In case you missed the advertising blitz, the Sci Fi Channel has taken a massive gamble with its new miniseries Taken, the full title of which is apparently “Steven Spielberg Presents Taken.” It is the geek-centric network’s bid to be taken more seriously by viewers, critics, and of course advertisers. IBM’s sponsorship of the series bodes well for that effort– though I must say David and I found the newest batch of ebusiness spots to be the highlight of Monday’s episode. This is surprising, given my rather rabid personal interest in the subject of alien abduction.
I am led to wonder just how much Spielberg actually has to do with the series, because say what you want about the man he has always been able to move a story along. After watching the first 4 hours of this 20-hour event, I am beginning to wonder if I might not rather wait for the DVD and watch it at 2X.
Slate has a good review of the series, in which author Chris Mooney makes the excellent point that Spielberg is more responsible than anyone for popularlizing the entire visitation/abduction mythos, which is now a huge industry. Certainly several true believers like Budd Hopkins and John Mack have done more to legitimize (at least partially) contactees’ stories, it is Spielberg who ushered in the Age of the Alien Visitors with Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
A few of you may know that I actually believed for several years in my early adolescence that I was a “contactee.” In retrospect, I’m sure this was just an expression of my understanding that I was different– and for the good little Reagan Youth I was, the prospect of being abducted a few times a year was certainly less thoroughly terrifying than being gay in perpetuo.
To be fair to the scared little boy I was, I did have a few odd experiences of “missing time” and other markers of abduction. When Whitley Streiber’s Communion came out in 1987 (the height of my alien panic) I could not look at the cover of the book– with its google-eyed “grey”– without being gripped by an almost paralyzing fear. Reading accounts of abduction (which I did obsessively, with a voracity that shut out the manifold other anxieties I faced within my family and school life at the time), there was no denying that I had many times experienced a set of sensations almost universally described by contactees: waking suddenly, unable to move or speak, with an absolute sense that some malevolent presence was standing over me or even holding me down, and then feeling as though I were floating or being carried away.
As my asthma was still in full bloom at that age, the terror of these night “visitations” often provoked violent bouts wheezing, which of course only compounded my terror. Several times one of my parents would actually hear the wheezing down the hall and rush in to find me pale and sweating. I couldn’t ever tell them what provoked the attacks– they had plenty to worry about back then– or explain why I didn’t wake them up as I was always supposed to do when my asthma kicked in.
What I didn’t understand was that I couldn’t move or even call for help– not because of aliens, but because I have what I think of as a faulty clutch between my autonomous and autologous nervous systems. I would not fully realize until my mid-twenties, when living with my ex Brian, that I have sleep paralysis— the current favorite skeptical debunking of the abduction craze. Sleep paralysis has a fairly high incidence among the general population, and apparently has forever; almost every culture has a different folk explanation for it, my favorite being the popobawa of Zanzibar, a bat-winged spirit reputed to rape men (particularly skeptical men) in their sleep.
Sleep paralysis, which could be described as a “waking dream” did not that phrase so drastically understate the experience, is in many ways just another sleep disorder. But it is one that as opposed to, say, sleep apnea, creates fertile psychological ground for the growth of florid fantasies inspired by stray cultural memes. Who are we, with our greys and our anal probes, to laugh at the Zanzibarians with their bat-winged dwarf rapists?
I eventually taught Brian what to watch for, and he proved to be adept at rousing me from incidents of sleep paralysis– which interestingly enough were most frequent after I would fall back asleep after a pleasant round of weekend morning sex. Just goes to show that nothing good in life is without its cost.
In the past few years, I’ve experienced fewer and fewer episodes. They are no less physically uncomfortable, and still often provoke an asthmatic response, but knowing that the cause is just a mundane misfiring synapse makes it a lot more manageable and, I think, a little quicker to move on.
Now if I could only figure out how to make Taken do the same!