Biopower in Space: Technology, Reproduction, and the Alien Agenda
Aliens are ubiquitous in contemporary United States culture. Despite this, individuals who tell stories of interactions with extraterrestrials are marginalized. Drawing on the work of abduction researchers, as well as from abduction accounts collected from over 300 people by the author, this essay unpacks the cultural critique embedded in narratives of alien abduction and explores the rhetorical process of creating systems of discourse. Toward this end, I situate the master abduction narrative within the web of Michel Foucault’s concept of “biopower.” I argue when read on this level, abduction narratives both confirm and challenge authority; articulate a fragmentation of the self I label body alienation; and promote a rhetoric of empowered victimization.
Space, the final frontier, has served as a stage on which to play out the drama of life. Since the 1950s, movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, War of the Worlds, and The Day the Earth Stood Still have told, and re-told, the story of invading extraterrestrials. During the 1950s, as fantastic stories about aliens graced the big screen, “contactees” began reporting meeting with benevolent “space brothers.” These stories described very human-like extraterrestrials who came in the spirit of love. Contactee stories were quickly ridiculed and pushed to the fringes of mainstream believability while fictional stories of evil, invading aliens continued to have blockbuster success. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, books like Whitley Strieber’s New York Times bestseller, Communion and television shows like The X-Files described extraterrestrials who abducted humans in order to conduct various examinations, often focused on reproduction. Unlike contactee narratives, however, alien abduction hybridization narratives persisted in the public sphere and today, the big-headed, black-eyes, thin grey alien has become an icon in American popular culture.
Historically, the emergence of the hybridization narrative coincided with increasingly complex advancements in medical technology concerning reproduction. As medical technology advanced, the female body increasingly became an object of study and a site of intervention and manipulation. A special issue of Life magazine, “Control of Life,” appeared in 1965 and through a series of articles told the story of “the exploration and colonization of human bodies by science, and the implications that project for the national/human future” (Brown 75). Popular narratives increasingly placed the technology-wielding doctor as having control over the body of the passive patient. Similarly, Rickie Solinger notes that Roe v. Wade gave reproductive decision making power to “the woman and her physician” (3). Prenatal screening, amniocentesis, in-vitro fertilization, and the surveillance of pregnancy by medical professionals brings with them ethical and existential questions about agency, power, and authority. It’s no wonder then, that people wonder about the medicalization of reproduction.
In the mid-1990s, as a graduate student, I was intrigued by the tension between the ubiquitousness of aliens in popular culture and the marginalization of individuals who claimed real contact with aliens. I wanted to know the ways people come to believe in the reality of experiences that are not granted space in mainstream public discourse. Specifically, my rhetorical interest was piqued by the role language plays for individuals in negotiating a public space that is cynical—if not hostile—of their explanation of events. Ellis (2001) calls this an “ungrammatical experience, an experience for which there is a limited cultural belief language” (143). Of course, I was also interested in these stories as articulations of collective aspirations and anxieties especially as the focus on reproduction seemed so common.
As a rhetorical scholar, my primary interest was in the stories individuals tell to make sense of experience. My research focuses on first person narratives that I have gathered over the past two decades. Beginning in 19981, I collected questionnaires from individuals who claimed to be in contact with extraterrestrials. Between 1998 - 2005, I maintained an on-line survey of open-ended questions as well as questions designed to measure other personality characteristics. This on-line instrument also asked for basic demographic information. Participants answered follow-up questions either in writing or in an interview, to confirm narrative and demographic details. This resulted in 130 individuals who reported one or more encounter with extraterrestrials2
Of those individuals claiming to have had a typical abduction experience, my work indicates that ⅔ report undergoing some sort of examination. For the current essay, I use narratives from 20 women who included an “exam” sequence/description in their story that focused on reproduction. I have assigned pseudonyms to the participants for readability. For this essay, I also use the work of mainstream, published abduction researchers. Abduction researchers are (usually) credentialed individuals who work with experiencers, often through hypnosis, to help them remember, and integrate, their experiences. The primary researchers cited for this essay are John E. Mack, M.D., of Harvard University and David M. Jacobs, Ph.D., of Temple University.
This essay unpacks the cultural critique embedded in narratives of alien abduction and explores the rhetorical process of creating systems of discourse. As with any socio-political issue, there are many different ways discourse appears in the public sphere. On one hand there are experts who profess to study and make sense of the phenomenon, and on the other hand, there are those individuals who experience the phenomenon firsthand. These two sources of information complement and challenge each other as they offer their own versions of the truth, and combine to create larger discursive structures that regulate the possible realities of abduction.
