Tag Archives: television

238 – Swamp Gaslighting: Project Blue Book Smackdown with Mark O’Connell

You might say that Mark O’Connell knows a little bit about Dr. J. Allen Hynek, the astronomer who was in charge of the U.S. Air Force’s Project Blue Book. There, Hynek was charged by the military to investigate UFO reports across America and then summarily disprove them. In fact, Mark O’Connell literally wrote the book on Dr. Hynek called The Close Encounters Man.

We’ve had Mark on the show several times before and it’s always a treat. He’s written for Star Trek, has a UFO blog, and he even joined us for a remembrance of Bill Paxton, because Mark had written a script that Bill wanted to direct in the late 90s but unfortunately it never came to fruition.

So you think when the “History” Channel decided to create a show called Project Blue Book where J. Allen Hynek is the lead character, they might contact Mark because they were look for true life stories for their show. Well, the answer to that one is a big fat no. They decided to go on a little more fantastical route.

Aiden Gillen as J. Allen Hynek talking to an alien in a water tank. Hynek biographer Mark O’Connell is not amused.

We kicked off the episode by discussing the trip Allison just got back from in Woodstock, Illinois before we started the recording. She was following the trail of a Mothman sighting she read about on The Singular Fortean because it sounded somewhat like the Flatwoods Monster story that actually forms the basis of the second episode of the new show. Allison also attended the Chicago premiere where the producers and Hynek’s son were in attendance.

But Hollywood history be damned, we talk about the real stories behind the man. J. Allen Hynek basically invented how we study UFOs, how you scientifically look at each report and take a look at each piece of evidence from the weather to the planets to the phase of the moon to the position of the stars, and you eliminate all the terrestrial explanations before you move into the extra-terrestrial. We also get into:

  • The real story of how Dr. Hynek first moved from the desk to the field investigating UFO cases for the Air Force
  • The cases that converted J. Allen Hynek from a skeptic into much more open minded about the reality of strange lights in the sky
  • How Hynek became UFOlogy’s Enemy #1 by suggesting some Michigan sightings might be just “swamp gas”
  • Mark’s favorite case from his own UFO investigations as a MUFON investigator (and what’s going wrong with some of the MUFON politics and investigative methods lately.)
The real guy and Littlefinger…

Hollywood loves to say things are “based on a true story” and then proceed to make them wildly inaccurate. Here, we understand that fiction is fun, but that often the best parts of even fantastical stories (like haunted houses, UFO sightings, etc…) are the parts that keep us grounded to the Earth. By fictionalizing the story to an X-Files extent, you’re doing disrespect to the actual man.

Hynek’s investigative techniques and open mind are what made him a legend in UFOlogy. He was dealing with a lot of things that couldn’t be proven and his mission to discredit UFO sightings is what made it all the more impactiful when he found cases where he could not find an answer. It was his rigorous scientific method of investigation that made the difference, not secret government informants or Werner von Braun.

For the song this week, we were taken by the fact that sometimes the media thinks we’re too dumb to think for ourselves. There is a language and shorthand to cinema that is meant to trigger our emotions quickly and too often producers think that they can exploit our beliefs with special effects and “dramatizations”, sacrificing quality for spectacle. Well, we’d rather hear the truth about Hynek and here is Sunspot with “Disinformation Nation”.

Don’t trust your eyes
and question what you see
They’ll tell you lies
the don’t care about history
A story to bewitch
that is designed to find your switch
you’ll never see it coming
when they activate your programming

Believe
Disinformation nation
Deceive
Disinformation nation
How loud can you shout with a
a mouth inside a mouth
we’re just hardwired for manipulation
Disinformation nation.

You’ll see all things new
with a mind that’s clean
A brain tattoo
imprints and memes
A tale to push your trigger point
Finding the weakness at the joints
Looking for a crowd to whip
and you’ll jump when your sequence is tripped

Believe
Disinformation nation
Deceive
Disinformation nation
How loud can you shout with a
a mouth inside a mouth
we’re just hardwired for manipulation
Disinformation nation.

