Before YouTube made streamable video commonplace, (or even before the internet, really) shows like Sightings were all I had for those inticing scraps of poorly shot home-video footage purportedly capturing glimpses of the supernatural. Saturday afternoons at 5:00 were sacred for me, and I'd run to the TV to get my weekly dose of speculation - one new episode, one rerun - about things that lay beyond the mundane. The most attractive aspect of this show was its sense of possibility. It was flooded with questions that were never fully resolved and interviews packed with anecdotal evidence that stoked my imagination.
This show was another staple for fans of the paranormal, granted extra legitimacy (or so it appeared to my young mind) by virtue of its evening time slot that followed the nightly news broadcasts. The show gained extra points for including interviews with witnesses whenever possible, giving it the same feeling as an episode of 60 Minutes or the like. While I wasn't as faithful a viewer of this show, I still have vivid memories of a segment on the Cash-Landrum encounters that haunted me for months.
I remember when the premiere of the X-Files was announced. It seemed too good to be true. Here was everything I wanted in a TV show - aliens, UFOs, government conspiracies, and every instance of the paranormal you could imagine. Even better, it focused on a pair of FBI agents who were actively looking for answers. Fictional or not, Mulder and Scully were my weekly companions into the unknown, belief tempered by skepticism, relentlessly uncovering events that the wider world refused to acknowledge.
Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction?
In my opinion this ranks among the best found-footage films just for how convincing it appeared to be upon its release. The practical effects on display are unparalleled, and the mystery surrounding the source of the footage only added to the hype.
The cover of Communion by Whitley Streiber
I've never read this book, and the cover may have something to do with that. This portrait of a grey alien seems almost friendly in a way, with its Mona Lisa-esque smirk. But those eyes. Those impenetrable black pools destroyed me from afar, making me afraid to even approach this book, let alone crack it open.
When I try to pin down exactly why these shows were so appealing to me, I come to several conclusions. The air of mystery surrounding the paranormal was immensely attractive. This was an entire field of study with countless open questions. The experts were seemingly baffled. The answers couldn't be found in books. To my scientifically hungry (but untrained) mind, this was a veritable buffet of problems waiting to be solved. All I had to do was watch the skies and hope for some firsthand evidence to appear.
Compounding the mystery was the not-so-subtle sexual dimension to alien abduction. These were tales of men and women waking up naked before a crowd of horrible beings who would proceed to probe, prod, and examine them. I watched these shows and read these stories in my early adolescence, a time when the mechanics of sex were still vague and slightly terrifying. Is it any wonder that there was some resonance, especially when the abduction narrative may have origins in the subconscious sexual fears and desires of the abductees?
While my skepticism regarding visitors from the skies has only increased with time, I'm still fascinated by what the phenomena says about our need to believe that somewhere out there life has evolved along a track parallel to ours. An undercurrent of hope runs through UFO mythology. Despite the fear of abduction, manipulation, and experimentation, there's always the possibility that we're being used for a greater purpose. Faced with something as frightening as alien abduction, I'm not surprised that some abductees interpret their experiences as part of a grand plan in which accelerated evolution and genetic modification will allow them to join our extraterrestrial brethren among the stars. What can I say? They, like I, want to believe.