By juxtaposing the descriptions, explanations, and justifications concerning the modern abduction phenomenon offered by both the abduction experiencers and the researchers, I expose the tensions within abduction discourse. I situate abduction discourse within the web of Michel Foucault’s concept of “biopower.” I argue when read on this level the abduction narratives offered by experiencers both confirm and challenge authority; articulate a fragmentation of the self I label “body alienation;” and promote a rhetoric of empowered victimization.
Foucault and Biopower
Foucault’s “repressive hypothesis” in his History of Sexuality presents the contradictions bound up with sex and discourse. Specifically, he writes that discourse about sex has historically functioned simultaneously as “refusal, blockage and invalidation, but also incitement and intensification” (11). So as individuals were sanctioned against talking about sex, they were simultaneously institutionally prompted—through confessionals, psychiatric and penal practices—to analyze sex to uncover hidden meanings. Foucault writes that sex became “a whole web of discourses, special knowledges, analyses and injunctions” (“Sexuality” 26). AAE narratives are one consequence of this “polymorphous incitement to discourse” (“Sexuality” 34).
Foucault identifies the body as the site on which sexual and reproductive politics are inscribed. He defines biopower as “the set of mechanisms through which the basic biological features of the human species became the object of a political strategy, or a general strategy of power” (“Security, Territory, Population” 1). Within his theory, there are two poles—“the body as machine” and “the focus on the ‘species body’” (“Security, Territory, Population” 140). Sawicki notes, “Foucault intended to locate the processes through which women’s bodies were controlled through a set of discourses and practices governing both the individual's body and the health, education and welfare of the population, namely, the discourses and practice of ‘biopower’” (67). Each of these poles serves as a site around which power and identity are created and negotiated.
Although his approach has been criticized as being overly simplistic in simply labeling women’s bodies as “docile” and “sites;” McNay recommends “Foucault’s earlier studies of how the subject is constituted as an object of knowledge is to be complemented with an analysis of how the individual comes to understand him/herself as a subject” (49). Examining individual abduction experiencer narratives demonstrates how they simultaneously challenge and confirm authorized discourses about biopower at each pole and are thus complicit in the creation of contemporary discourses about reproductive technology. By using Foucault as a lens, the current analysis is able to demonstrate how certain elements within the master narrative of alien abduction functions as a critique/confirmation of the discourse surrounding reproductive politics and also demonstrate how discourses from two sites—experts and participants—become complicit in the creation of larger discursive, regulatory, systems.
Affirmation of Authority
The mythic properties of the alien abduction narrative have been recognized by many scholars (Jung 1978; Matheson 1998; Kelley-Romano 2006a). As a living myth, it is an amalgamation of individual experiences, historical precedent, cultural tropes, and social approval. On one level, this cultural narrative can be read as a space in which experiencers are able to metaphorically articulate anxieties and aspirations they feel are not valued in mainstream culture. Abduction discourse thus serves as a space in which dominant meanings can be challenged. As a non-mainstream belief, alien abduction is positioned in a space which simultaneously demands and eschews authoritative legitimization. One of the major tensions articulated in these stories is the confirmation and acceptance of expertise as essential to finding the truth and the simultaneous resistance to the authority of the extraterrestrials. Authoritative knowledge is confirmed through a shared critical question, adoption of the rhetorical form and style of scientific discourse, and advocacy of submission to the researcher.
For Foucault, authoritative knowledge is the locus for bio-power (“Sexuality” 58). Within the abduction literature, several researchers have emerged as important voices of the community in chronicling the events of the abduction phenomenon. In particular, David Jacobs and John Mack have played significant roles in articulating the scope and significance of abduction3. Brown notes that “this community of experts has played a central role in creating and shaping the abduction phenomenon” (24). Abduction researchers function within the abduction community to help abductees integrate their experiences. Foucault notes that sex was “a thing to not be simply condemned or tolerated, but managed, inserted into systems of utility, regulated for the greater good of all, made to function according to an optimum” (Sexuality 24). As extraterrestrials use human bodies for the optimization of reproduction, experiencers are encouraged to use therapy to optimize the meaning of the experience. In both cases, the individual is prompted to question self-knowledge and look outside themselves for meaning.
Authoritative knowledge within the abduction community—even while containing divergent convictions as to the virtue of the aliens—is self-confirming through a shared critical question. So, despite the fact that John Mack and David Jacobs are on nearly opposite ends of the “good vs. bad aliens” spectrum, they agree on the centrality of reproductive examinations. The hybrid breeding program is situated as the agreed upon center, and rationale, for abduction. John Mack writes the foreword to David Jacobs’ book and agrees that “At the heart of the abduction process there appears to be some sort of complex reproductive enterprise involving the conception, gestation, or incubation of human or alien-human hybrid babies” (Jacobs “Secret Life” 11). While individual researchers can disagree as to the overall malignancy of the motives of the aliens, the breeding program remains central to modern abduction narratives and affirms the foundation of authoritative knowledge at the base of abduction discourse.
