Fugitive Lights: The Resurgence of a Cold War Phenomenon in the 21st Century
mMXX, 2020. A year etched in the public consciousness for many reasons: the tragic death of George Floyd sparks spread proteststhe last year of a tumultuous presidencyTHE zenith of the COVID-19 pandemic, the list goes on. Yet, for a narrower and more niche corner of the popular imagination, the year was shaping up to be one of the most memorable of the new millennium for a completely different, but no less famous, world.reason.
In April 2020, perhaps the most turbulent month of the coronavirus outbreak, as businesses were closing and nationwide stay-at-home orders were being enforced, the Department of Defense officially released three short videos. These videos depict US Navy encounters with what spokeswoman Sue Gough called « unidentified aerial phenomena » (UAP). Silently confirming what has already been released by the private company At the Stars Academy of Arts & Sciences and subsequently recognized from the Navy, the Pentagon has finally acknowledged, at least in part, the surge in unidentified flying object (UFO) sightings in recent years.
There’s a long-running joke that came about with the advent of cell phone technology, one that goes something like this: « With all the cell phones nowadays, why aren’t there more UFO sightings? » Well, according to the data collected by the National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC), it actually turns out there I am more sightings with accompanying photographic evidence than one might initially think, and that number saw a constant increase since 1990.
Now, it would be remiss not to point out that the numbers alone prove very little in the way of fact. Steve Hudgeons, of civilians Mutual UFO network (MUFON), is not afraid to do it challenge any number of these so-called « sightings » using common sense and logic. Many « fun lights » turn out to be airplanes or satellites, nothing out of the ordinary. Yet the reports still come in, and MUFON maintains volunteer « field investigators » for just that reason, suggesting that the popular imagination remains as transfixed as ever by these strange fugitive lights whizzing back and forth across the skies, the subject of James Fox -Edit 2020 Documentary, The phenomenon.
TThe modern UFO phenomenon began in earnest during the Cold War, with the story of pilot Kenneth Arnold’s encounter with « supersonic flying saucers » (as the June 26, 1947 headline problem of the Chicago sun). In early July, the legendary events which surfaced in Roswell, New Mexico affected the airwaves and the ensuing UFO craze illuminated the public imagination with a fiery intensity that would burn for the next twenty years.
Watergate and the Vietnam War would bring a renewed sense of skepticism and mistrust into public proceedings. But, by this point, the UFO’s marriage to the concept of « extraterrestrial » was firmly entrenched in the popular mind, thanks in large part to the much-debated »extraterrestrial hypothesis(ETH), who speculates that most of these UAPs are best explained as actual spacecraft containing alien lifeforms. This hypothesis was defined for the first time by the nuclear physicist and pioneer of quantum mechanics Edward Condon in 1969, during the presentation of the Pardon Report. His famous report is the result of a study conducted by the University of Colorado from 1966 to 1968, funded by none other than the United States Air Force. The report’s conclusions debunked most of the phenomena and concluded that there was actually little evidence to support the hypothesis.
In a weird way, I think my interest in what isn’t easily explained is probably what brought me to Christ in the first place.However, amid widespread media attention and the range of “alien invasion” movies like Invasion of the saucer men (1957) pumped up by B-movie makers in the 1950s, the UFO and the alien entity became inseparable. And the Seventies marked a notable change in the public’s disposition towards this phenomenon, also from a creative point of view. Spielberg’s 1977 science fiction epic Close encounters of the third kind presented a more grounded view into the lives of those who have actually claimed to have seen a UFO and, in some cases, made contact with the vehicle’s occupants and groundbreaking book by Ridley Scott Alien (1979) transformed the inscrutable extraterrestrial entity into a lethal killing machine that stalks its prey in the black void of space.
The game would change once again with Chris Carter’s brilliant and paranoid 90s television staple, The X-Files (1993-2018), starring UFO-obsessed FBI agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and his skeptical partner Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). For nearly ten years, the agents have been peeling back the layers of a sinister government conspiracy revolving around extraterrestrials. This award-winning television series was the perfect marriage between the new cynical attitude towards the UFO phenomenon and the widespread distrust of the government, and those « unidentified aerial phenomena » have reached their pop culture pinnacle.
