And now for something completely different…a few of my impressions of the new History Channel series, “Project Blue Book.”
I’ve seen the first two episodes of this series and as someone who used to love the X-Files (even as my skepticism of large-scale conspiracies grew), I am so far liking it. It is a good-looking series boasting some nice production values in its recreation of the early 1950s. I also like its quiet, silently menacing tone. It, so far, appears to be a show that wants to reward the patient, attentive viewer who is willing to invest his time in following the unfolding of a complex narrative and layered mythology. I hope the show will continue on this path of low key, subtle mystery and not devolve into ever more garish, hysterical conspiracy theories and over-the-top action. There is a place for action in the proper context, but “Project Blue Book” would be more interesting if it stays on the path of menace, mystery and unease.
The show is a very loose dramatization of astronomer J. Allen Hynek’s side gig as a consultant for the U.S. Air Force’s three major UFO-study projects: “Sign” (1947-49), “Grudge,” (1949-52) and “Blue Book” (1952-69). As the title of the show makes obvious, it focuses in on his “Blue Book” years. Hynek would become famous for being perhaps the most prestigious member of the scientific community to publicly declare that he had come to believe that the UFO phenomenon was the manifestation of something truly unexplained, perhaps extraterrestrial visitations or something extra-dimensional. He would also coin the UFO-encounter classification system of “close encounters of the first kind,” “second kind,” and “third kind.” He even had a cameo appearance in Steven Spielberg’s iconic film, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Interestingly, Hynek was originally a staunch skeptic for decades when it came to the issue of UFOs. Throughout his years consulting for projects Sign and Grudge, he would enthusiastically debunk claims of UFO encounters as misidentifications of natural phenomenon. He had also famously dismissed a series of sightings in Michigan as being caused by nothing more than “swamp gas.” The swamp gas explanation of UFOs had become something of a punchline in the debate of the phenomenon.
But it was during Hynek’s time with Project Blue Book that his view of the phenomenon changed. Prompted by eyewitness testimony he had grown to trust as being credible, made by competent people whose character was beyond reproach – as well as his realization that some 11% of professional astronomers claimed to have seen unexplainable aerial phenomena – Hynek had become a staunch believer in the otherworldly nature of UFOs. He would eventually found the Center for UFO Studies in Chicago.
So I am curious as to the approach this show will take toward the claims of government cover-ups and vast conspiracies. The real Hynek, of course, would claim that the Air Force and top-level government officials also suspected the extraterrestrial nature of the UFO phenomenon but they were set on denying it from the public. But TV shows and movies have already shown perhaps literally hundreds of iterations of the “vast, shadowy government conspiracy to hide the aliens.” I am curious about where this show will go.
It would be interesting to see the show differentiating between a cover-up – the U.S. military wanting to hide that fact that it knows nothing about the true nature of this unexplained phenomenon – and outlandish conspiracy theories about back-engineered alien UFOs in Area 51.
I will admit that I am very much open minded to the idea of intelligent alien life somewhere on other planets. Scientists having detected scores of Earth-like planets over the last several years, it only makes logical sense that life would arise elsewhere in the universe. I am even open minded to the idea that intelligent, technologically advanced alien races have discovered the means to interstellar travel and visited the Earth. A significant percent of UFO sightings have never been satisfactorily explained.
But it is the outlandish conspiracy theories I found completely unbelievable: the back-engineered UFO theories, the alien bases under government installation theories, the claims that aliens made deals with the governments of the Earth to abduct humans for ghastly experiments in return for providing our scientists with fabulous technological secrets…which said scientists have kept secret for some reason. As if incredibly advanced alien visitors would actually need to make deals with the Earth’s leaders.
But J. Allen Hynek himself was the proponent of a very conservative and strictly rigorous scientific analysis of the UFO phenomenon. I am certain that today he, too, would be appalled by what the “conspiracy community” have come to believe as the gospel.
And I’m sure J. Allen Hynek would detest Alex Jones.