Summer is waning.
When I was a kid, late July and early August were the long, hot dog-days of summer vacation. Boredom was setting in, along with an encroaching excitement mixed with dread about the beginning of a new school-year. It was the perfect time for ghost stories, science-fiction, and books about UFOs.
In that childhood tradition, I watched a documentary on Netflix the other night called Unacknowledged, about the government UFO cover-up. Good production values, for a documentary of its kind. But it was nonetheless disappointing, and left me with all the wrong sort of nagging questions.
My education in asking these kinds of questions was the Antichrist Handbook, by Fred Clark, which is a bit like a literary form of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, focused not on bad movies, but on the bad books of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins — the famous (or infamous) Left Behind series.
The one thing that LaHaye and Jenkins accomplished in their books is to demonstrate that the Rapture and Tribulation at the center of their plot could never happen. It isn’t that their scenarios gratuitously break the laws of physics, or that they are theologically incoherent, though they excel on both counts. The real problem is that people simply don’t behave like that. When a father’s child vanishes in the middle of the night, he doesn’t go back to work the next day, much less express enthusiastic interest in the football betting pool. When a billion people’s children vanish, you don’t have rush-hour traffic the next day: you either have no traffic at all, or the mother of all permanent traffic snarls, followed pretty swiftly by mass suicides and the collapse of civilization. When your plot depends on billions of children vanishing, and then life continuing on with all the usual daily grind, including stocked grocery stores and regularly scheduled international passenger flights, you have a lousy story.
There are similar problems with Unacknowledged.
The basic premise is simple. There are indeed extraterrestrials, and they’re visiting the Earth. There is a secretive shadow government that has known about them for seventy years. The eventual goal of this shadow government is to unite the world with a false-flag “alien invasion,” and they do this with all the usual motivations of every all-powerful secret organization, namely to obtain personal wealth and power under the guise of nobly “doing what must be done.”
They have documents that prove all this.
Let’s start with the extraterrestrial hypothesis, specifically the Grays. These are the big-eyed, spindly-limbed, “little grey men” that figure so prominently in abduction cases. I’m not going to question their existence, nor any of the abduction tales: let them all stand as written. My question is this: what makes everyone so sure they are extraterrestrial?
They’re described as upright bipeds, bilaterally symmetric, equipped with two eyes, one nose, one mouth, two arms, fingers, and skin (not fur, scales, feathers, or spines). What are the odds that any extraterrestrial species would end up looking just like slightly weird humans?
I’d say damn near zero. We’ve got starfish, octopus, cuttlefish, and whales just on this planet alone, and the last three are demonstrably intelligent. That something from clear across the galaxy would appear so essentially human strikes me as flatly unbelievable.
My first guess — given that I’m deliberately not questioning their existence — is that these guys are entirely terrestrial, and further, that they’re genetically related to us. Maybe they’re an offshoot of homo, maybe something more distant, but they’re closer than the point where we parted from the chimpanzee line. Technologically advanced, to be sure, and good at hiding all traces of themselves from us, their more vicious cousins.
If they’re extraterrestrial, they have to break the laws of physics as we know them to get here. Ignoring that, and given the necessary technology to do regular round-trips, they aren’t dependent on the Earth or its ecosystems for their own survival: they just hop back to Grayworld and stop at a galactic Flying J for some fuel and some alien nachos and a Coke. There are billions of worlds for them to choose to exploit for their own needs, leaving no obvious reason for them to be here, in our faces. There are Earthlike worlds all over the galaxy being swallowed up by their own suns at this very moment: novas, supernovas, and gamma bursts that destroy entire planetary systems and everything on them or near them. I can’t see how the aliens would care about our itty-bitty troubles, like ecological suicide or nuclear self-annihilation.
If they’re terrestrial, however, they live within the same ecosystem that we do. They depend upon the same resources — air, water, food. If we kill the world, they die too. They have an obvious interest in our behavior. And we get to keep the laws of physics, or at least the big ones, like conservation of energy.
