Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mavens and Wags: Terms of Enjeerment

Semantics is not “just semantics” it’s a purposeful method. We use terms and words for specific reasons: to trivialize, to support, to cast aspersions in covert ways, to bring light to ideas. The sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious ways we shade our meaning with words has everything to do with what we’re saying, and why we’re saying it.

I do it. You do it. We all do it. For example, the reason why there are so many terms for the umbrella “skeptic” is that there are dozens of variations of the meta label “skeptic.” A Pelicanist is not always a skeptic, a debunker isn’t always a skeptic. There are chronic skeptics; in the same small ballpark as the pathological skeptics, skeptoids, etc. but they’re not always one and the same. A lot of people who use these terms are aware of these different notes in the music of description, and so, we have fun using them, and know why we use them. But, I’m not here to discuss skeptics. Well, I am, kind of. Those who have all kinds of terms for UFO researchers.

In this context, rarely are the terms “ufo researcher,” UFO investigator,” used with a straightforward intent. Instead, there are terms like “would be UFO investigator,” or “self-styled UFO investigator” which immediately does what it’s intended to do: trivialize the individual researching UFOs. By modifying the term “UFO investigator” or “UFO researcher’ with words that cast doubt, the individual UFO investigator is immediately cast as non-credible, something rather shabby and seedy. Don’t trust him/her, is the message.

Some of those who use these terms have hard ideas about who is, and who isn’t, a valid researcher. They hoard data and keep information to themselves, releasing in secret the holy UFO papers to only those that pass the test. (Assuming they really have what they say they have.) Or, they refuse to make public their years of study and research because it will be “misinterpreted,” and “fought over,” and the “unwashed masses” will get ahold of such sacred data. No doubt. So what? It’s a given in the fields of UFO, crypto, and paranormal studies. As I’ve argued in the past, it’s not only a given, it’s an innate part of what makes Forteana (including UFOs) what it is. It wouldn’t exist otherwise. So let them at it, and the good ones will bring to light the good stuff, and the others will do what they do: provide entertainment, distract, distort and eventually go away. Even if they don’t, it doesn't matter. We can choose to ignore them or spend time arguing about them. Their inevitable presence does not justify the withholding of information.

There’s the term “bona fide” researcher. Exactly what determines a “bona fide” researcher is unclear, other than the obvious: whoever they decide it is. I assume a “bona fide researcher” is someone who’s published books by a “bone fide” publisher, and done extensive clinically inspired investigations into various UFO cases. All the while studiously avoiding any mention of paranormal, supernatural, mystical, or Bigfoot/cryptid phenomena, of course. As soon as you bring up the subject of paranormal Bigfoot, you’re no longer taken seriously. (And that’s from within the small world of UFO/Fortean research. Imagine what it’s like outside this peculiar world of esoteric studies.)

Watching the National Geographic disaster, er, program, on Roswell recently, (The Real Roswell) the narrator mentioned something about a researchers “UFO campaign” as if the researcher was up to no good, out to recruit unsuspecting citizens into a cabal of UFO studies.

There are terms like UFO enthusiasts, as if we’re all rabid NASCAR fans. UFO mavens, which on the surface sounds okay, since “maven” means expert. Maven is also something of a quaint word, invoking an image of something homey and old fashioned; harmless, maybe even sweetly goofy, but not to be taken seriously. Sometimes this is prefaced with “self styled ufo maven,” which of course is patronizing. Like the “self styled UFO researcher” the modifier “self styled” is used to cast doubt on the researcher’s character and credibility.

There’s “UFO devotee” which brings to mind some sort of religious nut, or at least a dopey cult member. It puts the entire UFO phenomena into a religious (therefore, not serious) context, for anyone spending much time at all studying UFOs is a nut. A religious fanatic, a cultist, a kook.

We have “UFO buff,” which is like the “UFO enthusiast.” And vaguely illicit, you can’t help juxtapose buff with nude and naked, no matter how subconsciously the imagery. That’s how it works. So you have sex crazed UFO researchers running around, and that’s no good. This despite the fact UFO lore is rife with tales of sexual unions with strange beings, breeding, kidnapping and capture, nightly bedroom visitations, examinations involving genitals, ova, sperm and other intrusive probings, hybrid babies, and phantom pregnancies.

