Wednesday, August 15, 2012

UFOs... Are Real!

I'm not going to make any excuses about this one. This blog is expressly for our contributors to explore their own little obsessions and delve deeper into the things they love, and when I was a young lad of 7 or 8, and I was weirdly obsessed with UFOs and aliens, and when UHF channels aired whatever they could dig up (a topic for an eventual BIG post, I think, pre-cable UHF television), I watched the hell out of this documentary, every single time it'd appear on Saturday or Sunday afternoons on Channel 38.

Okay, maybe "documentary" isn't quite the right term for UFOs Are Real (a.k.a. Flying Saucers Are Real). To an 8-year-old convinced he was going to get abducted by aliens, it was as real as it could get.

The late 70s and early 80s were a golden age for TV and movies about Weird subjects. In Search Of..., another mainstay of syndication in my youth, provided the basic syllabus for all the stuff I love now: from the opening credits, all together now: "Extraterrestrials, Magic & Witchcraft, Missing Persons, Myths & Monsters, Lost Civilizations, Strange Phenomena."1 I think those are my six dream Jeopardy! categories.

Stuff like this was in the mainstream in a way it wouldn't be again until the mid-90s and the ascendance of The X-Files, interestingly, just when the In Search Of... generation was hitting adulthood. And even so, In Search Of... went beyond straight aliens-all-the-time into old chestnuts like Atlantis, famous people disappearances (I can actually thank the In Search Of... Wikipedia page for allowing me to learn for the first time about Michael Rockefeller).

Back to UFOs Are Real for a minute. It really hits all the classics in the UFO hit parade: Roswell, Betty and Barney Hill, Travis Walton, Project Blue Book. For a viewer in the early 80s, this movie is basically a UFOlogy primer wrapped in faded footage and bold pronouncements. It was magical. This was pre-Communion, remember, when most of these stories were on the level of urban myth and passed around mostly verbally. Sure, Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind utilized a lot of the signal constituents of the modern UFO mythos: Flight 19, Greys, even a character based on Jacques Vallée. But that was Hollywood. This was, well, real.2

I think that's where I've gotten my predilection for hearing the real story behind the myth, the novel behind the movie, the historical facts that eventually explode into the legend. I love both, the dramatization and the primary document, but to put it another way... I've never been a film or fiction buff the way I've been a history buff. You need both, but you can't have the myth without the fact.

1 I can't believe I never realized that Fringe directly ripped that opening sequence off. Not even when they hired Leonard Nimoy did I consciously realize it.

2 Another powerful childhood memory; seeing an 8-track of John Williams's Close Encounters soundtrack in a cottage up in Maine and being sure if I played it, I'd be abducted by aliens. I had most of my alien abduction nightmares while out in the country in Maine as a child.


  1. Hey Michael,

    First of all, thanks for the kind words on Twitter. As you can tell, I can't quite bring myself to commit to that particular platform, but I have been reading your blog and am really enjoying it. In fact, I just watched `Mysteries of the Gods', a UFO/ancient alien doc from 1977 starring William Shatner (originally a West German production without Shatner). I'm planning to do a write-up on my occult blog. Obviously we have a lot in common.

    Second, I love that Reader's Digest occult piece you posted. I hope you don't mind if I post a couple of pages with a link back to you.

    Cheers. Thanks again.

    Kelly (2W2N)

    1. Kelly, first of all, wow, thank you for all the kind words! I have been following 2W2N for over a year now and am just blown away at all the content you find. I especially enjoy the Christmas posts; major nostalgia points there.

      You have an occult blog? Can you shoot me that link? *laugh*

      Finally, yes, feel free to send people my way/post a couple of images. Can you please just credit me for the annotations and say "Book provided for Renfusa by Mandy Leetch," whose book it actually is? Thanks! The bibliographic info for it is as follows:

      Bradbury, Wilbur, ed. Into the Unknown. Pleasantville, NY: Reader's Digest Association, 1981. Print. (Google Books:

      One last thing: I'm planning to continue that series on the Material Culture of 1970s Paranormal Researchers once my spring course is over with a series of screengrabs from my DVD set of In Search Of...

    2. Also, Kelly, you may dig my and my friend Rob's podcast Hold My Order, Terrible Dresser: it's a rewatch of WKRP in Cincinnati liberally heaped with history, pop culture, politics... AND the occult!

    3. Yes, will definitely credit you and Mandy. As you can guess, I'm a great WKRP fan and will check out the podcast!

      My occult blog, which hasn't been updated in a while, is

    4. Fantastic! Those old paperbacks are the best. I took a picture of the back cover of one of them at my local occult bookstore a few weeks ago that made me giggle.