Its starts with a conference that draws "adherents of an earlier future" - the annual meet-up of the Mutual Unidentified Flying Objects Network. A dwindling tribe, with 400 attendees turning up to the symposium in Cherry Hill, New Jersey - compared to the thousands who came to the first one in the late 1970s.
Jacobson observes that:
"Ufology has apparently lost its grip on the public imagination, and has been demoted to a neo-cult status. For the populace at large space is no longer the place. Not that this mattered to those gathered at Cherry Hill. Used to marginalization, they were resolved to keep watching the skies...."
But the cult is ageing out (one speaker at the symposium had to cancel because of a mild heart attack) and isn't being refilled with younger recruits. Other focuses for millenarian hope (and anti-government paranoia: part of the drive with UFOlogy was the belief that the authorities knew, had made contact with aliens, but were concealing it from the public) have come along.
"The simple flying disc from far, far away has become a quaint, almost nostalgic specter. The saucer may have been the post-war generation’s signifier of the strange, but even versions of the unknown outlive their usefulness. The end of the era may have commenced with William Gibson’s Neuromancer, which located the drama of the unknown inside the claustrophobic cyberspace accessible to the common keyboardist. "
This piece by Jacobson (a believer himself, indelibly marked by a sighting he had) reminded me of "They Didn't Come From Outer Space, an earlier article on this subject written by James Gray for the The Humanist.
Pointing out that how UFO magazine had closed in 2004, the Ministry of Defence shut down its UFO hotline., and fewer and fewer sightings were getting reported, Gray pinpoints a kind of retro tendency that's developed within what's left of UFO-logy. Fascinatingly, UFOlogists these days mostly re-analyse much earlier sightings. Like music, like art, UFOlogy has become archival.
Gray argued that this reflects the syndrome known as ‘cultural tracking’: basically, UFO sightings were at their height when popular culture was full of movies and stories about aliens and outer space. These have been replaced by post-apocalyptic movies and films about zombies, vampires, werewolves, witches. So there’s fewer and fewer sightings.
But that begs the question: why have zombie vampire witch movies eclipsed science fiction and space fiction as popular fare?
It also begs a further question: have sightings of zombies, vampires, werewolves and other supernatural beings gone up?!