Sunday, October 11, 2009

ONE LAME SEMINAR or, WHY I MISS THE NINETIES...

My public library is currently featuring an astronomical exhibit. I attended the opening night ceremony a few weeks ago which showcased middle school kids playing science fiction themed orchestral pieces and a self-described “history teller” doing a presentation on Galileo. While there, I glanced through the brochure and saw an upcoming seminar entitled, “Are UFO’s real?”

Let’s examine that question for a moment, shall we? The very phrasing of it is idiotic because it pre-supposes that there is no such thing as an unidentified object flying through the air. In other words, if you see something flying and don’t know what it is and nobody is aware of it being there it’s not real. Good to know. Call me crazy, but I might have called it “Are Flying Saucers Real?” since that’s what the average person thinks UFO means.

Still, the one-hour presentation was being run by a man who had been connected to the government-sponsored investigations into claims of saucer sightings in the 1970’s and 1980’s, so my interest was certainly piqued. On top of those credentials, he also worked at the local planetarium, a place I’ve been trying without success to locate for the better part of a decade. I figured at most it would be an interesting way to spend an hour on a Saturday afternoon.

I was wrong.

I was also about fifteen minutes late because I was watching the excellent film, “Frost vs. Nixon” and didn’t want to pause it and lose the flow. By the time I made it into the auditorium, the presenter was already deeply into his presentation…about the planets. Frowning, I sat near the back and took note of the tiny audience. There were lots of kids in the room, all of them fidgeting and making weird noises. To my right sat an intense black man with a handful of borrowed “Lost” DVD’s. On the other side sat another man providing his rapt attention and a second representative from the planetarium who interjected once in a while.

Within minutes, the presenter had displayed the planets of the solar system, and peppered the photos with obviously fake “UFO” pictures which he then pointed out were fake. His sad attempts at humor involved showing a planet or series of stars, then a fake flying saucer and cracking a half-assed one-liner meant to sound as if he’d spotted an alien spacecraft in the middle of the presentation to the sound of nervous chuckling.

I realize the presence of children automatically dumbs down the subject matter these days since the current crop of parents believes kids must be talked down to instead of made to understand adult concepts, so I wasn’t expecting greatness. I was, however, expecting a so-called man of science to be a little less condescending toward the subject of the possibility that at least a small percentage of unexplained sightings could possibly be alien spacecraft.

Instead, it became increasingly apparent that he was there to pimp the planetarium. (I can’t believe I even wrote that phrase but I really hope it catches on with the pop culture.) Even part of the presentation involved him showing us a Goggle satellite photo of the place from the sky and repeatedly showing everyone how to get there by car. What this had to with whether or not UFO’s are real is anyone’s guess.

Even more annoying than the presenter’s tendencies towards stupid humor to deemphasize the subject matter was his lack of willingness to discuss it when people asked him questions! I can’t imagine being asked to talk about writing and then brushing off a question related to why I prefer present tense narrative, yet that is the equivalent of what he did.

I was not at all surprised to hear about his connection to SETI, the rabidly anti-UFO organization that believes searching for repeating frequencies in the vastness of space is the way we’re going to locate new life and new civilizations.

The intense and very well-spoke gentleman to my right asked him about Planet X, which is the theorized tenth plant located on the other side of our sun according to some alternative researchers such as David Icke. The presenter brushed that off with vague references to the sun’s behavior as definitive proof of no tenth planet, although he admitted that the asteroid field between Mars and Jupiter might have been a planet at once time. When the man asked him why aliens would want this planet in particular, he replied with a stunningly bland, “I don’t know. We don’t know.” That became his mantra for the rest of the time.

The man left a few moments later. Ironically, a lady sitting up front decided to piggyback off his point and continue the discussion about why aliens would want to come here. The other planetarium employee said our water content alone would be reason enough. He should have run the damned thing!

The presenter somehow worked everything back to the size and scale of the universe; all fascinating stuff but not at all what was described in the pamphlet. I left in a disappointed daze, reflecting on how much better this type of thing would have been in the Nineties. As far as I was concerned, this guy had a twofold agenda: Pimp the planetarium, and gloss over the concept of UFO’s as alien piloted spacecraft with stupid jokes and lots of “I don’t know” level commentary. He accomplished both missions.

I, on the other hand, simply wasted an hour of my day.


At least it was free~