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Reviewed by:
  • Picturing Extraterrestrials: Alien Images in Modern Culture
  • Dene Grigar
Picturing Extraterrestrials: Alien Images in Modern Culture by John F. Moffitt. Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY, 2003, U.S.A. 595 pp., illus. ISBN: 1-57392-990-5.

One can only imagine John F. Moffitt's chagrin over the fact that his book Picturing Extraterrestrials: Alien Images in Modern Culture is paired with Ronald Story's Encyclopedia of Extraterrestrial Encounters at Amazon.com, for Moffitt spends 556 pages in his own tome lambasting the kind of fanciful encounters included in Story's book. But having ploughed through the former, [End Page 253] readers would consider its pairing with the latter an inspired act of Dantean contrapasso on the part of the on-line book company in just punishment for Moffitt's many ad hominem attacks on subjects and persons such as Frisbees and Princess Diana, spiteful comments about his literary rivals, snobbish presentation of his material, gross generalizations and occasional factual errors. Why would anyone want to spend a hard-earned $30 to find out halfway through the book that the author considers his readers to be a bunch of buffoons (p. 242)?

What could have been a brilliant argument against and critical approach to countering the growing body of non-documented "evidence" for those contemporary myths we have come to know as "The Aliens Living among Us" and "The Aliens in Flying Saucers Who Abduct and Experiment on Humans" devolves into a diatribe against the lower middle class (pp. 27-28, 128), cyberspace (p. 37), television (p. 47), and capitalism (p. 125), to name but a few targets.

Moffitt loses his way early on. His thesis, a good one, is that contemporary images of extraterrestrials are based upon previous concepts relating to occultism, religiosity and psychological phenomena, among other factors. To his credit, the scholarship strongly bears out his argument. So, one has to wonder why, with such good evidence to support his claim, he lapses—starting on page 24—into a derisive manner and outright snobbery. In the book we learn that the area in Canada where famous abductees Betty and Barney Hill were traveling is the "boondocks" (p. 148), Barney Hill is "hen-pecked" (p. 154), women writing to General Mills for information about recipes wrote "chatty" letters (p. 91), abductee Peter is a "space cadet" (p. 81), Star Trek uniforms are "cheesy" (pp. 165, 167), and hypnotists are "demented jockeys" (p. 219). The list goes on ad infinitum.

As if to free himself from the awful chains of civility, Moffitt admits to the reader that he is "not a gentleman" (p.170). On the one hand, readers may see Moffitt's rudeness as a loss of patience for those who live, to quote the well-known adage of Socrates, "the unexamined life." But, on the other, readers can just as easily smell another motive: he acts as a provocateur in order to gain notoriety and sell more books. The answer lies in who his audience really is. If, indeed, as Moffitt supposes, the audience is composed of a bunch of louts, then this review will move a few extra units for him (though most probably not enough to put him in the range of his hated rival, mentioned on page 83, who earned $250,000 for his book, but certainly a few more than the $2,000 in royalties Moffitt has earned for his). If the audience is, indeed, a scholarly one coming from disciplines such as art history, cultural studies and the like, then perhaps such a tactic will fail. The fanciful cover of the alien in Mona Lisa drag and the rancorous introduction may put off a few people.

Two erroneous bits of information presented in the book need to be clarified. First, Moffitt's retelling of Euripides' play, The Bacchae, is incorrect: the bacchantes did not pursue and tear apart the god Dionysos, and Orpheus did not stand in for the god in this play. Pentheus the king was the targeted victim, and he was purposely set up by Dionysos in retaliation for Pentheus's impiety toward the god and the god's mother (p. 192). Orpheus is associated with Dionysos in Greek...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1530-9282
Print ISSN
0024-094X
Pages
pp. 253-254
Launched on MUSE
2004-06-24
Open Access
No
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