Abduction Culture

Jodi Dean. Aliens in America: Conspiracy Cultures from Outerspace to Cyberspace. Cornell University Press, 1998.

Despite the title, Jodi Dean's socio-cultural study of ufology is centred not on the conspiracy culture of 'Area 51', but on the abductionist subculture, as studied by her and her research assistants in 1995-7. If I understand it correctly her central thesis is that in the age of the Internet there is no final, public, authoritative truth or reality. It is as if as in so many other spheres, reality itself has become privatised and fragmented, with various competing realities in the market place of ideas. The abduction narratives subvert the established consensual reality, and can act as metaphors for other challenges to hegemonic reality. The ambivalence of the abduction narrative, what is real, dream or an illusion implanted by the aliens, reflects this like of an agreed reality and shared truth.

It is difficult to work out exactly what other meanings Dean ascribes to the abduction narratives. There are times when she seems to be on the brink of some meaningful insight: abduction narratives deal with our ambivalent relationship with technology, she notes how in the story of Collings and Jameson, the presence of the 'other' is signalled by the failure of equipment, much of which is a kind of parody of the equipment (electronic alarms and the like) used to maintain our secure boundaries. The TV audience is conscripted into the astronaut programme, the space race is validated by the fact that it is watched by millions of viewers, thus bringing together the home and outerspace. The death of Christa McAuliffe in the Challenger disaster marks out space as a place of danger for women; the abduction narratives point to total lack of security, there is no safe haven; they act as metaphors for fears about nationhood, citizenship and identity; (the connections with notions of defining the boundaries of the state against illegal immigration are noted, and she has some very pertinent points to make about Betty and Barney Hill as an interracial couple). -- Peter Rogerson

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