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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 1998 > Jun > Jun 22

Re: A Divided Community Can Never Get Answers

From: Peter Brookesmith <101653.2205@compuserve.com>
Date: Sun, 21 Jun 1998 21:56:04 -0400
Fwd Date: Mon, 22 Jun 1998 04:09:21 -0400
Subject: Re: A Divided Community Can Never Get Answers

With the compliments of the Duke of Mendoza:

>Date: Sun, 21 Jun 1998 12:09:30 +0000
>From: Diane Lovett <RAMBLD@worldnet.att.net>
>To: UFO UpDates - Toronto <updates@globalserve.net>
>Subject: Re: A Divided Community Can Never Get Anwsers

>It has only been since reading stuff on the
>internet that I personally realized how negative,
>confrontational, and competitive so many in ufology
>truly are. I don't go to conferences, and I never
>got that picture from reading books or even the odd
>TV show. The name calling and nastiness leaves a
>really bad taste in a lot of mouths. Disagree
>all you want, but what in the world is accomplished
>by name calling and personal attacks?!

What upsets you is inherent in the nature of the subject
and, as long as people feel strongly, an element of savagery
will always be present along with the disputations. Some
people, too, will always be more tender than others when
their cherished ideas are threatened, and correspondingly
more vitriolic in defending them. Like Dr Chasuble, even I
am somewhat susceptible to drafts.

A cogent portrait of the field is drawn by one who
deservedly attracts great respect from both wings of the
eternal debate: as follows below the dotty line.

This has some pointy relevance to the discussion going on
between Mark Cashman & Rob Irving, too, btw.

best wishes
Periphrasis D. Maunderon
Barbed Wit


The meaning of a narrative or custom lies only partially in
the item itself. It reveals its full meaning only when
viewed amid the web of relationships associating the item
with the rest of culture. In this spirit the study of
folklore has become the study of whole cultural systems as
they intersect with folklore iems or activities (Ben-Amos
1972; Dorson 1972: 45-47; Bennett 1987: 8-9). A folklorist
using this revised concept is not only able to accommodate
UFOs, but has good reason to welcome them. UFO reports count
among the most common and widespread narratives of
extraordinary experience active in the modern world. They
update the legend of supernatural encounter by replacing
ghosts and fairies with visiting aliens, and usurps its
functions by continuing an age-old relationship between
humans and superhuman beings. Substitution of a
superscientific technology for magic restores the
credibility of the fantastic in a secular age with little
faith in things magical. The broader ties between UFO
reports and beliefs about alien visitation, especially
aliens as saviors and agents of change in human culture,
expand UFOs to mythical proportions and challenge the
fullest capabilities of folklore scholarship. These
folkloric dimensions remain valid whatever the actual nature
of UFOs may be. Fact or fantasy, they have provoked an
extensive cultural response....

The Folk of UFO Folklore

Perhaps the most succinct and all-encompassing definition of
folklore designates it as "unofficial culture (Dorson 1976:
46). Experts have the final say in the modern world. They
set the standards of truth and the public bows to their
authority in most matters. UFOs stand out as an exception.
The official verdict rules them to be misinterpetations of
conventional phenomena, but many people defy governmental
and scientific conclusions to maintain a stubborn insistence
that something truly mysterious is flying in the air. The
persistence of UFO beliefs in opposition to official opinion
places them within the sphere of unofficial culture and
identifies them in one basic sense as folklore.

The grassroots level of the UFO phenomenon belongs to
individuals. Gallup polls reveal that up to 95% of the
American public has heard of UFOs and as many as 11% has
seen one, while about half of the sample accepted UFOs as
real (Gallup 1973: 213-6 1987: 52-54). This phenomenon rests
on a genuinely broad base of popular awareness and interest.
The testimony of personal experience provides the first and
most vivid evidence that UFOs exist; the credibility of that
evidence depends closely on individual observation and
integrity. The personal element remains central, while
instrumental or expert evidence stays on the periphery. This
situation itself reverses the usual standards of knowledge
in the modern world and further sets UFOs apart from
official truths. UFOs stake another basic claim as a folk
phenomenon simply because ordinary people continue to see
and report them year after year.

Most unofficial culture and its official counterpart go
their ways side by side in peaceful coexistence. UFOs are
different. UFO reports make a claim about reality that
challenges the official position in no uncertain terms.
Compromise is impossible - one side must be right and the
other wrong. Previous views of the folk as uniformly
credulous have resolved into the image of a plurality of
beliefs surrounding controversial subjects (Degh & Vazsonyi
1978). The "true believer" takes for granted that UFOs are
alien spaceships and spreads his convictions with religious
zeal. His diametrical opposite is the true disbeliever, or
"debunker", an individual convinced that all UFO sightings
reduce to conventional terms and UFO beliefs are not only
wrong but irrational. Between these extremes are critical
believers and disbelievers. They are selective about the
evidence they accept and cautious about interpretation even
though they reach the same basic conclusion as their more
radical allies.


Individuals may remain passive bearers of tradition,
familiar with UFO experiences and beliefs but silent about
them. Other individuals may speak out and become active
tradition bearers. Communication draws UFOs into the social
realm, and there the variety of UFO beliefs acquires its
folkloric significance. When an individual reports a
sighting or states a belief, he takes a stand on the reality
of his observation or the correctness of the belief. He also
exposes himself to the conflict inherent in a subject where
no consensus exists and various listeners hold strong
opinions of their own. Members of the audience speak up to
support, deny, or reinterpret the assertion according to
personal preference. This disputation is the typical folk
interaction over controversial claims (Degh & Vazsonyi 1978:
254-257). These disputes are less efforts to reach a
consensus than to promote personal beliefs, so the structure
of conflict persists as a constant for as long as the
controversy fires human interest.


The strangeness of UFOs is important in making them
folklore, but they do not become folklore simply because
they are strange. They assume that status when official
authority rejects them while believers reject the judgements
of authority and deal with the subject through informal
channels. Folklore is more a way of doing things, a way to
handle knowledge, than the knowledge itself. Believers and
disbelievers alike comprise the folk. Anyone who interacts
with others concerning UFOs, whether to express a belief or
pass along some information, joins the UFO folk and is
necessary to its structure. Without controversy and the
taking of sides, no distinction would exist between official
and unofficial beliefs, and subsequently no folklore.

--Excerpts from pages 4-8 of
Thomas E. Bullard
"Folkloric Dimensions of the UFO Phenomenon"
Journal of UFO Studies ns 3 (1991), pp 1-57


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