I love watching Penn and Teller's Bullshit; it's an excellent series.
I was catching up with it a bit and watching a few of the older episodes (thank you OnDemand cable), and got fascinated by the one on people who believe that they've been abducted by aliens.
One person said that people had been abducted by aliens for thousands of years, and that there were records of it.
No, there aren't. It's like Wicca (if anyone practicing Wicca thinks they're going to be annoyed by this, find the little "back" button and stop reading now) adherents claiming their religion is ancient and that they have a deep spiritual bond to the poor women burnt/sliced/hung as witches in the Middle Ages - just not true.
Wicca is a religion that was invented in the twentieth century by people who made some weird slumgullion of a belief system out of equal parts of celtic mistydeepdawnoftime stuff, druid lore, Catholic hysteria about demon-worshipping "witches", and any touchy-feely New Age stuff they could get their hands on. UFO believers picked up most of their stuff from Hollywood.
(UFO believers took the easier route, I think.)
Understand, I'm not knocking either of these things - well, not much. But I have a Voodoo shrine in my studio, and I believe in telepathy, so I can't claim that kettle is too much blacker than my own slightly bent saucepan.
I do, however, feel free to laugh at people who try to make their belief seem ancient just to try and give it more seriousness. Heck - embarace your newness! There's nothing wrong with making up a new religion - look at L. Ron Hubbard; he made millions of dollars.
I was amazed looking at the footage of a UFO convention in the program. These people have a deep need to be special - even though their memories seem to be entirely the product of too many 1950s invasion movies and a whole hunka hunka wishful thinking. The more I watched the support groups, and the hypnoregression therapy, and the consipracy theorists, the more it seemed familiar.
200 years ago, they'd have been seeing sea monsters and fairies. 400 years ago, they'd have been abducted by demons. 1000 years ago, they'd have been probed by Druids.
(They were a party bunch, those druids. I wonder which one first thought up the Wicker Man, and if he was drunk at the time.)
The neurosis is the same as it always was - just the trappings change. People have a great desire to be special and unique - attention is a heady and addictive thing, and who gets more attention than a victim? Demonic possession or UFO abductee, it's something the majority of (sane) people cannot say they have any experience of.
If you can't be brilliant, be weird. If you're kind of sucky at the weird thing, be a victim of something weird.
Now - I went and saw "Lilo and Stitch" and MIB (I and II), just like many of you. I adore old space movies, and have a habit of buying silly space-themed toys (me and everyone at NASA), and I have, in fact, entertained the possibility that there is life beyond this pretty blue marble we call home.
But there's a difference between entertaining the possibility and convincing yourself that not only is it happening, it's happening to you, personally.
Some would say maybe there is a giant conspiracy, and we're all being blind not to see it, but I've never seen proof. Like Mulder's poster, I want to believe, I just can't.
...And I'm the person who follows superstitions, and thinks that maybe stuff beyond our immediate senses is possible. I just can't believe in UFO abduction - mostly because people's "recollections" (pictures, no photos - don't any of these people have cameraphones?) look too much like old Hollywood movie aliens, and because no-one was screaming about being abducted by aliens until the 20th century (I'm looking at you, H.G. Wells). Before that, it was fairies and demons and creatures from the Underworld (wherever that is). They didn't come from outer space, they came from beneath our feet.
A changeling is no different from an alien baby, save the language used to describe it. A pack of demons with supernatural powers are indistinguishable in manner from a dark-eyed race of aliens with technology far advanced of our own.
Give some people a new thing to worry about, they will adapt their current neurosis to accommodate the new information. People are easily persuaded of the truth of things they want very badly to be true, otherwise there'd be a lot of crystals and "magick" potions sitting around unsold in Laurie Cabot's shop.
Witches and demons, fairies and ET - we make them all up in an effort to make the world (and by extension, us) more special. Why be plain old Joe Schmoe when you can be an abductee? Why be boring Sally Smith when you can be "Desdemona, Ninth-Level Witch"? Which is more special? Which gets you attention? Which has better hours and a snappier wardrobe and more possibility of getting laid?
If you aren't special, make something up. Obviously, someone is going to believe you - and if you can get a couple more people , why then - you have a movement! Time to lobby for special tax breaks! Time to make millions off your book!
...L. Ron says hi, and don't forget the "initiation" fees - that's where the real money is.
Text and images copyright L. Mellin, 2000-2008, except where noted. All rights reserved.