Abduction discourse offered by experts also adopts the rhetorical form and style of more traditional scientific discourse to further privilege authority. The training and credentials of abduction researchers serve as justification to authorize their understanding of the experience. “John E. Mack, M.D.” and “David M. Jacobs, Ph.D.” prominently display their credentials on the covers of their work. Because of their expertise, they are allowed a voice.
Each of these researchers confirms the correctness of their sanctification by highlighting they have knowledge and abilities important to understanding the abduction phenomenon. Jacobs writes, “I had to learn to distinguish the unreliable material from what appeared to be legitimate memories. After much trial and error, I finally became confident in my ability to perceive what was happening in various abduction accounts and to make connections” (“Secret Life” 27). Mack similarly promotes his own process and understanding when he writes, “Using the criteria of affective appropriateness and a narrative consistent with what I know about how abductions generally proceed, it is my impression that the reports provided under hypnosis are generally more accurate than those consciously recalled” (25). Here, while establishing hypnosis as a reliable method of memory retrieval, he identifies emotionality and consistency as truth indicators—both debatable propositions. Both he and Jacobs describe their process of perception as that which makes them especially able to discern truth. By positioning themselves as the trained experts, researchers define the abduction phenomenon.
Furthermore, by adhering to the rhetorical form and styles associated with scientific discourse, Mack, Jacobs, and other investigators reinforce the supremacy of authoritative knowledge in the individual meaning making process. Terry Matheson details the rhetorical strategies used by each and identifies the hyperbole used by Mack when introducing Jacobs’ Secret Life. The hyperbolic phrases he identifies also position these experts firmly in the realm of “real science” through the adoption of scientific terms and methods including “scrupulously conducted research,” “scholarly and dispassionate, “careful observation,” “rigorous scholarship” and “meticulous documentation” (Matheson 230). Mack uses much of the language of science even when considering the more philosophical aspects of abduction and actually advocating for widening our “consensus framework of reality” and “ontological parameters” (20). Mack describes his work as his “clinical/scientific endeavors” (3) and uses technical language to imbue the hypnotic process with legitimacy when he writes, “The inducement of a nonordinary state...seems to be highly effective in bringing abductees’ walled off experiences into consciousness and in discharging their traumatic impact” (21). Mack also inserts the language of science and objectivity when introducing the 13 narratives he presents in his book Abduction, by labeling them “clinical case examples” (4). Abduction thus gains legitimacy in a system of biopower by adopting the same expectations and language as mainstream scientific texts.
Within the abduction community, researchers and experts serve as gatekeepers who determine what narrative elements are included and what is excluded—they decide what is “legitimate.” So for example, David Jacobs requires confirmation from other abductees about particular narrative events. He writes, “I have not included one-of-a-kind accounts—no matter how dramatic—because no reliable inferences can be drawn from them without confirming testimony from other abductees” (Jacobs “Secret Life” 15). Likewise, he requires a questionnaire that he assesses to determine “if their experiences are significant enough” (Jacobs “Secret Life” 29). Experiencers sanction this gatekeeping. For example, when describing a gathering of experiencers happening in New York City, Marilyn writes, “You can’t get into the party unless you have spent time under hypnosis and been thoroughly checked out by Dr. Jacobs. He wants to weed out the wackos too.” What counts as legitimate is defined by the researchers, and many of the experiencers acquiesce.
Researchers also serve as gatekeepers by identifying “indicators of abduction” to cue potential abduction experiencers. Like more traditional scientific discourse, abduction experts define the relevant scope of the experience. Presence of these indicators then function to prompt experiencers to seek out more information with the help of a trained hypnotist/researcher. For example, the most common indicator of abduction is what Budd Hopkins labeled “missing time.” Often, individuals report they arrived home later than they expected, or otherwise can not account for a period of time usually lasting a few hours. Another common indicator is a “screen memory.” In these instances, experiencers will report their memories are covered over by something else, but because the replaced memory is not true, it somehow feels different. So, many experiencers claim they saw animals immediately before a period of missing time. The narrative conjoining of these events only makes the presence of a hidden abduction more likely. Cynthia reports that she and a friend were driving “through a wooded area and there stood a deer, right by the road. It didn’t move, just stared at us. All of a sudden it was much later, dark… [she] and I both say sometime we should be regressed to see what happened.” Because screen memories and missing time are so categorically presented as indicators of abduction, the implication for experiencers is not that something may have happened it is that something did and simply needs to be recovered. As illustrated by Cynthia, the route to remembering requires “regression,” hypnosis, or some other altered state of consciousness. Memories are inaccessible to the experiencer, and therefore the assistance of a trained professional is needed to find the truth.
