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
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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