Diary

Anne Enright

In Ireland we don’t need aliens; we already have a race of higher beings with strange powers who gaze deep into our eyes and force us to have babies against our will. We call them priests. A loopy Protestant, on the other hand, has to make it up as she goes along. And no one makes it up better than your American Protestant, driven mad by all that sky. I am talking about the alien-breeding programme affecting ‘up to two million’ carefully selected Americans. You have to be white to qualify.

Just after the Secret Histories documentary, broadcast on Channel 4 on 28 August, which showed autopsy footage of aliens who crashed in New Mexico in 1947, Michael Moore’s TV Nation described the Jerusalem Syndrome, which affects a similar kind of banana, in a different kind of way. Visitors to the Holy City dress up as characters from the Bible and stay on in town waiting for the end of the world. ‘The Lord spoke to us when we were in a back room of the Ramada Inn.’ ‘I saw the resurrection of the dead outside my efficiency apartment.’ There is a corner of the Middle East that will be forever Boise, Idaho. Of the 42 Syndrome sufferers currently hospitalised, one is a Jew, one a Catholic and 40 are Protestants.

Not that I am smug about our tribal Irish Catholic lack of credulity – personally I would rather see a flying saucer than the Virgin Mary and not only because they move faster. The alien-breeding programme that leaves strange bruises around the genitals of middle America, though spooky, may be just about preferable to the very real fight in Ireland over who owns your insides. ‘Get your rosaries off our ovaries’ was the battle cry, but the pro-life louts are still hanging around the Dublin streets, with their short hair and jars full of dead baby. They aren’t there this morning, in their usual spot on my way to the shops, and so I amuse myself instead with shafts of light and floating, and small putty-grey creatures with rubbery fingers and blank shiny eyes. Whoops. Nothing looks more like a foetus than your average small grey from beyond the Horsehead Nebula.

I watched the autopsy footage in a friend’s house, trying to remember how to spell ‘hooey’ and wondering why they didn’t just use a bad cameraman instead of a good cameraman trying to look bad. But what annoyed me most was not the MTV white-outs, when the editor lost his nerve and tried to get fancy – wasn’t the guy who provided the footage working in the music industry? – or the fine gestural rubber-glove-acting of the surgeon, hampered, the way an actor can be, by trying to act in a white sack. What annoyed me was the way they got their aliens wrong.

I sort America aliens into two types – boys’ aliens and girls’ aliens. Boys’ aliens are the ones that everyone knows about. They fly around the place in different-shaped craft, many of which can turn on a dime. They come from big mother-ships that are so big you just couldn’t say how big they are. Their spacecraft appear over long roads and in big skies, glow strangely and don’t do a lot – a few scorch marks in the grass, some mutilated cattle. The CIA know all about boys’ aliens, the radar blips and the pilot’s black box, because boys can not only verify their aliens scientifically, they also conspire to cover this scientific proof up. Hence the 1947 Roswell Incident, the subject of the Channel 4 programme, in which the Air Force covered up the fact that real (boys’) aliens were recovered from a crashed spaceship in New Mexico, until footage emerged of the autopsy.

The people who made the hoax autopsy footage should have listened to the girls instead, because the girls actually get to meet their aliens – not that they remember this, until they go into hypnotic regression therapy. There are enough transcripts of women weeping as they recover the details of their alien abductions: all they had to do was read them in order to get the anatomy right. We’re talking three fingers here, not six; aliens have no knuckles, no knees and no muscular structure. Their mouths never open. Above all, aliens never ever have sexual organs and a pregnant alien, like the one we saw on the pathologist’s table, is a contradiction in terms.