145 – Twin Peaks: The Paranormal Influence Underneath TV’s Weirdest Show

In April of 1990, I was 13 years old. I remember very well watching the debut of the pilot of Twin Peaks on that Sunday night (along with 35 million other people) and I didn’t miss an episode after that. I loved the quirky characters, the murder mystery, and the weird dreams, but most of all, I enjoyed spending time in a place where magic was real, ancient demons stalked the Earth, logs could send psychic messages, and we could visit other dimensions in our dreams. My father and I were diehards who watched until the bitter end, upset about the cliffhangers that it left dangling at the second season’s conclusion.

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I went into Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me thinking that we’d get a resolution, excited to find out what happened the fate of Audrey from the bank explosion and Cooper in the Black Lodge. I didn’t really care what happened to James, because well, James’ weird love triangle shenanigans were boring by the end of the second season. The movie was all the weirdness of the TV show with little of the comedy and the sex and violence amped up. While I didn’t get the answers I craved, I loved going back into that world.

After the movie failed at the box office and David Lynch seemed to be bitter, I figured that was it. The bad guys won, Laura Palmer’s soul was trapped in the Red Room, and no one would ever know why David Bowie showed up as a ghost or what Jacques Renault meant when he called himself “The Great Went”. I figured it would just be a wonderful bit of nostalgia when I think about junior high. It was my favorite show at the time we were starting our rock band, when I was growing my hair long for the first time, and when I was hitting adolescence head on.

So, I was surprised as everyone else when the revival was announced. I couldn’t wait to go back. I thought that the closest thing we ever were going to get toa  reunion was when Big Ed and Nadine runiting as the bad guys in The People Under The Stairs.

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I’m the kind of fan who falls in love the mythology of a fictional universe. My favorite X-Files episodes weren’t the funny standalones, I wanted to know about the alien invasion conspiracy. I cared about the Dharma Initiative in LOST and cared about the answers they promised us. I want to know the history of the conflict between the Klingons and the Federation, I want to lose myself in the universe.

I knew that David Lynch was weird and I was down with that, but it took me until Lost Highway to appreciate his dream logic and to no longer care about coherence in the narrative (and trust me, if you’ve seen any of the Twin Peaks revival, you’ll quickly understand that coherence is the first thing out the window.) But in Twin Peaks, the story isn’t as important as the feeling you get when you hang out there. Sure, the quirky characters are fun and their obssession with coffee, apple pie, and smoking (really, that was probably the last major network series where half the characters unapologetically smoke cigarettes), but it was the world they lived in where you just wanted to spend more time.

The show was artistically fearless years before our current Golden Age of TV, it could be hilarious when it wanted to be, tedious and awkward when it wanted, the camera shots alone could evoke fear and dread, but also intense beauty and high strangeness. There’s a scene in Fire Walk With Me that is easily the top three most terrifying things I’ve ever seen in a visual work. Twin Peaks made me feel things like nothing else I’d ever seen on TV.  And that’s why I love going back.

While nominally a murder mystery and a soap opera parody and a meditation on how Small Town America is often hiding a seedy dark and corrupt underbelly, Twin Peaks is also a cornucopia of otherworldly influences. In this discussion, we try to hit as many as we can and how the real-life paranormal tales  impacted the story of TV’s weirdest show.

While we finish the episode with a little musical homage to Angelo Badlamenti’s incredible Twin Peaks soundtrack, we kicked off the show with discussing the untimely death of Chris Cornell who was certainly a huge influence on our generation. I had first heard Soundgarden’s “Loud Love” in 1990 around the same time I was watching Twin Peaks and of course became a huge fan with Badmotorfinger (in fact, I can’t say how often I’ve thought on a particularly rough hangover day that “I’m looking California and feeling Minnesota”.) We talk a bit about Cornell’s amazing voice, but also how eerie it was that Soundgarden covered Led Zeppelin’s “In My Time Of Dying” (which itself was Zep’s attempt at updating an old Gospel song) at their last show before the singer tragically took his own life.