Outside authorities—whether it be the aliens or the researcher—define and decide what the experiencer can know. Alien abduction experiencers often do not fully remember their encounters with extraterrestrials. Instead, they have vague feelings of unease coupled with missing time. When writing about sex, Foucault describes it as “not a thing which stubbornly shows itself, but one which always hides…” (“Sexuality” 35). Within abduction discourse, the same can be said of the experience itself. The belief that repressed or latent memories, specifically those concerning sex and trauma, are laden with metaphoric and hidden meaning prompts many experiencers to seek out an expert, a hypnotist/researcher, who can help them “retrieve” their memories. Brown remarks that the experts and the aliens are the ones presented as capable of “controlling the simultaneously painful and relieving process of confronting the past” (25). The researchers themselves confirm the loss of agency on the part of the experiencers. Jacobs writes, “once the event begins, humans are powerless to stop it. When it is over, most victims can not remember it” (“Secret Life” 24). Within this discourse, individuals—identified as victims—are utterly passive and docile, incapable of remembering events in their own lives contributing to the fragmentation of the self.
These stories explicitly disavow the necessity of cultural approval while also condoning the authoritative truth source of the sympathetic researcher. The truth that is privileged in these narratives is one where the individual abductee—for maximum happiness—should be submissive to the researcher. Jacobs encourages that therapy with a “sympathetic” researcher will result in the abductee feeling “more integrated, less confused about their situation, and emotionally stronger” (“Secret Life” 22). Mack describes memory retrieval as a “co-creative” process. The expert understands better than the experiencer herself what happened, and what it means. Emotional health and strength is positioned as inaccessible to the experiencer—because of both aliens and experts—and therefore removes any sense of agency. These stories affirm the broader mechanism of authoritative knowledge.
Rhetorically, these types of statements function to establish a hierarchy among experiencers—those who have indeed ‘worked’ with an expert and ‘uncovered’ the truth, and those who, as of yet, have not, and therefore can not experience the same satisfaction in life as those who have undergone the process with an appropriate overseer. Through this process, authoritative knowledge is valued as more reliable and necessary to the overall well being of the individual thereby inserting an intermediary into the process of self-knowledge, and fracturing the self.
Overall, Mack and Jacobs, because of their credentials and adoption of the form and style of scientific discourse, provide a voice within the public sphere. While these stories promote authoritative knowledge through the process of memory retrieval and assimilation, they also contain narrative elements that critique biopower systems and serve as acts of defiance against authority. Most notably, challenging of authority happens through direct disavowal of cultural approval, volunteering, and through defiance and resistance of the aliens.
Many of the experiencers from whom I collected narratives explicitly disavowed their need for cultural approval or acceptance. Many will report that although they know this “sounds crazy” they “really don’t care” what other people think because they are certain they know what happened to them. Personal experience, and feelings about the reality of that experience, becomes paramount to any other cultural explanation. Tara even disavows the need for approval from the abduction community. After learning about her experiences, like many others, she began to read the UFO and abduction literature. She writes, “It suddenly seemed to me that even the most fair and even-handed researcher had an agenda...I’ve seen for myself that something is going on. I don’t mean to sound pretentious but I don’t need a dozen different experts telling me what it’s about. They don’t know any more than I do.” Tara’s comments highlight the individual experience over the expert interpretation.
Rhetorically, disavowal is oftentimes accompanied by refutation of commonly known lines of argument or explanations of the abduction phenomenon. So, experiencers will preemptively defend themselves against those explanations most commonly offered, or even more interestingly, acknowledge those explanations as plausible, but not relevant in their particular case. So, when asked why extraterrestrials were visiting/abducting humans, Jan writes “There is some evidence for abduction, but not much, and certainly no proof. I suspect ‘fantasy prone personality’ and sleep paralysis account for a lot of abductions. If you mean why are my people here, it’s pretty simple. They need a place to live. Earth fits the bill.” By incorporating, and dismissing, more mainstream explanations, Jan appears rational and knowledgeable and therefore not bound by popular, or mainstream, interpretations.
Many experiencers report that they volunteered, which is another way these narratives articulate a challenge to authority. Jan, when asked about her abductions, writes, “I prefer to use the word ‘visits’ rather than ‘abductions’ because I always went willingly.” Experiencers report that they will have memories of volunteering in an earlier abduction, or even an earlier life. For example, Sandy writes, “It is my belief that those who have experienced abductions agreed to the experience prior to entering this lifetime.” By agreeing to work with the extraterrestrials experiencers become complicit in their powerlessness, but also arguably coopt power by giving consent and assuming the role of actor/agent.
