[dropcap]The[/dropcap] connection between what we watch on our screens, and see in the skies.
In 996 something strange happened in the UK. From out of nowhere our fair island was swarmed with reports of strange lights in the sky, mysterious craft and flying saucers. The Ministry Of Defence’s UFO desk was inundated with almost six times as many sightings as the year before.
Was it an invasion? Was E.T. finally here? Well, no… it was Will Smith.
“We’ve grown up with science fiction movies like ‘Independence Day’, and no one can divorce themselves from it. Not that people were seeing that one movie, and then going out to look for UFOs – It simply raised their awareness, and they became more likely to report things,” he says.
David is a Sheffield based journalist, folklore expert, and official consultant to MOD’s Classified UFO files at The National Archives. Think Fox Mulder with a South Yorkshire accent.
Roland Emmerich’s alien-invasion spectacular ‘Independence Day’ was 996’s summer blockbuster and it sent the world extraterrestrial mad. “Newspapers even began running UFO campaigns,” says David, “and the figures leapt from 117 sightings in 1995 to 609 in 996”
“People would write in with sightings from decades before, encouraged to do so by the craze. It’s the power of popular culture.”
This phenomena of a film affecting UFO reports led to the coining of endearing term “The Will Smith Effect”, but it’s not all down to the Fresh Prince.
“The biggest spike was around 1977/8 – around the time we got ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’,” says David, “But there are also anomalies: 982 for example, when ‘E.T.’ was released was a particularly quiet year.”
“You couldn’t look at it scientifically and say ‘Right, this film is coming out – therefore we should expect this many sightings’. It doesn’t work like that. But by-and-large there is a strong relationship between aliens on screen, and UFOs in our skies.
To David, explaining UFO sightings is all down to trends: “People’s descriptions alter with time,” he says. “In the 50s it was all flying saucers, and right now it’s big black triangles. Largely influenced by Stealth aircraft sightings. That’s then echoed in our media, and people largely begin to see only what it’s popular to see.”
There’s two explanations for this, says David: “Either aliens are very fashion conscious and move with the times, or people interpret their experience through what’s going on around them.
“Quite often we see what we believe, and not believe what we see.”
A man dedicated to explaining the unexplainable, David doesn’t stop with the crafts themselves – he says there’s a problem with cinema’s depiction of aliens too:
Mark Lankeste - Yahoo