We have “UFO hobbyists'” which could be put in the same category as “enthusiast,” “maven,” and “wag.” A bit old fashioned, and conjures up images of a harmless, but eccentric individual, tinkering away in their garage or den, spending hours on such silliness as UFOs. Replace UFOs with stamp collecting or cataloging your Star Trek figurine collection and we have an image of a nerdy, slightly antisocial misfit.

There’s “UFO wags” which is a bit like “UFO maven,” bringing to mind some old dotting absent minded eccentric blithering away in his (or her) overstuffed library of ancient UFO books.

Of course there’s ‘UFO believer,” which is worse than the vague ‘UFO devotee,” since it implies that one believes in UFOs.

Sometimes flying saucer is used instead of UFO. I use flying saucer myself a lot but for different reasons. Like Stanton Friedman, who uses the term freely, the use is a political statement; take back the flying saucer! For the smugly skeptical, the term “flying saucer” is used to further trivialize and marginalize. No one uses flying saucer anymore in a serious context, and like “maven,” it’s a bit old fashioned. It paints the UFO, er, flaying saucer researcher as a nut, chasing after little green men in astounding machines from outer space.

Other words are used as well, “woo” is the ever popular favorite to describe everything from a “believer” in UFOs to people who say they’ve seen a Sasquatch. There isn’t much hiding here; woo is self - explanatory; it’s clear the meaning is “you’re an idiot.”

There’s also the “true believer” to denote those who, presumably are fanatical about their experiences -- believing the messengers, or insisting they have the truth. And the even less polite “true ‘bleever.” While there are those individual who’ve had anomalous experiences insist what’s happened to them is “the truth,” and their own interpretation is presented as the truth, there are countless others (like myself) who know two things for sure: 1. Something really damn weird happened, and 2. I have no idea what that damn really weird thing was. The use of the terms “true believer” and “true ‘bleever” as well as “woo,” and “woo woo” etc. don’t address the phenomena; they simply reject the individual and the experience. They’d love for us to shut up and go away. If we can’t, or won’t, accept their explanations, then we’re, at best, “woos” and worse, “true ‘bleevers.” (And “willfully ignorant.” )

The lines blur; you have someone with anomalous experiences, and you have religious fanatics, whether they’re Christian fundies who want creationism taught in schools, or the some other brand of religious fascism. To the “skeptic” however, it’s all the same: crop circles, UFOs, ghosts, Bigfoot, etc. Use of these cute little phrases like “UFO fanatic” only shove the subject into the abyss, which, of course, is the intent.


Lesley said...

Of all those terms true believer is the one I hate. Because normally the ones who use it do so in the same manner as woo woo. I can use it and I simply mean someone who may have seen a ufo and there for truly believes they exist, whereas the others mean someone who will believe any story associated with ufos. I guess really it depends on who uses any of those terms as to whether they seem offensive or not.
Anyhow, great post.

Alfred Lehmberg said...

This *bunch* of banal sociopaths (or single schizophrenic?) not only provides obfuscation in the guise of information, insipidness in the guise of intellect, and opaqueness in the guise of openness... They are scalawags, slanderers, and mendacious miscreants of the most _unctuous_ excrescence.

Lately, Stewart Miller gives them (him?) a wide accolade and laudatory comments. To soon, I suspect, Mr. Miller will be in the indolent sights of same and pay the price for his thoughtful indulgence and fair-mindedness. Grasping this flatulent snake to his breast, he'll get bit. But what would he expect?

It's a snake, friend! ...Said with respect to real snakes everywhere.

Damages remain demanded!
>> AVG Blog --
>>> U F O M a g a z i n e --

Aura said...

great site!

R. Lee said...

Thank you Lesley!

R. Lee said...

Hi Alfred, good to see you again!

I'm really enjoying your columns in UFO magazine!

R. Lee said...

Aura, thank you. I've added a link to your blog. thanks for stopping by.