Alien abduction narratives also work to challenge authority through defiance or resistance to the extraterrestrials. Marilyn, although only a child at the time of the event, reports that, “They took my clothes off and I struggled, knowing that strangers were not supposed to do that….I went through a typical physical exam and was told I was not ready yet. I attempted to bite one while he was holding my shoulders down and was told to behave and to do as I was told.” Despite the warnings, she continues, “They examined me all over, including my genital area, and then when it was over and they were dressing me I kicked one good and hard in the leg and was reprimanded again.” In both instances Marilyn is able to exert her own will and push back against the authority of the extraterrestrials. Emotion often acts as the fuel that allows the experiencer to draw on enough power to be freed from extraterrestrial control. Amy writes that she mentally resisted the “magnetic/electric field” that tried to pull her outside for over 30 minutes, and then “my anger fueled my determination to withstand the assault on my body and mind.” Emotionality—something the extraterrestrials lack, and something that is a defining characteristic of humanness—was the force that allowed her to resist. Emotionality then, and individual expression of it, is presented as able to stave off the compelling forces of the aliens, and their reproductive agenda.
Abductees find themselves between two sites of authority—the researchers and the extraterrestrials. These stories simultaneously confirm some types of authority and object to others. In this way, they contribute to broader cultural discourses about authority and the appropriate presence of authority in understanding anomalous experiences. In many ways these stories promote self-acceptance while simultaneously creating space between the experience and the self in which a mediator/researcher is required, the presence of whom, undermines the ability of the individual to define the experience. This fragmentation is described and discussed more below.
Alien abduction narratives serve an example of what I call “body alienation”—the space in which the tensions between technologicalization and medicalization of the body confront conceptions of agency and identity. The body is the place where power relations become observable for Foucault (May 16). Body alienation captures the tension between individual identity and institutional definition of the individual. Young notes that “social relations and instrumentation of the medical setting” reduce the presence and control of the woman within the pregnancy/birthing experience (56). Body alienation is the felt separation of the individual from their physical body in terms of identity, agency, and power. Kelley-Romano, writing on abduction discourse, remarks that the “blatant objectification of the human body as host and redefinition of power as resources is a plausible expression of how the individual feels” (396). Abduction narratives specifically capture the struggle experienced by the individual concerning individual agency and communal codes of conduct around reproduction. When writing on technology and reproduction, Jalna Hamner writes that she “fears that insofar as these techniques sever reproduction from women’s biological bodies...they may lead to increased alienation—a loss of self” (Sawicki 77). Experiencer narratives utilize expressions of powerlessness, submission to surveillance, descriptions of examinations, lab animal metaphors, and self-identification as hybrids to articulate feelings of fragmentation and body alienation.
Powerlessness is expressed at multiple levels and in contradictory ways, further encouraging a complex reading. Experiencers are powerless when they are taken—literally paralyzed and physically controlled. Physical powerlessness is evidenced in the inability to escape the extraterrestrials. Amy writes, “No matter where I ran to hide in the three story house I lived in—the command in my head and the magnetic pull on my chest continued.” Similarly, Tara reports, “no matter where I went, I could not hide from them and they would always find me.” Powerlessness can also extend to a more broad, existential level. For example, Marilyn writes, “When it comes to abductees, there are no coincidences, it feels at times like the events in our lives are being orchestrated by someone else.” Furthermore, experiencers claim that the aliens try to silence them. So, Bev reports, “I perceive from them I’m not supposed to discuss this.” The power of the extraterrestrial is, in many cases, absolute and pervasive.
The most unsettling articulation of powerlessness manifests itself in the descriptions of sexual encounters with the extraterrestrials. In these cases, experiencers report that a “screen memory” is often supplanted over the actual memory of the events. So, Stacy reported that although she thought she was having sex with her boyfriend, it was really an extraterrestrial who was therefore invading not only her body, but also her mind. In subsequent abductions she “started really fighting” and “would come back with bruises, and memory loss.” Many experiencers report feeling deceived, victimized, and violated.
In addition to physical violation, the mindscan procedure—where the aliens penetrate the mind of the experiencer to either project images or harvest the thoughts of the individual—is described in violent ways. AnnMarie states, “When these creatures/whatever stare at you, they get inside your brain and fill your mind with weird feelings and images. Sexual. It’s like being raped.” The trauma inflicted by the aliens is total, and the experiencer is presented as simply a site on which the aliens act out their agenda with no regard for the individual human.
