Larry King props up the ETH

Posted on July 29, 2008 by


On his July 20 broadcast of Larry King Live, the CNN personality featured Robert Hastings, author of “UFOs and Nukes, along with three retired Air Force personnel claiming that Unidentified Flying Objects had a keen interest in our burgeoning nuclear capacity. Among their claims are that UFOs caused missile malfunctions at Malmstrom Air Force base in 1967, and were even caught on film by Bob Jacobs during the filming of missile tests at Vandenberg Air Force base, but the films were confiscated by the CIA. You can watch a full YouTube version of the video by clicking on our “Video of the Week” link, or see the shorter version on the official CNN site by clicking here.

This isn’t the first time Larry King has used his show as a forum for discussing the UFO phenomenon. In November of 2007, for example, his program focused on the topic with a show entitled “UFOs: Are They for Real?” (Part 1 of this episode linked here via YouTube)

However, while a part of me wants to applaud King for the courage to discuss UFOs in a public forum, my problem with King’s program, and most other treatments of the UFO phenomenon available on US television and across the width and breadth of the internet, is an extremely narrow focus on the Extra Terrestrial Hypothesis (ETH). Proponents of the ETH generally support the idea that UFOs are physical vehicles piloted, or remotely controlled, by intelligent beings assumed to be from another planet. In some of the more remote corners of the ‘net you might also find folks willing to accept, or actively promoting, the idea that UFOnauts are actually from another dimension of space/time, from the future, or even from the interior of our own planet.

While these folks are considered fringe elements by those who consider themselves “serious” UFO researchers (and each of their interpretations of the phenomenon should be taken with a very large grain of salt), the time-traveler/interdimensional/ancient astronaut camp, and other ideological descendants of Erich von Däniken, do have at least one thing right. This phenomenon is much older than Kevin Arnold, Roswell, and the nuclear age. This does not mean that nuclear age anxiety, and technological anxiety in general, did not have a great impact on our modern interpretation of this phenomenon. It means simply that as we interpret the unknown, we must do so in terms of the known. This explains why a medieval French farmer thought he was being plagued by a sorcerer in a flying boat, and those who encountered an airship in 1897 thought they were seeing the product of eccentric industrialist inventors, while Betty Hill, who experienced her phenomenon while man was taking his first tentative steps outside our atmosphere, is convinced she was abducted by more technologically advanced beings from another planet.

Where Larry King and others go wrong is by focusing on the physical reality of the UFO phenomenon. While the Roswell myth attempts to provide us with purportedly physical evidence, in the form of tin foils and light metals with strange glyphs, and others have recorded depressions in the ground from the weight of landed craft and even burn marks on vegetation, these all fall far short of the type of hard proof necessary to prove, once-and-for-all, the physical reality of alien aircraft. The physical sciences will not be of any help until such time as we have made undeniable contact with an alien presence (or, if you believe in the time-traveler theory, until we have evolved ourselves), and then biologists and engineers can get to work on the dissection, reverse engineering, and study of beings and their hardware. If and when that happens I will gladly eat crow and begin to re-examine some of my favorite UFO cases in the light of the ETH.

In the meantime the only way to meaningfully study the UFO phenomenon lies within the realm of the social sciences; of history, psychology, and sociology. UFOs, like crop ravaging sorcerers or faeries, changelings, and incubi/succcubi, are a social phenomenon. They represent our anxieties about social change, our ability to adapt, and even our reproductive capability (more about reproductive anxiety in a future article on changelings, incubi, and the alien-human hybrid), interpreted through the cultural lens of our time. UFOs have less to do with advanced beings from another world than with our own struggle to define our place in a world that we continue to change at a rapid pace. But you aren’t going to hear that from Larry King.