Dreamland

Phil Patton. Travels in Dreamland: the Secret History of Area 51. Orion Media, 1997.
 
David Darlington. The Dreamland Chronicles: the Legends of Area 51, America's Most Secret Base. Little Brown and Co, 1998.
 
Area 51, the vast secret base in the heart of the Nevada desert has become a central icon in contemporary American folklore By creating this place of secrecy, the government has created a blank on the map which can be filled with the spaces and artefacts of the imagination; dark and sinister projects by the nameless them. These two books address this folklore.

Patton offers us the historical approach; or rather a journey along the interface between history and folklore, juxtaposing the history of the real military projects conducted within Area 51, with that area of the imagination, where alien craft fly and sinister secrets lie underground. It is in part a history of America's encounter with the big bad bomb, and the militarisation of life. It is also a study of the people who study mysteries, the buffs who chase secret technology and the buffs who chase flying saucers, and the interactions between them.

Patton places the legend of Area 51 in the context of the changing fashions of UFO beliefs, the cold war ufology of Donald Keyhoe, the pseudoscience of the sixties, and the abduction beliefs in the age of the victim culture, the legend coming from the conspiracism post-Watergate. Indeed it was in the year of Watergate that the 1897 Aurora crash story was resurrected, beginning the mainstream rehabilitation of crashed saucer stories. Patton also traces the merger of the UFO conspiracies with the militia and other radical-right conspiracy theories, the myth of the new world order, and the ubiquitous black helicopters, which Patton calls the UFOs of the militias.

There are many insightful vignettes on the Grays, for example: "its overtones were of a huge foetus or hungry child, with Keene kid big eyes and head larger than body. There were even echoes in the image of Munch's The Scream - the cliché face of modern angst itself". Or on a MUFON convention: "in the same rooms and with the same tone of seriousness and internal self satisfaction as a regional gathering of insurance salesmen or social workers. I noticed that no-one smiled."

Darlington's account is more biographical, detailing his own journeys to the Area, and his meetings with the many curious characters that one can meet there, and placing them in the context of the modern legend. He tells the story of Bob Lazar; both the story that Lazar presents, and the one of the unknown Lazar, as ferreted out by researcher Tom Mahoot - the Lazar who runs up unpaid debts and whose first wife died of carbon monoxide poisoning from motor vehicle exhaust in the garage of the couple's Las Vegas home two days after he married his second wife, without obtaining a divorce. A verdict of suicide being reached without autopsy. Lazar's descriptions of the amazing flying saucer propulsion system, make it clear, that far from being a nuclear physicist, he lacked even a good high school understanding of physics.

Lazar has now been joined by another whistle blower, Bill Uhouse who claims to have worked alongside an alien while back-engineering crashed saucer technology at the base. Uhouse has taken to using the pseudonym Jarod, also the name of the alleged alien, who when he speaks, speaks to you in your own voice. Uhouse tells of how the cabal running the base will soon put an end to democracy, something that Uhouse is all in favour of. Here is the tale of Glen Campbell, formerly the secret technology buff, and anti-military activist, sceptical of the flying saucer tales, who appeared to be converted by Uhouse's tales, and here is the saga of Campbell's dispute with the owners of the Little A-Le-Inn and of the many other squabbles of this small fraternity. Darlington takes a neutral line on the various issues, his is not the task of proving one thing or another, it is that of telling a story.

Meanwhile the American government has got itself caught in a bind. I suspect that originally the wild tales of Lazar and his kin were not unwelcome, they helped to divert attention away from the real scandals of the base: the poor working conditions, the health and safety hazards facing the workers, the waste of huge sums of taxpayers money or projects which never got anywhere, or which ended up in people's pockets, and the general issue of the expropriation of huge areas of the people's land for the benefit of the military-industrial complex. It didn't do too much harm either if potential enemies occasionally wondered if it might be true after all.
 
The result has been however that Area 51 has become the least secret secret base in the world; it's a tourist attraction. It can't be long before MacDonald's makes a take over bid for the A-Le-Inn, or someone sets up hamburger stalls on the ridge overlooking the base. Of course, being as brain-dead as most military, the base authorities don't respond by having occasional open days, complete with bands, parades and drum majorettes, they respond with the typical hostile growl, and act more and more like the army of occupation their enemies think they are.

I recommend both of these books to Magonians. -- Reviewed by Peter Rogerson
 

No comments: