Monday, October 8, 2012

Paranormal Perceptions


Late last week I did an emailed Q&A for a certain website noted for its paranormal, supernatural and Fortean-themed content. I'll name it (and link to the Q&A) if it appears, which - right now - I seriously doubt it will.

The reason why I'm pretty sure the Q&A won't appear is not because I ranted on about why I think Roswell was some dark and dubious military experiment and not a UFO event. Or even why I conclude Bigfoot may be something supernatural, rather than just a giant ape. God knows, I do  enough of that here, at Mysterious Universe, and in the pages of my books.

Rather, I suspect that my answers - since they had nothing to do with the world of real-life supernatural, Fortean, or paranormal phenomena - were not what the owner of the site was looking for. Or, far more importantly, was subconsciously expecting or anticipating.

I'll give you an example: I was asked to list my Top 10 favorite books and films of all time. So that's exactly what I did.

In no particular order, the books include Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles; Keith Waterhouse's Billy Liar; Hunter S. Thompson's The Rum Diary; and Big Sur by Jack Kerouac (which, I should note, is far superior to his On the Road, which gets so many in a state of ecstasy. And his poetry is bloody awful, by the way. Not that I know or even care in the slightest about poetry, but I do know what reads good and what doesn't.).

Well, actually, there is one bit of poetry that has always resonated with me:

"There was a young girl from Decatur,
who had sex with a huge alligator,
but nobody knew if she lavished the screw,
'cause after he screwed her he ate her."

But, I digress.

As for my all-time top 10 films, they include just two on the paranormal: Night of the Demon of 1957, and The Ninth Gate with Johnny Depp. And they're hardly non-fiction studies of the field. As for the others, they include just about anything with Will Hay, Moore Marriott and Graham Moffatt (long-dead English comic-actors who, as a trio, made some hilarious classics in the late 1930s and early '40s); Defence of the Realm, with Gabriel Byrne; Diner; and Wild at Heart.

No sooner had I sent the email, I got one back in return: "Sorry, Nick, we meant your top non-fiction books and movies on saucers, Chupacabra etc. Didn't realize you thought or lived outside the ol' box!"

The final sentence may very well have been intended as humor. But I wasn't laughing. I responded: "I don't believe you did mean that. I think you assumed - without giving it any thought, and as your 'ol'box' comment suggests - that because I write books on forteana, that this defines me as a person."

Three days later, I have not heard back, nor am I holding my breath.

Indeed, if I had been wrong, I suspect I would have heard something aside from silence. I haven't.

But this whole episode did make me think about how those of us involved in research and writing are perceived by others - both inside and outside of our realm of weirdness.

Do certain people think we don't have lives? Or we don't have families? Or we don't watch TV shows beyond just ones on ghosts and Area 51? Or that we only read books on Sasquatch, long-necked water-monsters, or that bloody crash in New Mexico in 1947? Or that we put the supernatural ahead of a good, fun time with friends?

Yes, I think many do think that - even within Forteana, most unfortunately.

One of the things that surprises many is that while I love horror films, I hate sci-fi (aside from occasional conspiracy-type stuff like Dark City and The X-Files...before it went crap around 1998). But there's this assumption that if I write about UFOs, somehow I must love films filled with laser-firing spaceships and people running around in silver-suits. Why?

But here's the biggest mystery for me: more than a few people in Forteana (in fact, quite a few when it's come up in discussion) are surprised I don't read comic-books.

Eh??? WTF?

I research Bigfoot, UFOs etc, and, therefore, I'm supposed to have a fascination with over-muscular men who fly around the skies in capes, with their underwear on the outside, and who sport ridiculous names? That's one I can't fathom at all.

Actually, yes, I write about a wide range of Forteana, but I also happen to like American Idol, Survivor, Big Brother, English football (it's not called soccer), NCIS, going down the pub with my mates, cranking up the music, That Metal Show, and...well, just about the same things as everyone else.

Normal shit, as it's generally known!

But why, at all, this odd assumption/conclusion that I see as much inside Fortean research circles as I do outside of it?

Why is it a surprise - and why should it even provoke surprise in the first place - that I might write a book on the Men in Black and that I also care about who wins American Idol? I don't get that surprise at all. Nor do I see why there should be a conflict. But I've heard it and seen it - on that specific issue of AI.

If someone was a carpet-fitter, a car-mechanic, a school-teacher, a...well...the list goes on...would they be defined as that and nothing else? No! Would the favorite books of a car-mechanic be defined by whether those books are car-based or not? Nope! Or would the favorite films of a school-teacher be defined by whether or not they are uplifting tales of education? Of course they wouldn't!

So, why is it that so many people - both inside and outside of our field - do think that our favorite films or books, or even our very lives, are defined or dominated by what we think of ET, or the Yeti, or whatever-the-hell-else Fortean? If you think I'm wrong, I'm not.

Look around, and carefully bring such matters up, albeit in subtle fashion so as not to give the game away. You'll see...

We criticize (quite rightly) the media for portraying us in stereotypical "tin-foil-hat/conspiracy nut" fashion. But the Fortean field is just as guilty, albeit in a very different way.

The former does it to poke fun at us. Certain players in the latter very often do it based on barely-thought-out assumptions that we're Forteans first and foremost, and so that's what defines us as people.

Maybe some of them are obsessed with Forteana and nothing else, and, therefore, they assume the rest of us are as sad as them, for one chief reason: in their world, if there's nothing else going on in their lives, then how can there be anything else going on in ours? I'm not sure if we should have pity for such people and their illogical form of logic, or if they should be given several firm and precise punches on the jaw. But, I very strongly lean towards the latter. Like right now.

I'm really not sure which scenario is worse: media fun-poking or wholly erroneous assumptions on the part of igorant colleagues that your life (about which they actually know nothing) is driven by the likes of hairy ape-men and bug-eyed aliens and nothing else.

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