Before we settle that conundrum, let’s step over into the world of this shadow government, because it raises more possibilities.
Again, I’m not going to question the existence of the shadow government: let that stand. But I will point out that by definition, they lie. They lie about everything, including their own existence. They fabricate coverups: that was their original task, and it is at the core of their continued existence. It’s what they do. Misdirection. Deception. Lies.
So as the documentary trots out government document after government document claiming this or that about the extraterrestrials and UFOs, I have to ask whether these documents themselves are part of that lie. As they interview former “inside sources” who have apparently had a change of heart and now want to reveal the truth, I have to point out that these people have, according to their own accounts, made a career out of lies and coverups; there’s no reason in the world to believe them when they say they want to “come clean.” It’s far more likely that they are continuing in retirement what their former employers paid them to do — perhaps for a little “consulting” income.
This raises the possibility that there are not, and have never been, any aliens at all.
There are the lights and objects in the sky, of course, and too many people have photographed, tracked, and chased them to say they never happened. But observing them only underlines the U in UFO — unidentified. We know that they are — we have no idea what they are. They could be advanced military technology, or even illusions set up by this shadow government, which could help explain some of their “magical” behavior. Given that the alleged end-goal of the shadow government is to pull off a full-scale “alien invasion” scam, it would really make a lot of sense that they’ve been trying out different approaches.
The up-close alien encounters are somewhat different, in that they are essentially private first-hand observations. After all, we don’t have a regular public experience of little gray men getting on the elevator on our commute to the office; we have “Big and Tall” sections of clothing stores, but no “Short and Gray” sections. I don’t think there are even any space alien hate groups. (If there are, I really don’t want to know about it. My opinion of people is low enough as it is.)
Furthermore, it seems that the repentant professional liars have claimed credit for at least some of these encounters: they kidnap people, pump them full of Versed and LSD, stage a terrifying little “encounter,” then turn them loose to see how they behave.
Maybe the shadow government is behind all of the alien phenomena. It’s an obvious plot hole in the documentary.
But the biggest plot hole comes up toward the end, when they start talking about how dangerous this shadow government is. At this point, the documentary goes full alt-right: they drag in the Kennedy assassination, and talk about how anyone who spills the beans ends up dead. Which raises a bloody obvious question: how did these guys get away with making this tell-all documentary in the first place, much less getting it distributed on Netflix? Unless, of course, the shadow government wanted them to make the documentary… (cue eerie music).
Edward Snowden leaked real secrets, and pissed off the real shadow government. He’s now living in exile in Russia with an arrest warrant pending if he ever sets foot on American soil. Dr. Stephen Greer, the main figure in Unacknowledged, who is exposing a coverup that makes everything Snowden disclosed look like grade school playground gossip, is filmed walking around in Washington, DC, in front of the Washington Monument. He’s not even wearing a hat to disguise himself. His deep-cover repentant liars don’t have their faces fuzzed out, and there is no indication that they are using fake names.
Honestly, guys. Get a better scriptwriter, and run this past some beta readers.
Of course, they can’t do that. “UFO literature” is a genre, and like any genre, it has its rules. You can’t write a thriller without some bad guys chasing some good guys. You can’t write a bodice-ripper without some bodices and some ripping.
At root, UFO literature is a form of carnival side-show — the bearded lady, the painted man, the snake with two heads. It is intended to evoke the thrill of seeing the unknown and the unnatural. At a slightly more elevated level, it is intended to challenge comfortable dogmas about the nature of the universe, and our place in it.
The root problem with the UFO genre is that it has become a comfortable dogma in its own right. It really hasn’t changed at all in the last seventy years: the same tropes, the same pacing, the same clichés.
Which is probably why I tuned in and watched Unacknowledged, though I have to confess that I nodded off at one point in the middle. It was a nostalgia trip: revisiting those dog-days of summer when I was a boy. Like finding an old board game in the attic that you enjoyed so much as a child.
Then finding it isn’t nearly so much fun to play now.