UFO UpDates
A mailing list for the study of UFO-related phenomena
'Its All Here In Black & White'
Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 1997 > Nov > Nov 13

Re: Media Influence on Abduction Reports

From: Mark Cashman <mcashman@ix.netcom.com>
Date: Thu, 13 Nov 1997 00:49:56 -0800
Fwd Date: Thu, 13 Nov 1997 11:25:09 -0500
Subject: Re: Media Influence on Abduction Reports

>  From: Greg Sandow <gsandow@prodigy.net>
>  To: "'UFO UpDates - Toronto'" <updates@globalserve.net>
>  Subject: media influence on abduction reports
>  Date: Wed, 12 Nov 1997 00:02:58 -0500

Greg -

I'm not sure quite how to fit this into your comments, though
there is some directly relevant stuff later.

First, it seems to me that there is a breakdown of "types of cultural
influence" on UFO reports that is important to delineate:

1) The abstraction - until the concept of "flying saucer" or UFO
comes into existence, there are no UFO reports. There are 15
minute meteors flying in curves, and airships with giant
spotlights. So, in a sense, the existence of the UFO report
depends on the development and dissemination of a concept. We've
all seen these cases - the old ones where the witness says - "I
just thought it was some kind of (whatever)... until I heard
about flying saucers."

2) The perceptual interpretation - when someone looks at
something for the first time, they try to match it with things
they know about. We all have familiarity with the "escalation of
hypothesis", and we know that it is one of the hallmarks of
witness credibility. Witnesses who don't want to see UFOs, or
alien spaceships, who instead think first of the police parked in
the street, or a plane about to crash, or a fire in the woods.
Though skeptics pay little or no attention to it, this is one of
the most important cultural issues in UFO reports. We do a great
disservice to the witnesses who are courageous enough to report
what they have seen when these reassuring interpretations are
stripped away from them by forgetting that the most credible
among them didn't want to see anything strange, and are somehow
permanently marked by what they've seen. That's a cultural
influence, too.

3) The missing terms... and the unspeakable. The witnesses do
their best to describe what they've seen, but the truth is, they
find it very difficult. It's difficult because they don't have
any common referents. They've never seen anything like this. So
they are reduced to the same kind of fumbling efforts as we are
in trying to describe fire to someone who has never seen it, or
to explain a computer to an aborigine in terms that will be
useful. The absence of referents is what makes the experience
frightening, difficult, inconsistent between witnesses, and
sometimes even incoherent. If you don't think this is a cultural
influence on the reporting of UFO incidents, just try to think of
explaining a ride through the city of New York to a 14th century
horseman. And try to imagine what three different horsemen at the
same place at the same time would report when they returned

So all of the above is for the honest witness not caught up in
some flying saucer hysteria, the witness who has no psychological
problems, the witness who does not claim a special relationship
with the phenomenon, the witness who does not say they were
singled out for a mission, or picked on as a victim of repeated
torments by alien abductors. Need a control for whether they were
affected by the media? Have they committed an act of violence?
No? But there's so much violence on TV.... if the media has such
influence on them to make them see what isn't there, and report
it against the scorn and ridicule of the rest of society - why
haven't they followed that same influence to engage in violence
and murder? But they haven't, because they are responsible people
capable of self control and they are likely to be able to
distinguish between Rigel and a structured object that passes
within a few hundred feet of them, interferes with their vehicle,
and emits strange beings. They see it once, they report it once,
and that's the end of it. They sink back into obscurity except
among those of us who spend the time to track down and collect
these strange experiences, hoping to glean one gram of radium out
of pounds of useless ore.

Now the existence of point (1) - the concept - means that we are
now going to have people who think they have seen instances of
the phenomenon the concept represents, and they are going to
report it. Why? Another set of cultural influences, perhaps:
duty, fear, curiosity... and sometimes, they will be wrong. They
will have seen something odd, but it isn't a UFO. But because
they are fairly good at describing it, we can often figure out
what it is, even when they can't.

The existence of point (2), on the other hand, has a different
effect, and probably something of an opposite one. If it looks
like an aircraft, or not that different from one, why report it?
Or if it might be a meteor, but there was something a little odd,
why report it?

And point (3) means people avoid talking about it. How can they
explain it to anyone? And, of course, when they do, people ask
what they were drinking, or smoking, or how much sleep they had
or whether they are crazy. If they hold responsible jobs, they
typically keep quiet, and if they have the temerity to come
forward, rather than being hailed for their courage, they will
face a barrage of criticism, and an inspection of their private
life which makes the media rectal probe given to a political
candidate look like a seduction. Maybe like Spaur, or Greenhaw,
they will be run out of their jobs and their lives will be

>  We've got to do better than that. Besides, there's yet another
>  problem with Kottmeyer's way of thinking. It's based -- to put it
>  mildly -- on some rather loose concepts of how TV gets in people's
>  heads. In fact, it's based on no concept at all.

>  Here's how it seems to work. The Outer Limits alien, Kottmeyer tells
>  us, had wraparound eyes, and its eyes appeared to speak. (Or were
>  said to speak.) The Hills described aliens with more or less
>  wraparound eyes, and said the eyes were compelling, hypnotic,
>  communicative. Given no more than that, we immediately have people
>  saying the odds are 100,000 to one against such a similarity
>  appearing by chance.

