High Strangeness: A Study in Puzzlement

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Study in Puzzlement

"Chasing UFOs"... "UFO Hunters"... "Ancient Aliens"... "UFOs Over Earth"... It's kind of a golden age of goofy TV shows about UFOs and aliens and chasing and hunting them. Which is odd, because we haven't had a real flap of UFO sightings since 1973.

It wasn't always that way. Back in my day, when we only had 5 TV stations and TV Guide was actually useful, shows about UFOs were as scarce as aliens' teeth. So when one of the TV networks gave up an hour of prime time to talk about UFO's it was a big flipping deal. And when that network, CBS, trotted out its superstar news anchor to host the show, it was an even bigger deal.

That's exactly what happened in April of 1966, when Mr. Walter Freaking Cronkite hosted the CBS Reports prime-time news special entitled: "UFOs: Friend, Foe or Fantasy?" The report was in response to the rash of UFO sightings all over the United States that had everyone a wee bit jittery. The flap had been going on since the summer of 1965, when a small-town cop in New Mexico saw a white, egg-shaped ship with two occupants blast off into the air. Ever since then, UFOs had been spotted everywhere, and the country was scared enough that it needed Walter Freaking Cronkite to assure them that everything was ok and the Air Force had everything under control. Which was a lie, but when Walter F. Cronkite tells a lie so the American people can sleep at night then it's not really a lie.

Anyway, I watched this old show the other day as part of my research for the book about J. Allen Hynek, because Hynek was one of the guests. Man, he was a hoot. The interviewer kept asking him the Wrong Question: "Are UFOs really spaceships from other planets?" and Hynek wouldn't answer that because to him the Right Question--the Only Question--was "Are UFOs worthy of serious scientific study?"

But the reporter kept on with the Wrong Question and Hynek finally replied, "You might call me a study in puzzlement. But among the tremendous noise, or static, or crud, or whatever you want to call it—the tremendous number of unreliable reports that are easily explained—there is this residue of most interesting cases that intrigue me, the same way a good mystery intrigues me, and I’d like to get the solution."

It's a miracle they left it in the show, it was such an unexciting, scientific thing to say, even though it was exactly the Right Answer to the Wrong Question.

Never trust a one-eyed astronomer.
Matters were made even worse by the fact that the last word on the show was given to Dr. Carl Sagan, who just becomes more problematic for me with every passing day. Sitting next to an astronomer who wore an eye patch--which I would think would disqualify you from being an astronomer--Sagan blasted the UFO believers of the world to smithereens, reducing the belief in “the UFO myth” to a rather demeaning need for humans to believe in benevolent, omnipotent beings “in long white robes” that will save us from ourselves. Cronkite seemed to agree, closing the program with this chiding wisdom: “We might remember, too, that while fantasy improves science fiction, science is more often served by facts.”

And that night. every man, woman and child in America slept well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why would having having one eye be relative to being an astronomer?