies, we enhance our ability to distinguish UFO fact from fantasy, and to more easily identify and understand the political thinking behind instances of government manipulation of UFO-themed entertainment products.”
Taking a look forward on the time-line of television and UFOs, we might turn our attention to an item that stated, “We’re seeking subjects for the first season of a new TV show for a leading US cable network.” The item specified interest in people who “have had an extraterrestrial encounter, seen a UFO, been abducted” or similar, and was posted on several UFO-related discussion forums and blogs. The post stated experts were available to help, yet provided no details other than a relatively generic hotmail address. However, one website which published the post identified a Lauren James as a contact.
Your writer sent emails to the hotmail address provided and requested permission to ask some questions about the upcoming production in order to include responses in a blog post. No replies were received from Lauren James, helpful experts or anyone else, for whatever reasons.
While there may of course be many reasons the involved parties might prefer to not field questions about their project, they might nonetheless choose to take the nature of the genre into ample consideration in the future and plan accordingly. Distrust understandably tends to figure rather prominently within the UFO community, and providing reasonable amounts of information tends to be much more of the solution than the problem.
Items on the film and UFOs horizon include The John Mack Project, which includes a forthcoming movie from Denise David Williams of MakeMagic Productions. David Williams reports that she secured the life rights to the late researcher of alleged alien abduction, Dr. Mack, apparently giving her exclusive access to and portrayal of the information contained in his books, personal archives, journals, manuscripts and similar such property.
Further research suggests the subject of life rights has become increasingly relevant when producing documentaries and films based on what are promoted as true stories. Obtaining such rights stands to become important when telling a story or retelling it if the story has previously been presented in another media or context. Life rights may also become relevant to ensure due consideration and/or compensation is provided to researchers who invest significant amounts of time and resources in a story.
A wide variety of individuals, corporations and agencies are clearly competing to influence your beliefs about alleged extraterrestrial visitors, for whatever ultimate reasons. Successfully accomplishing the task has apparently been identified as worthy of substantial amounts of money and sustained effort.
Ultimately, we are each responsible for that which we choose to believe, as well as how we arrive at such choices. Please recognize and be mindful of how you make your decisions.
Sanctity of free thought should be cherished and encouraged to thrive. Consciously develop your process of making intellectual choices, honor and respect your process, and do not allow it to be overtly or covertly hijacked.