Within these narratives, the body of the abductees undergoes what Foucault identifies as a "parallel increase of its usefulness and its docility" (“Sexuality” 139) while the body itself remains under surveillance and constant monitoring. Alien abduction discourse is replete with sites of surveillance—the aliens use technology to perform body scans, use implants to constantly monitor experiencers, have examination rooms that are like amphitheaters, and have the power to see inside the very mind of the abductee. Christine writes that during a typical abduction, “first they [the aliens] use this large object that seems to be connected to the ceiling to perform a total body scan. I was told once that they do this to check for other implants!” The implication that other species/races of aliens also use implants for surveillance normalizes monitoring within the reproductive context while also demonizing it by associating it as a technology used by self-seeking, malevolent aliens.
In describing their experiences, abduction experiencers position the body as a useful site for the extraterrestrials, and in describing their experiences often separate themselves from their bodies. A shift happens for many abductees where although they may originally fight the experience, they come to cooperate, and become more comfortable—even proud—of their part in the creation of a hybrid species. They submit to their victimization. However, they also experience actual physical paralysis, violations of their bodies, an increasing sense of powerlessness over their bodies and their lives. This contradiction is articulated by Abby who writes, “in spite of the PTSD that may be occurring due to these experiences, one can grow from them and one can have a great sense of wonder about the mysteries of our world.” This duality where, as Susan Bordo writes “conditions that are objectively (and, on one level, experientially) constraining, enslaving, and even murderous, come to be experienced as liberating, transforming, and life-giving” (93) allow us to read abduction discourse as a site in which the alien abduction experiencer challenges the authority of both the extraterrestrials and authoritative researchers.
One of the more interesting developments, described by David Jacobs, is the insertion of the EGU—“extra gestational unit” which allows men to participate fully in the discourse of reproduction. The EGU works toward the “optimization of its [the body] capabilities” (Sexuality 139). Jacobs describes the EGU as “a sac capable of incubating a fetus without having to be attached to the uterine lining” increasing the productivity as well as potential for men to participate in traditionally excluded ways. EGUs interesting extend what Braidotti recognises as a “stressing [of] the male role in reproduction” by allowing them to assume the role of breeder/mother. Peter is one man who exemplifies this male enactment of reproductive production. He writes, “I was brought before a translucent, cube-shaped container, apparently some kind of incubator, which housed a tiny, emaciated form. I was informed that this was my child and that it needed my life to survive...as I knelt before the box, my heart was flooded with a mammalistically fierce and protective love for the creature within.” Peter, because of his attachment to the hybrid fetus is able to articulate feelings traditionally limited to women.
One trope that clearly speaks to body alienation is the metaphor of the “lab animal,” or “pet,” often used by experiencers. The animal/lab metaphors combine the docility and medicalization aspects of abduction. These metaphors position the body of the abductee as a resource. For example, Brittney explains, “I think they take things from us for their own needs. I think they look upon us as a resource like a human might use an animal for food or fur—or whatever they happen to need. I think we are host bodies for their harvests.” Hannah uses a pet metaphor to convey a more intimate, caring tone. When describing the aliens’ attitude toward her, she writes, “I distinctly felt a kind of frustrated amusement. Like when a pet won’t take a pill when you know you aren’t hurting it. They don’t see me as real. Like we don’t see animals in experiments as real.” By describing themselves as “lab rats” or “pets” experiencers recognize their subordination in the larger machinery of social/reproductive utility.
Body alienation reaches an extreme articulation in the individuals who claim to be part alien, and literally, not of this world. So, for example, Meg writes, “I have to say I don’t feel a part of this world” and reports that she has “wondered through the years, even before I learned I was adopted, if I was one who belonged on this planet.” These statements can be read as an expression of typical social anomie, or as raising the possibility of difference. Val reports that she has had a connection with the extraterrestrial in other lives. She describes, “I have looked into deep space through a telescope and I can’t help but think, ‘I know this. this is home.’ I am very happy to be here on earth but I have memories of other places.” Jan, however, is much more committed and explicit in sharing her truth of extraterrestrial biological origin. In describing her experiences, she writes about “our family” and “my people” when talking about extraterrestrials. When asked why she was selected for abduction, Jan writes, “I wasn’t selected; I was born for it.” Although articulated with varying degrees of certainty, “otherness” demonstrates further body alienation and separation from the self.
Physical powerlessness, surveillance, examinations, lab animal metaphors and self-identification as part extraterrestrial are all narrative elements of abduction discourse that function to articulate a felt fragmentation of the self, or body alienation. Within each of these narrative elements the individual is somehow separated from themselves. The violence, trauma and anger that is bound up in the descriptions of these events serves to act as a critique of contemporary bio-reproductive technologies as represented through the extraterrestrials.
