[APAK logo] Issue #68, October 10th, 1996

Forget the Anal Probe, Just Call My Agent
by Andy Hooper

As carl and I have been sitting here proofreading the rest of the issue, I've had the television on in the background, listening to the NBC series ER. It's kind of a strange episode, featuring a subplot about an escaped kangaroo. And about every eight minutes, the network shows an ad for a movie they're going to air this weekend, a thriller titled Night Visitors, involving a TV journalist struggling to bring to light evidence that aliens are really among us.

Somehow, this premise doesn't attract my interest as much as it once might have, at least in part because there is some sort of program involving the paranormal or extraterrestrial phenomena on American network television every night. It started two years ago with the surprising success of The X-Files, of course, and since then shows like Sightings, The Paranormal Borderline, The Burning Zone, Dark Skies, 3rd Rock from the Sun, and several others I can't think of right now, have all sought to tap into American viewers' surprising appetite for stories about alien visitation. A few weeks ago, ABC even aired a program revisiting Erich Von Däniken's apallingly shabby and crypto-racist theories that attribute the aesthetic and technical achievements of almost every non-European culture to contact with alien visitors, showing that even being jailed by the East German government for fraud and non-payment of taxes can't keep a good pseudo-scientist down.

Admittedly, most of these programs are presented as fiction, and have at least a particle of humor underlying their attitude toward the subject matter. And most of them will be gone very, very soon; there's just so much sinister government conspiracy and rectal exams aboard the mother-ship that a person can watch in a single week. But it's useful to remember that the most successful fiction is that which has the shadow of reality behind it, and people respond most strongly to stories which have at least some relation to their view of the world. And the rather unsettling conclusion which I draw from this plague of programming is that people have suddenly become quite comfortable with the idea of an alien presence on earth.

One needs to think about this for a while before the enormity of its implications begins to emerge. People now hardly raise their eyebrows at ideas that used to elicit ridicule and scorn. Where people once hesitated to report a UFO sighting for fear of being committed, they now look for a book/movie deal even before they call MUFON. I'm not sure if this should come as a surprise or not. Even in the absence of a single shred of creditable evidence, if a theory is repeated often enough it will attract a certain number of adherents. How else can we explain organized religion, urban legends, or the Reagan presidency?

From this state of affairs, as carl surmised, it is easy to imagine alien characters, encounters and plot-lines creeping into ostensibly more mundane programs. What would my favorite crime drama Homicide be like, he asked, if the detectives were suddenly visited by their alien masters? I wondered in turn how they might react if they had to solve the murder of an alien, or a case with an alien suspect? People who have to deal with murder committed by dropping a bowling ball off a highway overpass, or snipers killing at random, might not bat an eye at the prospect of a little green suspect, or murderous Men In Black. But that was before the implants.

The idea of integrating aliens into other stories is actually rather beguiling. It allows us to let our fellow humans off the hook for all the problems of the world (cf Sinister Barrier, Eric Frank Russell) and blame them on the grays. Jury tampering by organized crime figures? You mean jury tampering by aliens. Famine and bitter ethnic warfare? Aliens, not Serbs or Tutsi militia-men, are to blame. Dave Langford wins 13 fan Hugo awards? Certainly no purely terrestrial explanation seems credible. Why did I steal the pension fund, take up smoking crack and burn down that orphanage? I cannot lie, your honor: the aliens made me do it.

You may scoff now, but just wait: I'm betting on acquittal.

Danger! Hitchhikers who pose as journalists!

[APAK logo] Issue #68, October 10th, 1996

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