But the Kottmeyers of the world can't accept either 1, 2, or 3,
above. Instead they treat us to scenarios like:

"Kenneth Arnold was flying near Mount Ranier one day when he saw
some swans flying along. For no particular reason, even though he
had probably seen birds hundreds of times from his aircraft,
today he thought the swans were aircraft emitting bright flashes
of light. He didn't correctly percieve their shape, color,
reflectivity, distance, or speed, despite carefully observing
them for over two minutes both with and without the window in
place, and using the time at his disposal to measure their
progress and speed. Even though he thought they flew like geese,
he somehow never twigged to the fact that he was actually looking
at geese. But that wasn't enough. Moved by some incomprehensible
urge, he told people what he saw, and his account found its way
into the press, where it made many other individuals suddenly
incapable of telling the difference between birds, aircraft, and
odd disk-shaped metallic
objects for the next 50 years."


"Betty and Barney Hill were driving home from a vacation in New
Hampshire, when, for no particular reason, they started to
interpret every star, satellite, and planetary body as an object
which seemed to be following their progress. Perhaps it was the
promo for "The Outer Limits" which set them thinking that the
light was actually space aliens, since, before long, this
formerly stable couple, who had previously resisted the pressure
of society against their very relationship, has been reduced to
TOTAL TERROR about NOTHING AT ALL. In fact, perhaps because they
were tired, they became hysterical, and when Barney stepped out
of the car with binoculars, both he and his wife hallucinated
that the airplane, star, or whatever, had swooped down out of the
sky to a distance of a few hundred feet and had become a large,
structured craft-like object with windows and a crew. They jumped
in the car and drove away, still in terror over nothing. Then,
somehow, they relaxed. In fact they nearly fell asleep, because
more than an hour passed before they noticed anything again. The
psychological upset was sufficient to have placed shiny disks on
the trunk of their car, scuffed the top of Barney's shoes,and
caused Barney to develop a circle of warts around his groin.
Then, the tension initiated by this "Outer Limits" promo was such
that these formerly reliable people became less and less able to
cope with their internal fear, and they, at last, sought
psychological help. Unfortunately, the psychologist hadn't seen
the promo, and he didn't know what damage it had done (or had he?
- we can't prove it one way or the other), so he plumped for the
mundane explanation that, despite the fact that neither Hill had
much in the way of directly shared account under hypnosis, and
despite the fact that the hypnotic testimony about the sighting
was consistent with the conscious testimony, and that much of the
shared portions of the account were consistent, that Barney had
somehow absorbed Betty's dreams about the abduction."

Yes, I know, some witnesses lie. Some mispercieve.
That's what field investigation is for.

That's why IFO until proven UFO has to be the rule.

But as you say, let's stick with a little of what is known about
perceptual and cognitive psych, and maybe some of the more
reliable bits of sociology.

>  1. We need a control. We need to look at some known case where images
>  spread from science fiction (or from something else in the media)
>  into some form of popular consciousness. We need a test case nobody
>  will argue with, to show us how this phenomenon of media influence
>  actually works. Then we'll have something approaching solid ground to
>  stand on, when we look for media influence in abduction reports.

Actually, we may be able to attain the same end by charting what
endlessly repeated media material hasn't found its way into
popular consciousness.

Let's start with UFOs. If UFOs are driven by the media, then why
don't they all match the cliche appearance of the objects shown
in "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers" and "The Day the Earth Stood
Still" - arguably the most popular of the 50's movies on the
subject? Where do the cigars and spheres and ellipses come from?
Why do "real UFOs" have the extremely common feature of "rim
portholes" which has seldom, if ever, been part of the media
portrayal of UFOs? Why was Orson Wells "War of the Worlds"
broadcast not followed by a UFO wave? Why have their been few or
no cases of  kids being dragged out of the doggie door, or toys
moving around on their own during a UFO sighting? It was in Close
Encounters, wasn't it? CE was perhaps the most popular portrayal
of our subject of all time, wasn't it? Ah, I see, it was those
obscure SF magazines, read by 2% of the population in the '30s,
which started the rumors, which finally found their way to our
time as the UFO phenomenon we know.

>  2. We need some falsifiable hypotheses. Up to now, any discussion of
>  media influence on abduction reports has been, from any systematic
>  point of view, just laughable. Kottmeyer says there was something on
>  TV sort of like the Hills' aliens! Gosh! Robert Shaeffer (at the MIT
>  abduction conference) trots out a really old Buck Rogers comic strip,
>  showing aliens examining a captive human on a table! Wow!

Let's also remember that there are some things that are
predictable that do actually happen. For instance, science
fiction predicted air travel, and submarines, and... wow, we have
them. It is not unreasonable to expect that smart people (i.e. SF
writers) might be able to predict, if only by coincidence, some
part of the real UFO experience. There certainly is a lot about
the UFO experience that they failed to anticipate.

Greg, I agree with you that we can't completely reject the idea
of media or cultural influences on the UFO problem, including,
and perhaps especially, abductions. You know I'm not sold on a
lot of the abduction material, but I won't discount it all. Like
you, I'm waiting to see what comes out of it.

As for UFOs, or an account like the Hill case, when we have good
witnesses (reliable, stable people with a history of credibility)
telling us the things they've seen, and backing it up with photos
and physical evidence, we are far beyond the simplistic ideas of
data corruption by media influence. As I know you know. As many
of us know, or we wouldn't spend a minute on it. Working on the
garden or painting the house is easier and a lot more culturally

Mark Cashman, creator of The Temporal Doorway at
- Original digital art, writing, and UFO research -
Author of SF novels available at...

Search for other documents from or mentioning: mcashman | gsandow

[ Next Message | Previous Message | This Day's Messages ]
This Month's Index |

UFO UpDates Main Index

UFO UpDates - Toronto - Operated by Errol Bruce-Knapp

Archive programming by Glenn Campbell at Glenn-Campbell.com