I fail to remember who it was, but someone recently observed on Twitter how strange it is that recordings and sightings of Unidentified Flying Objects have diminished now hi-res camera equipment is available as never before. Coincidence, I'm sure. Nevertheless strange aerial phenomena are still observed on a regular basis. In the vast majority of cases it's simple misrecognition. For example, when I were a nipper I once forced my parents to look at some bright orange UFOs I had spotted. Turned out they were the lights from the nearby council depot. But there is a minute percentage that defy conventional explanation and fall into the 'weird' category. I'm confident the 'unexplained' are either meteorological doings weather scientists barely have a handle on, or military aircraft of some kind. What I am certain they are not are aliens.
Still, there are some who do believe aliens regularly visit our planet, and among their number are those who claim not only to have seen them, but possess that much-coveted concrete proof. All this is perfect fodder for a Channel 4 stuck fast in its tabloid telly groove, and so has served us up Alien Investigations this evening.
C4 focuses on three separate stories from the last five years.
The first, and the most intriguing, concerned the so-called "Metepec Monster" (left). We are informed this tiny bald creature with large eyes and human-like hands had got itself caught in a rat trap. Mario Lopez - a ranch owner - showed it several employees and a government official before they decided to drown it in a bucket of acid, as you do. Stories later emerged of the owner's pet hawk being injured during a "revenge attack", presumably by these creatures. And two months afterwards Lopez himself was killed by a car bomb. Were extra-terrestrials responsible for his untimely demise? With the promise of more conclusive testing of the monster's desiccated corpse by the end of the programme, Alien Investigations moved onto the next case in Peru.
As everyone knows, the elaborate Nazca Drawings in Peru are definitely markings designed to guide flying saucers in to land, and have absolutely nothing to do with the ornate and elaborate religious rituals of the ancient Nazca people. It is therefore significant that the remains of an alien mummy were found nearby, at least according to a Renato Riquelme, who discovered this chap on the right not far from the Incan holdout at Cusco. Dubbed 'Wayki' (Brother) by Riquelme, the over-large eye sockets, the stretched cranium, the tiny child-like body all point to the little grey alien standard of popular culture. We are then informed by Dante Rios Tambini, a peddler of Von Danikin-style ancient astronaut cobblers, that Pre-Colombian peoples were regularly in contact with alien beings. And, by way of proof, shows a smudgy UFO photo, a white dot shot by a camera operator with St Vitus' Dance, and a red mist. All very convincing. Unfortunately, a cursory examination of the photos by experts identify the skeleton as a deformed child subject to the skull elongation practices of Incan priestly castes. Needless to say, Riquelme has not released any of his "brother's" remains for conclusive DNA analysis.
This handsome fellow is known as the Montauk Monster and was washed up on a New Jersey beech just over four years ago. The picture comes from the digital camera of one Christina Pamplone. Mysteriously, it disappeared. And then, almost a year later, a similar carcass was given up by the sea. It too was filmed and photographed before, again, disappearing. Self-appointed local experts quickly declared the things to be aliens or, gasp, genetically engineered mutants escaped from the nearby Animal Disease Centre on Plum Island. How disappointed they must have been when analysis of the photos by veterinarians concluded they were nothing more exotic than bloated and decomposing racoon corpses.
Ending with the beginning, the show returns to the Metepic Monster. Now in the possession of Jaime Maussan, one of Mexico's leading ufologists, we are breathlessly told that previous anatomical analyses had established human-like characteristics. Tantalisingly, DNA samples suggested it was part-human, part-something else. Wow. But no. Consenting to a further test, the DNA definitely isn't human - it's marmoset monkey; three marmoset monkeys. Confessing to camera, one of Lopez's employees (a trained taxidermist) revealed he built the creature, and had rigged it up so it could move via a trigger. Oh dear.
You can understand why this bupkis appeals to many millions of people. The great achievement of the Enlightenment and science has been to demystify and disenchant society. What use is there placating river pixies when modern weather forecasting can issue flood warnings, for instance. But despite the intellectual triumph of rationality, we do not live in a rational society. The existence of each and everyone is at the mercy of social forces beyond individual and, in some cases, government control. It is small wonder that many seek solace in celebrity, consumerism, collective spectacles, religion, or more esoteric and heterodox belief systems.
Aliens and the attendant mythology around state complicity is one such perfect corollary for our gaudy age of neon and broadband. Like the religions of old, collective human agency to change things is written off. There are the aliens flitting about the sky and butchering cattle for purposes unknown, and a ruthlessly efficient (US) government cover up preventing evidence from entering into the public domain. Hence, lack of evidence is not what it seems - the lack infers systematic activity behind the scenes. This is a mythos that is ultimately without hope, but provides key cognitive anchor points in the world and can engender a soupçon of self-congratulation for being able to see through the lies and apprehend the real state of affairs beneath.
None of this stands up to scrutiny. But it doesn't have to. Faith, whether of the religious or the political kind weaves together facts and meanings in ways that makes for an explanation of one's existence. It doesn't even have to be coherent and rounded out - just compelling.