MJ Banias is the author of The UFO People: A Curious Culture.
With the Navy's recent revelation that its pilots have been regularly spotting unidentified flying objects, some of those in the UFO community who were once thought crazy now have some concrete evidence to point to. And the regular spate of mainstream news stories about UFO sightings has inspired a new generation of UFO hunters and researchers.
I'm regularly asked why I, a 32-year-old man with a good job and a young family spent six years researching the UFO subculture. Simply put, I find the culture and the people fascinating.
Ufology has always been a counter-cultural movement. Faced with decades of ridicule, the UFO community has always been the underdog. I like underdogs. But unidentified flying objects have made a cultural comeback, and the last two years have seen a huge growth in popular media coverage of this curious phenomenon and the people who explore it. It seems that UFOs have become all the rage, and this popular resurgence is inspiring a young new breed of UFO researchers and hunters.
These last few months have seen a surge in media outlets covering the UFO phenomenon. This week, the New York Times ran a story about two Navy fighter pilots who had multiple encounters with strange objects which seemed to perform impossible maneuvers. In one dramatic case, the pilots recounted a story of an object that looked like a “sphere encasing a cube” that flew in-between two fighter jets cruising in tandem just 100 feet apart.
These stories have been covered on all the major news networks and are making headlines around the world.
UFOs have always been fodder for the mainstream media. One can easily find news reports about flying saucers from the 1950s and alleged alien abductees have even appeared on Oprah from time to time. The difference between then and now is that UFOs have begun to slowly leave the gutter of tabloid journalism. The subculture of UFO enthusiasts and researchers seems to be pushing back hard against the stereotypes and taboos established by a mainstream culture that once wrote them off as crazy or conspiracy theorists.
Ryan Sprague, a Manhattan-based UFO researcher, author, podcaster and co-host of The CW’s popular Roswell: Mysteries Decoded is the embodiment of the new UFO generation. He and other young Ufologists perceive the UFO community and discourse as counter-cultural, subversive even.
“The community has always strived for legitimacy, but at the end of the day, they didn’t care what people thought about them or their theories, no matter how outlandish or ridiculous," Sprague told Motherboard. "And now, just like any revolution, UFOs have earned the spotlight after being ridiculed for so long. UFOs exist. Our government and military have admitted it. Now we take that next step and ask the hard questions.”
In my book, The UFO People: A Curious Culture, I present the idea that the UFO subculture has always been, and will continue to be, a group of dissidents who challenge established systems of power and ideology. The problem is that mainstream culture has always believed that people who believe in UFOs are uneducated, conspiratorial and delusional. That is, until now: With the Navy's recent revelations, many in the UFO community have been vindicated.
So why is no one freaking out about these revelations making front page news? As UFO author Chris Rutkowski once explained, perhaps it is because we have become acclimatized to seeing UFOs invading Earth in books and on screen. Whether you are of the Spielberg generation, watching a candy eating E.T., or a millennial who grew up watching The Avengers fight off hordes of evil intergalactic aliens, we are used to seeing this archetypal other in our media. UFOs, as a result, have become much less frightening and perhaps much more interesting. Have we negotiated UFOs into our cultural framework and identity?
Researchers like Sprague are not the only ones being affected by this new rebranding of the UFO. Ufologists come from all walks of life. Deep Prasad is the 23-year-old CEO of ReactiveQ, a multimillion dollar quantum computing tech start-up based out of Toronto. Growing up, UFOs were never really something that interested him. But after reading a 2017 article in the New York Times that broke the existence of a secret Pentagon UFO program, he became fascinated with researching the phenomenon. While he admits that the general public may be a bit slower to appreciate the cultural importance of UFOs, many people in his network seem to be coming around.
“My friends didn't think UFOs were cool for the most part, now most of them are either skeptically intrigued or deeply excited," he said."In their eyes, it's cool but it will be a whole lot cooler when the knowledge we gain from these UFOs affects day to day life.”
Talking about UFOs still is risky business because of the stigma this type of discourse carries, but isn’t this how all new movements begin? Perhaps this UFO renaissance is no different.
It seems that we can no longer question the existence of UFOs, and while the source of these strange objects is still up for debate, we are undoubtedly on the edge of something very new, incredibly cool, and very much in the hands of a brand new generation.