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Monday, September 22, 2014

Book Review -- Looking for Orthon by Colin Bennett

BRIEF ORIENTATION, from Wikipedia:
            George Adamski (April 17, 1891 – April 23, 1965) was a Polish-born American citizen who became widely known in ufology circles, and to some degree in popular culture, after he claimed to have photographed spaceships from other planets, met with friendly Nordic alien Space Brothers, and to have taken flights with them to the Moon and other planets. He was the first, and most famous, of the so-called contactees of the 1950s. Adamski was called a "philosopher, teacher, student and saucer researcher," although his claims were investigated by skeptics, who concluded that they were an elaborate hoax.
            Adamski authored three books describing his meetings with Nordic aliens and his travels with them aboard their spaceships: Flying Saucers Have Landed (co-written with Desmond Leslie) in 1953, Inside the Space Ships in 1955, and Flying Saucers Farewell in 1961. The first two books were both bestsellers; by 1960 they had sold a combined 200,000 copies.


            Several Amazon reviewers of this fine tome appear disappointed because this is not a scholarly, year-by-year treatment of the facts and details of the life of ur-Contactee George Adamski.  They should have read the subtitle:

            “The Story of George Adamski, The First Flying Saucer Contactee and How He Changed the World.”

            Well, you shouldn’t expect Carl Sagan after that!

            Bennett is a writer with a distinctly different outlook and style to my own rather dry and by-the-numbers composition.  That’s great!  Because the “world” of Adamski is more suitable to Cosmic Trickster treatment than a dry recitation of dates and places.

            Bennett does a passionate job of depicting our own present-day media-driven world as an almost direct result of the sort of attention sparked by Adamski’s solution to the Flying Saucer Frenzy:  They’re piloted by humanoids who look like us, but are vastly superior in spiritual and intellectual development.  Yes, While there were earlier intimations of the Benevolent Space Brother trope, George Adamski, this Polish-American who lived a life surrounded by a haze of chaos and uncertainty -- this guy crystallized the concept into the image familiar today.

            The bare biographical bones of Adamski’s youth, life, military service, and such are indeed covered, but usually only in passing, on the way to a comment on the process of the development of our present-day mode-of-consciousness from the “simpler” higher-contrast world of the post-World War II West.

            I marvel at Bennett’s philosophical angle, so different from mine.  Even though I have a lot to disagree with him about, I still love his observations.  In his theorizing of the outlook and motivations of “ life from elsewhere,” Bennett makes a wonderful observation that “they” might not be coming here to just talk.  “Perhaps the terrible truth is that since humanity at large can act in a way that is ass daft as the proverbial brush, then we can well expect other conscious life forms to be just as crazy as we are” (p 72).

            The phenomenon that was George Adamski and the Contactee movement was a social one more than a scientific one.  People were enchanted by the idea that somebody “out there”
cared enough to send their very best (pace Hallmark Cards).  There were higher, more evolved, kinder folk out there, and they wanted to help us!  What great news!

            Another brilliant book I have recently read, The Legend of Spring-heeled Jack by Karl Bell, quotes another researcher’s comment about Sherlock Holmes.  This observation is similarly true about the popularity of “Space Brothers,” in my opinion:  “… a modern enchantment, a yearning for the fantastical that has detached itself from traditional supernatural associations” (Bell, p 8).

            On the other hand, perhaps the percipients are as misguided as the entities they “perceive.”  In Chapter 6, “Cargo Perspectives,” Bennett comes up with a great analogy.  He refers to “the African stick insect” without explaining which of several possible this might mean.  At any rate, Bennett tells us,
            The African stick insect knows how to imitate the rhythmic march of a line of termites in order to avoid annihilation …. Similarly, the UFO phenomenon, as a species of information, most likely creates a partial-objectivity to stay in business for as long as it can.  Like the stick insect, Orthon’s “task” may have been to create and hard sell a certain kind of wonder as a screen for whatever were his complex intentions.  Any downtown salesman would understand. (p 76)

            (Especially if they had come "To Serve Man.")

            Instead of serious creatures of traditional sci-fi, we may encounter something guessing, laughing, and deceiving, rather than something physically violent. (p 77)

            Again, on page 79:
            We have also to bear in mind that for hundreds of years a standard procedure to clear hostile natives off landing beaches was for crew to wear bizarre masks and strange clothing.

            The fact that such a message, both cosmic in implication and childishly simplistic and naïve in its explication. was bundled up with so-called “facts” that were scientific hogwash -- this was a concern to the FBI or UFO skeptics, but not to the yearning souls for which the Gospel of the Space Brother indeed took the place of religion for many.  There were many gods (advanced races), and this shill of a fast-talking, clumsy, self-promoting goofball was their prophet!