Within the master narrative of hybridization, the move from the pole of the individual to that of the population is concerned with “the species body” and with “control over entire populations” (Sexuality 140). Foucault writes that the second pole focuses on “the species body, the body imbued with the mechanics of life and serving as the basis of the biological processes: propagation, births and mortality, the level of health, life expectancy and longevity, with all the conditions that can cause these to vary” (Sexuality 139). Interestingly, in narratives of abduction, these elements are manipulated—if not fully determined—by the extraterrestrials. Attention to the focus of the narrative elements that affirm a focus on the species body—including the rationale and scope of the breeding program, as well as the descriptions of the aliens—demonstrates how these elements result in a rhetoric of empowered victimization.
One of the primary indicators that alien abduction discourse is also a discourse about biopower, and about the species body, is conveyed through the rationale as to why the aliens need to engage in the hybridization program. David Jacobs asserts, “The evidence suggests that all the alien procedures serve a reproductive agenda. And at the heart of the reproductive agenda is the Breeding Program, in which the aliens collect human sperm and eggs, incubate fetuses in human hosts to produce alien-human hybrids, and cause humans to mentally and physically interact with these hybrids for the purposes of their development” (Secret Life). Individual experiencers then echo the rationale of the expert. Amy writes that “the ET’s world has collapsed and can no longer sustain life so they need genetic assistance to survive.” In these narratives, the extraterrestrials are repopulating their own species, and often, also the human species. Heidi reports, “I suspect that some cataclysmic event in our lifetime will kill most of the population of humans on Earth, and that they plan to repopulate with the hybrids.” Through these attributions, individuals, and even the human species, is absolved of responsibility. Humans simply need to be a resource that the aliens can use in order to sustain life and the order of the universe.
Descriptions of missing pregnancies are a main element of narratives of hybridization and of the hybrid breeding program that reinforce commitment to the species body. Keri’s description is fairly typical, expressing uncertainty, but confidence in the extraterrestrial explanation at the same time. She prefaces her comments with “I am still not sure what happened” but then goes on to write that she became pregnant and made the “extremely difficult decision to have an abortion.” Yet, when Keri “arrived at the clinic for the abortion and was on the table for the procedure I was informed, with quite a bit of aggravation and disdain, that why was was I there and what was wrong with me as I was NOT pregnant.” Despite this experience happening almost 40 years ago, Keri “still has not come to terms” with the experience and “wonder[s] what ever happened to the fetus.” Mary is an extreme example of the docility of the body within the breeding program. She describes vaginal tenderness and reproductive examinations by extraterrestrials and then writes, “I know something was placed inside my body every three months since 1996 that grew and was taken.” Her description is evocative of sci-fi predictions of immobile bodies used for reproduction. Laura Shanner notes “a theme of much of the feminist criticism of reproductive technologies is the image of women as subhuman reproductive objects, baby machines, incubators, or empty vessels waiting to be filled rather than human beings with reproductive and other interests” (158). Abduction discourse enacts this critical position, and allows women a space in which to make sense of individual reproductive experiences in terms of a larger agenda.
The scope of the alien breeding program is indicated through two very common narrative elements—the presence of other human beings on board the UFOs, and the generational focus of abduction. Many experiencers report that they see other abductees on board the ships. Katie described “going up (somewhat like an elevator) with several other people, maybe 10 - 15 others.” Sometimes these others are “shut off” or otherwise rendered unconscious and powerless. Heidi described being in a “large room with around 50 young women and older teenaged girls” where the aliens “talked about breeding and having babies, and how we were so important for the future.” These descriptions insert the individual into the efficient machinery of the alien agenda—of the reproductive program. Their presence, however, demonstrates the efficiency of the alien program and also reinforces individual powerlessness to resist.
The struggle to make sense of the needs of the species body and the autonomy of the individual is present in the generational focus of the aliens. Many experiencers report that the extraterrestrials have been involved with their families for generations. Heidi posits that although selection of abductees may have been “random in the beginning,” the aliens then “followed the children of the first ones, and on down the line.” The abductee has been chosen because of specific, individual characteristics that the extraterrestrials need. The blending of individual and species motives is also interestingly played out through the deliberate matchmaking on the part of the aliens. So, some abductees report meeting their partners/spouses because of extraterrestrial intervention. For the aliens, specific couplings are desired for the species body. Despite the fact the experiencer is chosen, and therefore important and unique, they themselves are powerless to pick. They lose their agency in the larger system of genetic and biological species manipulation.