Things move fast in this business. These days, abductees are well-informed about the beasts that float them out of their cars and beds on shafts of light. ‘There was just this usual grey crap,’ says one woman, recovering her first memory of being on board an alien craft. When they are walking around on our own planet, aliens may employ strange props, something slightly ‘off’: a stetson hat of unnatural size, a miner’s lamp, a false moustache pinned beneath a non-existent grey nose. The silver suits of the Fifties are all gone, as are the space-bitches of the Sixties. (‘I am Lamxhia and I need your earth sperm.’) When you’re on the ship these days, with your clothes in a heap on the floor, lying on a one-legged table with your ankles in (optional) stirrups, there are only two types of alien – small greys and tall greys. Small greys move you around despite your protests and the fact that your legs don’t work; and when they have attended to all those little surgical details – taking tissue, scraping out eggs, putting in foetuses, or nasal implants, or that small implant that goes in the back of your calf – then it’s time for the tall grey to come in, wave them off, and gaze deep into your eyes. This is the priestly moment when it all makes sense. Aliens’ eyes are large, lanceolate and black; they are non-reflective and have no pupils. It is a terrifying thing to look into an alien’s eyes, but, against your will, you may find yourself saturated with emotion and a sense of meaning, helpless with love.

Not surprisingly, different hypnotherapists produce different kinds of alien. The physical details are roughly the same but the emotional effect on the abductee varies. According to C.D.B. Bryan’s incredibly lazy book, [*] in which he details the findings of a recent conference on the phenomenon, abductees are 94 per cent Caucasian, 75 per cent female, and have 1.9 children. All of them arrive at the therapist’s frightened, distressed, and with a story about missing time. They sensed something strange at the foot of the bed, they saw something strange at the side of the road – then it’s two hours later and they are in the wrong place with no idea how they got there. They are heading south on the wrong highway and the tank is still full of gas. They wake with the sheets awry and a husband who is sleeping too soundly. They arrive for work two hours late with their blouse on the wrong way around. You see? It’s happened to you.

The main practitioner in the abductee-hypnotherapy field is Budd Hopkins, a New York artist who stumbled into the aliens business when an article he wrote for the Village Voice, ‘Sane Citizens See UFO In New Jersey’, won him a postbag of frightened people who wanted to know what had happened to them after they too saw a strange light in the sky. He is now experienced in the techniques of hypnotic regression, or assisted imagination – ‘Let’s allow it to start getting dark in the room ... I want you to get the feeling of getting into your bed.’ His abductees attend group therapy sessions to deal with their feelings of helplessness and overwhelming anger. They are now abducted so regularly, they don’t know what to do. Their children are abducted, their parents are abducted, and their grandparents feel a bit off-colour.

Bryan says that Hopkins has regressed, or helped in the regression of, 1500 people. Hopkins’s favourite story concerns Linda Cortile, one of his abductees from New York, who was floated out of her apartment in a shaft of light, wearing a nightie. This incident was witnessed by a sixty-year-old woman driving across Brooklyn Bridge who subsequently wrote to Hopkins. It was also witnessed by Dan and Richard, two security officers who were driving to the airport when their car inexplicably cut out. Their passenger, they claim, was none other than Pérez de Cuéllar. Serious believers might wish that Hopkins would stop telling this story after Jim Schnabel described the follow-up in his book Dark White. [†] Richard and Dan started following Linda around and finally abducted her themselves. They brought her to a beach house, forced her to wear a nightie, ducked her in the surf, threw away her wedding ring and worshipped her as ‘Our Lady of the Sands’. Linda herself claims to be descended from Joan of Arc, so – pace Bryan – you don’t really care when she sees UN number plates on Richard and Dan’s car, or CIA notepaper in their beach house. Nor do you think that Dan’s sojourn in a mental hospital was part of a CIA double-bluff. Pérez de Cuéllar never made a statement, but this didn’t stop several abductees from seeing him on space ships.