            He became famous and infamous, attracting followers who shared his near-commune or helped organize his national and international speaking tours.  These were a scattershot affair, as reports seem to show one talk a success, while the next a dud.  Evidently Adamski was an amateur, a dilettante if you will, at public speaking as well as outer-space contact.  While he professed that his “philosophy” was the ne plus ultra of conscious achievement, he wasn’t a very good embodiment of these exalted goals.  Oftentimes he was caught in petty lies or small misleading, which properly shed a bad light on the rest of his pronouncements.

            Such feet-of-clay behavior endears him to Bennett, who repeatedly opines that Adamski’s childish deceptions put the lie to the skeptics’ opinions of the man as a shyster and professional con man.  Would an accomplished liar try to get away with so many transparent deceptions?  These fumbles, for Bennett, reinforce for him that SOMETHING genuinely strange had happened to Adamski.  If his entire tale were a fabrication, a story conjurer should have come up with something more internally consistent.  As Bennett says on page 202, “Their very ineptness is a screen against normality.”

            Only one thing makes it plain to Bennett that Adamski should be considered seriously:  At times, independent witnesses reported the same things!  A plane pilot report, found years later, describes something odd at the same time as one of the early sightings/contacts;  some not-proven-as-fake photos resemble Adamski’s saucers.

            If you do an internet search on the phrase “George Adamski and the Flying Saucers from Venus” you will find a whole list of other photos that appear to show spaceships similar to Adamski’s.

Here is one:
            This paragraph from page 192 sums up the book:
            Adamski mixed Christ and technology, myth and the concrete, cool and pleasant sanity with the utterly fantastic claim, and he lived in the battleground between all these mixed metaphors.  In doing so, he fell into the ruthlessly selective machinery of the western mind and was crushed.

            Here are a few more select quotations:

            It is as if a great many kinds of cultural advertising (in the sense of persuasion) are trying to get through a narrow bottleneck of “acceptance” at the same time.  The object of these different systems (and that includes systems of rational explanation) is to enter that prime time which is usually taken as ‘reality.’ (pp 195-6)

            Being a member of the Contactee Movement, as with any social or religious association, is also attractive to people who feel that their lives are empty or not important.  As Bennett says on page 203,
            In this, the phenomenon is certainly a part-function of individual and group personalities.  The inexcusable fumbling of Adamski and Madeleine [another witness], the drunken rages of the psychic “thoughtphotographer” Ted Serios, the extremely superficial mind of disco-child Uri Geller, indicated that such people are playing, rather than thinking.  Thinking, as we know it, was a very late arrival on the historical scene.  For hundreds of thousands of years we reasoned only as young children now still reason.  Researches into Artificial Intelligence have now come up against the play barrier.  The chief characteristic of play is the waste of time involved in it as an activity.  Its free associations and mobility thoroughly disturb intellectuals all; they want the roundabout to stay still, and it will not; it continues to generate very large numbers of noisy and redundant connections.  We cannot help the feeling that, prior to fetching fire from heaven, as it were, the lives of many of these contactees were, an any bourgeois sense at least, complete wastes of time in themselves.
             All of these wondrous (because I couldn’t have thought of them!) observations are woven into the context of Adamski’s rise and fall from handyman to international sensation to often-mocked perceived charlatan.

            And don’t forget that, even if taken at supposed face value, the Space Folks didn’t treat Adamski 100% squarely, either.  They flimflammed him, just as he was supposedly doing to his disciples:
            These “space folk” who speak so casually of “magnetic vibrations” and “etheric matter transfer,” are therefore nice chintz-cushion and flock-wallpaper gods.  They are very definitely not the bleeding-to-death, treacherous, or kick-in-the-backside gods of Shakespeare, Neitzsche, or Mount Olympus; These “space folk” gods are the nice boy-scout deities of patio and lawn.  They are the guardian spirits of regularly washed curtains, and neat hedgerows, the gods of a landscape tamed, and their rare petulant bleats could be from Donald Duck at extremely low ebb. (p 104)

            In CS Lewis’s terms, these “new gods” are definitely tamed pussy-cats; or, as Ian Anderson might put it, you would have to wind them up every day and twice on Sundays!

            I am enchanted with these observations, although I don’t agree with all of Bennett’s conclusions.

            To my mind this is a wondrous evocation of a certain point of view.  This view holds that, as technology develops, the wonders of living are slowly drained by the assurance that “we know everything.”  It’s wild cards like the Contactees (or even, Lord help us, Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot) that help people feel alive.

            It’s only human to look around at the world and wonder, along with Peggy Lee, "Is That All There Is?"  Or, as Gandhi said, “There is more to life than increasing its speed.”

            People and movements such as those described in this book are the kinds of thing that keep the magic of life alive, Bennett feels, thus the book’s subtitle.  Without wonder, you might as well be dead!  Generally speaking, I agree with him.

            As Arthur C Clarke said during the making of 2001: A Space Odyssey, “Magic is alive, God is afoot!  God is alive, magic is afoot!”  (rephrasing the title of a 1966 Leonard Cohen book)

            I hope you enjoy this fun and thoughtful book as much as I did!

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