Descriptions of the aliens as robotic and as part of a larger “hive mind” work to critique contemporary reproductive technologies while also promoting a rhetoric of victimization. Heidi describes seeing a “row of the shot Grey will all-black, huge eyes...floating along the hallway exactly in unison, like a train of people—all attached.” The lack of individuality of the extraterrestrials, who are in possession of advanced biotechnological power coupled with the fact that the aliens need specific humans works to express anxiety about the potential body alienation, and even species alienation, that could result from over-reliance on these technologies. Aliens, in almost exactly inverse proportion to gaining technology have lost their uniqueness, individuality and autonomy. When in a discussion about the breeding program with one of the extraterrestrials, Heidi notes that “it was obvious that my concept of morals didn’t make sense to them when it came to individual rights as opposed to responsibilities to some ‘higher cause.’” The aliens here are clearly positioned as malevolent, and harmful, and by extension so is biotechnological advancements in reproduction—her story additionally implies that it’s possible that the focus on reproduction will cause, or at least coincides with, an inability to consider and understand the individual.
An additional, and disturbing, manifestation of the loss of agency felt by experiencers is evidenced in the embracing of the “victim” label, and utilization of victimization as a means of empowerment. Abductees often report that as a result of the pain inflicted by extraterrestrials they are better—more spiritual, more accepting, more understanding. The experts also promote the importance of victimage. John Mack writes that, “sexual abuse appears to be one of the forms of human woundedness that…..has led the aliens to intervene in a protective or healing manner” (18). So, victimization leads to empowerment and it also serves to attract the aliens to the experiencer. Narrative elements concerning the species body speaks to the anxiety faced by many women—and men—in contemporary culture surrounding reproduction and autonomy.
Abduction discourse allows for the evaluation of identity formation within the complicated mechanisms of authority and cultural legitimacy as they relate to reproductive technology and practices. The politics of technology of life was created, “giving rise to infinitesimal surveillances, permanent controls, extremely meticulous ordering of space, indeterminate medical or psychological examinations, to an entire micro-power concerned with the body” (Sexuality 145). The constant monitoring by aliens, insertion of implants to provide access and control over experiences, the descriptions of the UFO examination spaces as sparse with walls of encased fetuses, and the lack of understanding regarding the purpose of both physical and mental testing all manifest in abduction discourse speaking to the degree to which this power struggle is latent in contemporary US culture.
Abduction narratives explicitly disavow the necessity of cultural approval and acceptance of the abduction experience while simultaneously require the approval of authoritative expert opinion of the abduction researcher. In this rhetorical space of both acceptance and rejection, truth is contested. Abduction discourse also serves to critique the medicalization of bio-technology and promote the importance of the individual within systems of reproduction. Analysis of the way these stories toggle between the individual and the species body reveals the strategic places of political, and personal, ambiguity. Abduction discourse is a safe space—the universe is a safe place—on which experiencers and researchers can write a new ontological truth. These contentious places also demonstrate how resistive discourse participates in the creation of the mechanisms of biopower.
Abduction discourse can be read as a backlash against the depersonalizing consequences of a politics of bio-power. The aliens, with their over-reliance on technology and their logical ways, are dying and as such, need humans to both produce and emotionally nurture the alien/human hybrid babies. The emotionality of a human can not be replaced by a machine, and following the trajectory of reproductive technology leads only to the loss of this vital human trait.
- 1. The term abduction is not always accurate in that many individuals claim to encounter extraterrestrials here on Earth or in alternate dimensions, and so are not actually taken anywhere. Additionally, many individuals who claim contact with extraterrestrials claim to be willing participants, and therefore prefer the term “experiencer.” Therefore, I adopt the term “alien abduction experiencer” (AAE) to describe any individual who interacts with extraterrestrials.
- 2. A complete discussion of the demographic and psychosocial characteristics of these individuals (as well as some of the recurring elements of the experiences) can be found in my “A Report on the Demographics and Beliefs of Alien Abduction Experiencers” published in the Journal of UFO Studies.
- 3. It is important to note that like many other stories purportedly told by women, stories of abduction are circulated into mainstream culture most often through a male authority. Lorrayne Carroll’s work on “rhetorical drag” has proven invaluable to me when thinking about the complex relationship between experiencer, researcher, and the creation of popular truth.
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Stephanie Kelley-Romano is an Associate Professor and Chair of Rhetoric at Bates College in Lewiston Maine. Her research and teaching interests include gender and media, myth and narrative, and political rhetoric and the public sphere. Her scholarship has appeared in such journals as Communication Quarterly, Journalism Studies, The Journal of UFO Studies, and The Southern Communication Journal. She is currently at work on a full length manuscript which explores the rhetoric of the alien abduction phenomenon. She would like to thank Dr. Dorwick and the anonymous reviewers for their suggestions.
© 2016 Stephanie Kelley-Romano, used by permission