Tthere is something almost kitschy here about saying that the events September 11, 2001 changed the way people look at anything. It seems that almost any discussion of public perception of any subject in the early twentieth century must inevitably suggest that that perception changed in the aftermath of 9/11. Depending on the topic, I assume that statement is valid. And I believe that is a valid statement when discussing the UFO phenomenon in the public consciousness.
By 2002, The X-Files it had been canceled after airing consistently for the better part of a decade. In the years immediately following 2001, films about UFOs and the like became scarce. And when sci-fi TV series made a comeback with a vengeance, with shows like Ron Moore’s incredible reimagining of Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009), there were far fewer extraterrestrials involved. Threats of home, it seems, have become far more important to the gatekeepers of pop culture than threats of whatever might be « out there. » This sentiment continues to pervade pop culture in the numerous deconstructions of the genre.
When The X-Files back in 2016, Carter and company pulled off perhaps the boldest narrative move I’ve ever seen by blowing up the very mythology they’ve spent years developing. This new twist suggested that the seemingly sinister aliens from the original series actually were benevolent beings, who had come to help save humanity from destruction, only to be exploited by a shadow government. The story of The X-Files it had been, for over a decade, one of the constant threats of an imminent alien colonization of the earth. By the time the revival series wrapped up in 2018, the story had become one where evil humans planned to colonize They. There is hardly a better picture of the way widespread sentiment has shifted into his concerns about the UFO phenomenon and what it represents in the public imagination than this.
dDespite the changing tides in the wider public consciousness and continued social stigma, however, people continue to report seeing strange lights in the skies. And, apparently, with increasing frequency. Perhaps people are less inclined to chase after the extraterrestrial hypothesis for an explanation of what these objects actually are; however, legitimate questions remain that even the US government has finally managed to admit.
Now, before you panic, rest assured that I’m not going to end this brief investigation into UFOs and pop culture by telling you what I think is « really » happening: I’m not. I don’t think aliens are behind the coronavirus, and I’m not really interested in giving this phenomenon another « hot grip ». Like some kind of amateur ufologist—yes, it’s a True Term: I just think the evidence speaks for itself. And just because we can’t fit all of these real-world happenings into one quick and easy frame of reference, doesn’t mean we should ignore every single one of those thousands of reports every year.
Yes, I am still a Christian who depends every day on the implied righteousness of Jesus Christ as an affirmation of my rightful standing with the Father. No, I don’t think the fugitive lights are the work of imps speeding around in flying machines made of hellfire and brimstone. I just find all the evidence Interesting– plain and simple. And all of this means that while most people stay in bed at night watching YouTube videos, I’m probably doing the same thing, except that the videos I’m watching are probably of Navy pilots trying to figure out what the hell are they doing. looking, and instead of scrolling through Facebook, I usually scroll through the latest report from NUFORC or MUFON.
In a weird way, I think my interest in what isn’t easily explained is probably what brought me to Christ in the first place. Both fantasy and science fiction played a key role in getting me through a childhood that I didn’t realize was unconventional until I started meeting people who had normal ones. Spend time looking Moth in Point Pleasant, West Virginia (a great vacation spot, by the way), or hoping to catch a glimpse of Bigfoot on the occasional hunt with my father are childhood memories that linger, palpable and powerful. And few things still exist in the world with a sense of mystique and mystery; after all, we are the people who have successfully done it demystify sex, a truly astounding result.
My point is, whatever it is about me that makes me keep print files, it’s true, hard copies– of the real declassified FBI documents concerning UFO phenomena at hand for quick reference is probably the same thing that makes me search pages of scripture, or flip through any number of commentaries sitting on my shelf next to binders filled with reports of UFO sightings.
All this to say, in a perhaps very strange way… well, no, maybe it’s better not to say it. It would not be correct to say from someone with two degrees in Christian theology. Then again…
You know what? she will tell.
UFOs led me to Jesus.
How about an ending?