Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Methinks thou dost...

An article in the LA Times goes into some (sarcastic) detail about the (in)famous "tinfoil hat". The article actually serves as the introduction to a more in-depth article and video due this weekend covering "the Retro UFO Convention at the 'Integratron' in the Mojave Desert".

The reporter appears to have a particularly light-hearted approach to the UFO subject, but take a moment and look at the event the reporter is actually covering...the Retro UFO convention at the "Integratron"...oh yes...the "device" built by George van Tassel, a rejuvenation machine. Oh boy.

The convention...a UFO convention, holds a "tinfoil hat" CONTEST. So, Mary Rinehart, our intrepid reporter did "as the Romans do" and entered her own creation, garnering 3rd place honors. LOL

Now, there are several ways to react to this kind of article. The knee-jerk reaction, exampled here courtesy of UFO Updates' Irene Rome, is anger and intolerance. This ironically shoehorns nicely with another Updates post wherein noted skeptic John Harney decries "...the strong emotional reaction to the suggestion that there is nothing to the UFO myth apart from popular belief and personal subjective experience"...

Where John is incorrect is when one considers that there ARE UFO events that defy any terrestrial explanation. One can argue whether the witnesses were mistaken, or that others have seen similar things that were eventually explained, ad infinitum, but in the end even the most staunch realist must admit that there are unknowns up there...whatever their source.

But Irene epitomizes the mind-set that John decries. The article in question is a report on an event of singular silliness...and that extends to the organizers of the event, otherwise why on earth hold something like a tinfoil hat contest? The kitch on display in photos from the event, from silver face-painted fat bald guys, to talks on the "angel/ET/astrology" connection, the Arcturian alien tribes, etc. Wow...what a serious UFO gathering that was...

So, Irene, let me ask you something. When someone writes a tongue-in-cheek story on the SETI initiative, in essence ridiculing it, does Seth Shostak run to the first available forum and renounce the waste of space"? Nope. Why not? Because when you do that you actually lend credence to the article in question. You "give the story legs". And the more debate you generate over the validity or invalidity of the reporting, the more you ensure two things. You miss the point of the article, and you keep the article itself "alive".

The point missed? Well, the event was ITSELF tongue-in-cheek. A tribute to the "retro" aspect of the UFO phenomena. Remember when martians were something to giggle about, before the advent of "Independence Day"? Remember "My Favorite Martian"? This event was all about the naive frivolity that attended UFOs in the 50s. So, Mary's article was most appropriate for the venue, and she would not have bothered to make a tinfoil hat at all if the event wasn't sponsoring a contest. So, if you want to blame someone for her waste of space, blame the event organizers. Mary simply played the news hand she was dealt.

Keeping the article alive could be harmful to serious UFO research, but in this case it doesn't really matter. It's a funny article about a bunch of funny people. Criticizing the article is just dumb, IMO.

But Mr. Harney hit the mark with his indictment of "emotional reactions". When someone ridicules evolution, or ridicules SETI, or ridicules any theory or theoretical endeavor, the best response...the intellectual response...the unemotional response...is no response at all.

Or maybe just a little "LOL".

Good night Irene, methinks thou dost protest too much. [Man, from Ledbetter & Lomax to the Bard in one sentence...sheesh]


Exactly right. If a reporter makes factual misstatements in a report that is supposedly serious, then he should be corrected (and if the mistakes are egregious, then he should be corrected using sarcasm and derision - all's fair); however, the RetroCon was a fun event, by all accounts, to celebrate, as much as anything else, the inherent goofiness in contactee-ism. If Irene et al are upset, they should blame the organizers, not the journalists for reporting what happened accurately.

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