HedWebA glowing object flies across the television screen. "This is not swamp gas. It is not a flock of birds. This is an actual spacecraft piloted by alien intelligence - one sighting from tens of thousands made over the last 50 years on virtually every continent on the globe. Intelligent life from distant galaxies is now attempting to make open contact with the human race and tonight we'll show you the evidence."
So began Disney's hour long Alien Encounters special, aired across America in February and March of 1995, written and produced by Andy Thomas, a freelancer who has produced Cops and a UFO "believer". This came soon after DisneyWorld Florida had hosted a two week "UFO Summit", running from January 23 to February 17, as part of the preparations for the opening of a remodelled "New Tomorrowland". Strangely, although the summit was organized by UFO magazine's Don Ecker and featured such luminaries as Budd Hopkins, Clifford Stone and George Knapp, there was no public announcement prior to the conference and no announcements made to UFO groups or other media. That the "Alien Encounters" show was aired so soon after the summit makes it extremely unlikely that its purpose was to discuss the programme's content, so this meeting and its intentions currently remain a mystery of sorts; naturally this has had the conspiracists ruminating furiously.
The TV special, hosted by Robert Urich (star of "Vegas") was presented as a serious examination of the modern UFO mystery and an expose of the U.S. government's cover-up of what it knows about the phenomenon. It also served to promote the new "Alien Encounters" attraction, which opens this summer at Disney World Florida and, as far as I could make out, purports to simulate a UFO encounter and abduction, presumably by the "Grays". What are the motives behind this programme and the ride it is previewing? How did Disney get involved in the murky world of UFOs? Is it just cashing in on a phenomenon that is now attracting more public and media attention; a subject already saturated with magic and mystery and only too ripe for the Disney treatment? Or is it somehow involved at a deeper level, breaking the waters for something, or someone, else? A closer look at the programme and, ideally, a ride on the simulation itself should give us some clues1.
After the opening sequence the show opened with an introduction by Disney co- chairman Michael Eisner himself, standing in front of an official looking building, surrounded by heavily armed paramilitary types. Saying something like "Let's take a look inside...", he steps towards the building only to be halted by the guards and their weapons; jokingly he says "Well, perhaps not" and smiles conspiratorially. This ambiguous opening set the tone well for what was to be an extremely ambiguous programme; an intriguing mix of fact and fiction unhesitatingly presented as hard truth.
Throughout the show Urich waved unconvincing-looking, Hollywood style "government reports" in front of the camera and spoke repeatedly of the government's "imminent" revelation of what it knows about UFOs and of the "inevitable" encounters we were soon to experience. Was he talking about the new ride? What does he, or Disney, know that we don't? Much decent film footage was shown; some old, some new, including the "Guardian" footage of a landing UFO and its occupant skulking in a field. This Canadian video actually showed a blurry model helicopter and a guy in a bad mask. It was revealed to be a hoax in UFO Magazine (co-sponsor of the Alien Summit at Disney World) and on Fox's "Sightings", shown several months prior to the Alien Encounters programme. Other footage of note was: previously unseen (according to Urich) film of secret experimental disc-shaped craft from the `50's and `60's, all made to look ridiculously unflightworthy; mysterious lights zipping around over the White House, presumably intended to be from the famous cases of 1952; and, perhaps most interesting of all, a short scene of soldiers turning over a ragged-looking silver disc-shaped object.
This fragment was shown more than once, in the context of the Roswell incident and government cover-ups; it was black and white footage, looked old and grainy and the military uniforms looked like those used around WW2 (not that I'm an expert on the subject, though I have seen plenty of war footage). The object looked lightweight, easily lifted by a few men, and appeared to be covered in torn tin foil, thus fitting descriptions made by Roswell witnesses. At the time false rumours were being circulated that Steven Spielberg had acquired military film showing a crashed flying disc and alien bodies, and that he was to use the footage in a film about Roswell and Area 51. In fact the real story concerned a German researcher, Volker Spielberg, and what was soon to become the infamous Santilli autopsy film. Whether there is any sort of Disney connection between the footage shown in the Alien Encounters programme and Santilli's film is open to question, though the timing of the two releases certainly coincided quite conveniently, presumably for both parties.
Presented in Alien Encounters as proof of the government's involvement in the UFO mystery were the hotly debated MJ-12 documents, the shaky foundations upon which so much of the current cover-up mythology rests. During the programme no arguments were presented against the documents' authenticity. This is not the place to argue the pros and cons of the MJ-12 debate, save to say that there is plenty of evidence to support both sides; to me, however, they are clearly classic disinformation: parts of them do seem to mention real events, whilst others are clearly faked. If the documents were disseminated in the hope of sending the UFO community off on a wild goose chase and discrediting those involved in the affair, then they have proved at least partially successful. So why are they being dredged up now by Disney?