Other ‘therapists’ muddy the waters by being abducted themselves after a year or so of helping others. Leo Sprinkle, one of the first guys in the field, lost his job as a professor in the University of Wyoming’s department of psychology when he came out as an abductee in 1989. Richard Boylan PhD was snatched only recently; his subsequent travels around US military facilities have convinced him that they already have their own flying saucers. John E. Mack is, however, the jewel in the abductees’ crown. He is a Harvard professor who says that ‘you can’t say this phenomenon shatters our notions of physical reality and then treat it entirely literally in terms of our physical reality.’ Quite. At least his psychological training seems to ensure that his patients don’t end up feeling so bad; most believe that the aliens are here for a higher purpose and many change to careers more suited to ‘cosmic citizens’, like Shiatsu massage.

The therapists all seem to be nice men, concerned by the very real grief and rage experienced by their ‘patients’. Many are handsome in a rugged kind of way and admit to being brought up as ‘strict materialists’. They really do want to do something. They really don’t know what is going on. Their world-view has been exploded by a series of highly distressed women whom only they can help. The women’s sincerity, the weirdness of their accounts, the fact that they seem so normal (read ‘stupid’), convinces the therapists that they ‘couldn’t be making it all up’. How, for example, could you make up the detail about a small grey trying on your shoes? (Speaking as someone who makes things up for a living, who can spot a ‘strict materialist’ from five hundred paces, I think the shoes are a nice detail, as is the green elevator shaft with eyes and the man in blue striped pyjamas.)

It’s funny the way Americans think that a PhD is a badge of sanity, given that all the anecdotal evidence points the other way. It’s also funny the way they talk about ‘normal’ Americans as a moral category of people who are honest, and therefore devoid of imagination. A tendency to fetishise the normal is central to the whole abduction phenomenon. Nine of Hopkins’s abductees were tested blind by an independent psychologist who found that they were ‘of above average intelligence’, with a ‘considerable richness of inner life’, which is tied to a ‘risk of being overwhelmed by the urgency of their impulses’. They suffer from low self-esteem and relative egocentricity. Under stressful conditions, ‘at least six of the nine showed a potential for more or less transient psychotic experiences ... with confused and disordered thinking that can be bizarre, peculiar, or very primitive and emotionally charged.’ These people are considered incapable of confabulation because they are not pathological liars, paranoid schizophrenics or hysteroid characters subject to fugue states and/or multiple personalities. They are normal.

The inexplicable thing (it must be true!) is the way all their different accounts tally. Time was, people who suffered childhood sexual abuse were accused of ‘making it all up’. As many as 35 per cent of abductees were also abused, yet they are ‘making up’ something else entirely. Regression therapy, the well-intentioned Mack likes to point out, moves through dissociative strategies and false memories to approach the real facts of a patient’s past. The difference with his patients is that some of them have a false memory of sexual abuse, which in fact covers the real story of alien abduction. It is only of limited use asking whether this man should be in gaol.

There is a considerable amount at stake here; the word ‘hysteric’ is as charged and as complicated as the women it tries to identify. Besides, what about all those, to quote an abductee, ‘baby things. Baby here. Baby there. Baby everything. Everything is babies. Oh God, I mean like babies, OK?’ As Kristeva says, via Mallarmé, ‘ “What is there to say concerning childbirth?” I find that question much more pungent than Freud’s well-known “What does a woman want?” Indeed what does it mean to give birth to a child? Psychoanalysts do not talk much about it.’

Well, yes. At least in Ireland the imagination is still held in high regard. ‘Making things up’ is a normal and often social activity. This has its drawbacks, of course. There are always the priests, some of them abusive – and the babies. In Ireland we have babies all the time. We have them just like that. ‘I think you should forget about aliens,’ says Gerry, my friend. ‘All that nonsense. Have a baby instead.’ And I say: ‘Watch the skies.’

[*] Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind (Weidenfeld, 477 pp., £20, 14 August, 0 297 81736 1).

[†] Dark White: Aliens, Abductions, and the UFO Obsession (Hamish Hamilton, 303 pp., £16.99, April 1994, 0 241 13415 3).