When I think of people who profess absolute certainty that there’s no extraterrestrial life in the universe, I think of Lobsters. I imagine one somewhere in the pitch, black depths off the coast of Alaska, going about his Lobster life. Given the opportunity, could that entity conceive of a massive terrestrial civilization of human beings that inhabited the very same planet as it did? I’m thinking that it couldn’t. And so, when I ponder the possibility of life in outer space, I think of the lobster, realizing full well that in the universal scheme, I’m a Lobster, too, and whatever exists out there is entirely beyond the powers of my imagination, perception and reason.
As such, I’ve always been entirely fascinated by those people who make it their life’s mission to discover mortal proof of flying saucers and anal-probing aliens. Any show that has UFO in the title is catnip to me, and I will watch it without hesitation. One such program is the History Channel’s “UFO Hunters.”
It’s a documentary series in which a team, led by Bill Birnes, publisher of UFO magazine, investigates cases of unidentified aerial phenomena. Birnes, probably somewhere in his mid-60s, is almost always seen wearing aviator sunglasses and a baseball hat, as if trying to conceal his identity from those who would want him eliminated. He’s also usually sporting some sort of bomber jacket, which seems to be the preferred look of many men that age who hope to project the vigorous look of a retired top gun pilot.
The other members of the team are Pat Uskert, who knows how to scuba dive, and Kevin Cook, who is skeptical. Together, the three men travel the world, interviewing UFO witnesses, compiling and analyzing evidence, and conducting their own peculiar brand of research.
A recent episode investigated an American military base located near the Bermuda Triangle, called AUTEC, a center for underwater research, which the crew ominously refers to as the Navy’s Area 51. Mysterious, alien activity is reputed to be taking place there.
The show starts with a bombardment of technical information, as the investigators reel off dates and statistics with an impressive and scholarly confidence. This creates the appearance of some sort of intellectual rigor, without actually clarifying anything they’re talking about. It’s a sort of sophistry, I guess, a distracting suggestion of science rather than the presentation of science. You know, the sort of thing any one of us would have done when asked a question in grade ten Biology class.
We then charge into the interview portion, in which Bill, who agrees with absolutely anything that a witness has to say, nods his head vigorously, regardless of what he’s being told. In the breathless, tell-me-more fashion of Sycophants, the “UFO Hunters” ask leading questions that are actually encouragements instead of sober minded inquiry.
After interviewing a motley crew of outsiders who claim to have seen three-fingered spacemen and flying ships the size of continents, the UFO Hunters decide to infiltrate the military base.
Led by Bill, who was shouting, “Show us the ET!” the three men walked toward the gated entrance to the AUTEC facility. As they do this, there’s a quick cut to a helicopter cutting aimlessly across the sky. The hunters huddle together and declare that they are under intense surveillance and are in peril, and then beat a hasty retreat. The connection between their assault on AUTEC and the helicopter was spurious at best, and there was no more evidence to suggest that they were being monitored by government than they were by the Seagull picking through some nearby garbage. No matter, their florid and self-aggrandizing paranoia was dramatic, suggesting omnipotent agencies and grand conspiracies.
The next step was to investigate the facility by water, and so they hopped in a boat. Proudly informing us that they were going to encounter sharks, Pat, who in spite of his mechanical engineering degree, seems like a bit of dumb blonde, dives into the water. He finds a cable, which they conclude could be the key to the entire mystery.
Standing alone at the end of a pier, the UFO Hunters meet an improbably named Frenchman who’s wearing a double-breasted jacket and tie. Looking a bit like Michael Douglas, he boasts the long, thinning hair of decaying aristocracy and tells us that AUTEC is a built on top of the lost civilization of Atlantis and that it is a portal to multiple universes, before whispering that he cannot reveal his sources, because if he did so, he would be killed. Bill nods vigorously, in complete agreement with everything he has uttered.
Kevin, as is his wont, remains skeptical, insisting on further proof, and so we head off to meet Bruce, who wears a floppy, yellow hat and claims to be a pilot who has traveled in time. Honestly, this man, who spoke slowly and had a childish grin sliding all over his face, struck me as somebody who had suffered severe head trauma.
The UFO Hunters, making truly insane leaps of logic and connectivity, stitch together a phantasmagoric tapestry of conspiracy, with Bill, at the end of the show, declaring that they have “conclusively shown that the US military could possibly be working with aliens.”
Well, thanks for that, Bill.
“UFO Hunters” is really just a piece of fiction scripted for children and zealots. It’s kind of fun and campy the first time you see it, but by the second time, the obsessive manipulations and evident delusions of the crew begin to feel more like mental illness than the spirited efforts of inquiring minds. And now, after three seasons of tilting at windmills, “UFO Hunters” is coming to an end on Wednesday, when on their final episode, they investigate the phenomena of orbs, or as many of us call them, the spots we see after staring at the sun too long.
Michael Murray is a freelance writer. For the last three and a half years he’s written a weekly column for the Ottawa Citizen about watching television. He presently lives in Toronto. You can find more of his musings on his blog, or check out his Facebook page.