12.9.09

BUDD HOPKINS - AN ARTIST'S LIFE

Budd Hopkins. Art, Life and UFOs: A Memoir. Anomalist Books, 2009.

Time and again there arise charismatic figures who claim a special gnosis into the human condition, to possess the master key which tells us why it is no go, the cause of the world's heartache and suffering. One such is Budd Hopkins, but in one crucial respect Budd Hopkins and his side kick David Jacobs differ from almost all the rest. For along with this gnosis there is usually a vision of salvation, redemption, utopia, some 'Good News' a gospel which illuminate the path out of the human condition. The road to salvation may be impossibly hard and harsh, the path to the noblest utopian strewn with babies' bones, the final goal as sick and demented as Adolf Hitler's vision of a German master race lording it over a Jew-free Europe, but some goal, some aspiration is offered.

Hopkins' gnosis, that human beings are the helpless playthings of omnipotent, but curiously inept, aliens who can abduct people through solid walls into invisible spaceships, but cannot put the right clothes back on abductees, offers no such solace. Perhaps it is the first true anti-gospel of total despair ever announced. (Some writers such as Bertrand Russell professed despair over the inevitable heat death of the universe, but this event billions of years in the future was not the sort of thing to impact of the lives of most people.

One is naturally curious as to what drives a person to such beliefs and such despair. It is by no means obvious from this book, though there are clues.

Parts of this book provide fascinating cameos of the social history of Midtown USA from the 1930s to the 1960s; its social mores, its narrowness and bigotries, sexual ignorance and authoritarian parenting. Others provide glimpses into the lives of some of the leading characters of the New York art scene. There is plenty here for the historian to mine. But the coming of the UFOs into Hopkins' life, after his sighting of an unusual object in 1964, seem to mark a change of gear, the beginnings of a sense of mission. However lots of people have had UFO experiences of one sort or another without developing the idea that, unknown to themselves, people are constantly being abducted by aliens. We can trace how this idea slowly develops, yet we never quite gather what that exact processes was.

But as I said there are clues. Hopkins is a survivor of polio which left him with a slight limp, but also memories of painful physiotherapy: "In the ominous context of an echoing, medicinal hospital room, I was stripped of my clothes by a pair of bored strangers, thick waisted nurses who plumped me into a zinc tub of rushing water and ordered me to kick and wriggle my legs. I wept and pleaded to be taken out, a response which naturally strengthened their determination to make me work my weakened limb. It was a battle every time I had to undergo this treatment, and together these sessions comprise one of the most terrifying and humiliating memories of my earliest years" (p17).

The parallels with the abduction narratives are startling; the impersonal examination in an alien setting, the authority figures who are just doing their job, the humiliating procedure for "your own good".

We can certainly understand the enormous emotional resonances that the preexisting narratives must have had for someone with that experience. These narratives were however largely set in a context of remembered UFO experiences. The big step, the idea that beneath the surface of our normal lives, unknown to even ourselves, strange and terrible things might be happening, is Hopkins own personal addition to the narrative.

Is it a coincidence then that beneath the surface Hopkins' own family life of placid bourgeois normality, there lay a truly terrible secret? After a political row with his father when he wass 22, Budd is told by his mother not to judge his harsh authoritarian and bigoted father too harshly, for his father's father had shot his own mother and killed himself, and Hopkins' father had been the one to find the bodies. It is not difficult to imagine what trauma this revelation would have had any young man. Now nothing is ever going to be truly normal and safe and rational anymore. This is a world in which anything can happen. Surely long before the final revelation, there must have been a tacit awareness of some vast untellably dark and forbidden secret, the gap in the collective memory of the family.

It is hard not too sense that he might fear that the ghosts of his authoritarian father and murderous grandfather might haunt his own genes, that the invisible Greys represent a safe target against which this rage and hate can be directed, without hurting real people. Yet surely he above all must sense when hearing David Jacobs raving on about how the hybrids are stealing our women and planning to take over the world, he is listening to his own father's anti-Jewish, anti-Black and anti-Communist rants writ large, and that if this idea went feral nobody would be safe.

The artist Robert Motherwell tells him one day "all artists are monsters", and one wonders if Hopkins has not found the most monstrous form of art yet, the sculpting of other peoples memories into works of art that express his own pain. Of course he doesn't set out consciously to do that, probably he genuinely believes that he is a "good listener" and an empathic healer. But only those who come out with the right stories get that empathy. There is no room for ambiguity, he has the answer, the master key, and any other version is outcast.

