Sixties Saucers, Media & Politics: A Worried Memoir

(Read as a segment of "Politics and the Supernatural", a Bad Subjects special on Rumor Mill, KPFA-FM (Berkeley) 11/11/96, over Pink Floyd's "Set the Controls to the Heart of the Sun".)

By 1966 student organizer Tom Hayden had left the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor; and even the more anonymous activitst Ted Kacynski had finished up Graduate Study there. But as a little kid I was more enthralled by that spring's "saucer flap", numerous sightings of colored lights rising & streaking above the university's radiotelescope in farmland a few miles northwest of town.
Dr. Hynek of Northwestern University, a grim-looking expert with a goatee, flew into town and officially dismissed the sightings as "swamp gas". Waving photographs to the press, he seemed as shaky an authority as President Johnson--who'd attended graduation ceremonies at this campus the year before--did now, for the most dangerous swamp gas in the air was the miasma from Washington predicting that the nation's armies would soon victoriously emerge from the Mekong Delta swamps in which they were mired. And this college town, like many others, had substantial leftist and liberal population illumined by their moral lights, petitioning, organizing and marching in opposition to that horrible war.

An hour away a pie-pan UFO photo hoax concocted by a couple of greasy brothers named Jaroslaw in suburban Detroit was a front-page breather from the regular grim news of the smoldering racial injustices which a year later ignited the inner city, and from which it never has recovered. Open housing, school integration, college admissions policies, Black culture, Black militancy were struggles filling literate Ann Arbor's local news. As John G. Fuller's UFO book _Incident at Exeter_ was featured in LOOK magazine, people inevitably wondered if Betty & Barney Hill's abduction had something to do with the fact they were an interracial couple.

_Flying Saucers: Serious Business_ barked another bestseller's title. But I wonder if the UFO's weren't in the news to keep citizens from that serious business, politics. A distraction from the horrible alien creatures inhabiting Vietnam, who didn't seem to surrender their hearts and minds and, nearly bombed into the stone age, kept up their fight. A distraction from the unstoppable beings in our midst, the normal-looking Negroes emerging from the pods of Jim Crow who unexpectedly turned out to be...angry at racism, celebrating Black conciousness, demanding their civil rights. No wonder to midwesterners even the swirling night skies seemed preferable to watching mainstream American myths shatter at ground-level.

To white nerdboys growing up during by the fascinating Ann Arbor Saucer Flap, space culture interests grew to be supplemented with Pink Floyd, heliocentric horns of Sun Ra & close encounters with psychedelics...until somehow the 1969 moon landing wasn't as compelling as a spaced-out Iggy & the Stooges album.

Since those days, machine-focused Cyberpunk fiction was a distraction from Reagan's "Star Wars"--a fiction we funded. The meaning of the Scuds and Patriots over Baghdad were lost in the Rockets Red Glare of obscenely unquestioning network TV News. Now the Web boom gives us a rich electronic Net with the potential to distract us from the defunding of the safety net of social services. And the glowing gas of racist attacks on Affirmative Action and immigrants continues.

I wonder if more people saw "Independence Day" this year than voted. It's not "Mars Attacks!" to worry about but the far Right's. Maybe space is the place only when they don't want us to look at the system. This is not a saucer flap, this is your life.

(c) Mike Mosher 1996

Artwork above by a kid in my Comics class, Community School of Music and Art, 1992.

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