So now that Alien Encounters has firmly established the reality of UFOs, a context is set; a context of abduction and, ultimately invasion. First of all we are told of bacteria and microbes that have come to earth from space and have been analyzed by scientists for years. At the time NASA had made no mention of the Martian Microbes that hit the headlines in July of this year (1996), and very few people knew of the meteorite's existence. Is this what Disney was referring to? Urich, intercut with scenes of hard working scientists, posited that these alien microbes might take the form of an advanced guard, sending information about us and our planet across the galaxies to be picked up by whoever sent them.
So why were they sent? Budd Hopkins, interviewed next along with some frightened abductees was here to tell us. The aliens, the "Grays" as they are affectionately known, want our DNA, our sperm, our ova, our blood; they retrieve these in a terrifying manner, kidnapping us from our homes and treating us as we treat lab rats and tagged dolphins. This is not a reassuring thing to hear, especially from Walt Disney and the grandfatherly Budd Hopkins. So where were John Mack, Whitley Strieber and all the abductees who have developed meaningful relations with the "visitors"? The people who see in them something spiritual, transformative and beneficial to mankind. Are they just too weird for Disney TV? Have they been duped into loving their captors? Or do their ideas conflict with the official line? Who are we supposed to believe here?
It seems then that Disney has the following to tell us: UFOs are real; they are extraterrestrial spacecraft flown here by the "Grays" who are conducting long-term genetic breeding experiments on terrified, innocent human beings. The U.S. government (whatever that is) has known about these beings since at least the Roswell incident of 1947 and is about to make public what it has kept secret since then. Talk about telling them what they want to hear! Some of the evidence for these claims was flimsy, such as the MJ-12 documents; some of it was fake, such as the "Guardian"; other, new, evidence was presented without introduction, let alone authentication. All right, so it was a Disney programme aimed at the general public, not the UFO buff, but why did it present the story that it did, and why did it present it as the truth?
There could be a number of possible reasons for this. Least worrying of these is that the whole programme was simply an advert for the new "Alien Encounters" ride. Clearly part of it was, they even share the same name, and moments from the ride were shown repeatedly throughout the show. So Disney ask someone to concoct a show about UFOs for them; this someone happens to be an avid "believer" and isn't too discerning about their sources or the information they uncover; they stick it all together and, just to add flavor, make out that it's all absolutely true. Tim Klein, senior producer for broadcast marketing at Disney says; "The government has nothing to do with the TV show. It`s strictly a vehicle to promote the new attraction." So how did they get "secret" military footage? Would the government allow Disney to show them as liars, as having no control over an alien menace? Maybe it is going to release its information and they thought Disney were the best people to prepare us for it; maybe there is going to be a public landing, as the show implies; maybe, maybe, maybe. In the two years since the programme was aired the government has done nothing but further deny that anything extraterrestrial happened at Roswell; all we've had are some crummy microbes on a rock and Independence Day.
So consider this as a less savory hypothesis, bearing in mind that the best disinformation is supposed to contain parts of the truth (like the MJ-12 documents). Disney wants to advertise its new UFO ride so they turn to the government or military, amongst others, for help. The government, or whoever is in charge of UFO research, sees this as a great opportunity to get those pesky researchers and UFO groups off its back by telling them that everything they suspected was true after all. Hell, it could then release a load of official-seeming papers, have the ufologists jump around excitedly (having finally discovered the truth as they wanted to hear it), and take a well earned break from covering up whatever it is they really know- or don't, as the case may be. The government is happy, most of the UFO community is happy and Disney is happy because lots of people want to go on their new ride.
Then there is the paranoid approach. Who better would there be than Disney to create fake crashed UFO and autopsy footage, complete with historic US president; or to stage some sort of mass, public, UFO landing, broadcast around the world as the real thing and causing temporary global hysteria. So the government is "forced" to reveal all its UFO (dis)information and so once again almost everybody is happy. For a while everyone would stay quiet, leaving them to get on with whatever it is they are doing. Maybe they want us to be afraid of the aliens, maybe that suits their needs too. After all isn't their ultimate goal just to keep us under control? And what better control tool is there than fear? Would we still be afraid if we knew the whole truth? Probably. There's a lot of scope for good religion in the UFO mythos, and what better tool is there to control the masses than fear and religion combined?
Perhaps the answer will come as a mixture of all the above. Really all we can do is wait and see, and maybe even then we will never know the full situation. Whatever the case, the media's love affair with UFOs is on again; not a week goes past without some new segment or special on our TV sets. Bill Clinton`s proposal to declassify all government material over 25 years old may also prove interesting. I suspect that we`re going to be seeing and hearing a lot more of our mysterious flying friends. The truth is certainly out there, but I doubt it`s at Disneyworld.
1 Since most of this piece was written, over a year ago, I have spoken to a well known UFO researcher who has been on the Alien Encounters ride; his experience bore no relation to that reported by the majority of UFO abductees. Sources:
- UFO Magazine (U.S)
- UFO Magazine (U.K.)
- Alien Encounters.- Disney TV Special
- The Orlando Sentinel, Florida USA, May 3, 1995
Screen MemoriesMark Pilkington