There are several hints that Hopkins cannot relate to these people as equal, fully rounded human beings. His relationship with the one abductee who was actually more successful than he was, Whitley Streiber, degenerates into explosive rage. No, he wants dependants. When he hears that the actress and New Age guru Shirley Maclaine has said that she thinks 'Kathie Davies' is just a great actor - it takes an actor to know one - Hopkins comes up with this patronising comment, which does suggest he is his father's son more than he would care to acknowledge: "...there was no way that Kathie, a poorly educated young woman from rural Indiana, with no training as an actress could be that convincing a hoaxer".

Beyond the obvious point that several famous actors have come from far more challenging backgrounds (take Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe for a start), many feminists would argue that all women have to be great actresses in order to play the many roles life demands of them, and sociologists such as Irving Goffman would say that is true of everyone. After all "all the world's stage, and all the men and women merely players".

Abductionism clearly becomes for Hopkins a fundamentalist religion so, like many fundamentalists, he interprets everything literally. He just cannot grasp that the abduction stories are metaphors for the human condition, hence their great power. Like many fundamentalists he has profound difficulty with ambiguity. The strange, liminal, anomalous experiences and memories which form the base of the abduction mythos, are all homogenised into a standard narrative, interpreted through a narrow ideological lens. In some sense Hopkins himself becomes the clinical Grey, experimenting on people, moulding their memories to a pre-set script, disabusing them of their dreams and fantasies because it is for their own good.

The one person he exempts from this is himself, he clings to his own 'big dream' in which he meets again the artist Franz Kline, 15 years dead as a transcendent experience, even if crafted by his own unconscious. But if one of his abductees had reported this, he would have no doubt dismissed it as a screen memory for abduction by the GFeys, and you can guess what he would have made of a collection of phobias as generous as his mother's.

We should not however see this just as the record of an aberration of one man, but as an awful warning of the power of belief, creed and cause to possess and destroy fundamentally decent people. -- Reviewed by Peter Rogerson.

7 comments:

  1. John,
    It's stunning how close you've come in this review to a genuine understanding of a charistmatic man who has wooed many followers. Up close and personal, for 10 years, I became increasingly dismayed as I saw the fundamentalist in full bloom in Budd Hopkins. Natural-born questioners (like me) were simply not tolerated and had to be excommunicated from the subculture he has so artfully built around himself over the years.

    You rightly ask "what drives a person to such beliefs [about the nature of abductions] and such despair" and come up with some good clues from his background. There are several others equally as compelling but that are little known. In my personal documentary about The Linda Case (Witnessed), I will also explore what turned an otherwise liberal and exploratory man into a true believer -- not two hairs different in type from my own father, an elder in the strict sect of Plymouth Brethren.

    One symptom of a true believer of any stripe is exhibited in spades by both Budd and his best friend and confidente, Dave Jacobs: their black-and-white thinking. "Either this phenomenon is psychological or it is really happening as we report it. End of story." Or: "Either Linda is a fabulous actress, liar and hoaxer or this abduction near the Brooklyn Bridge actually happened exactly as she reports it, through me."

    Not really, guys. Between any polarized position and another is a great deal of grey territory, filled with an infinite amount of possibilities that are completely unknown to us. Only the person whose belief has become dogma willingly ignores that middle zone. And when he or she does, that person has thereby left the realm of even pretending to practice the scientific method and has entered the realm of religion.

    Intriguing insight. I'll tune in more often.

    Carol Rainey

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  2. Anonymous14.9.09

    This review strikes me as cheap, armchair, Monday morning, psychobabble. This may be too harsh, because I was too bored to read all of it.

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  3. Great review from Peter Rogerson, picking up most of the points I was going to make in my own review elsewhere (and now leaving me wondering how to say these things without appearing to plagiarize!). Hopkins's experience with polio as a child screamed off the page at me. And having, twice, seen him lose it when challenged on even a minor point, I think I would agree he is a fundamentalist. There are other things he gives away in passing ("my eternal weakness for women" for instance) that give one pause, and the sense one has in his descriptions of the AbEx scene that he remained an outsider to it; despite his social acceptance and his success -- deserved, for some of his work is stunning. But one always feels he was looking for some more fitting mode in which to express himself. The abduction syndrome seems to have solved that problem.

    I hope Carol Rainey's film makes it to this side of the Atlantic, because there is much known about Linda that's never seen the light of day to suggest she had several motives for going along with Budd. And it's always fun to compare theories about the "secret service" agents, ho ho. It's also interesting that while he says he's most proud of his work on the Linda case, Hopkins goes into very little detail about it in his memoir, compared to the Debbie Jordan nonsense, whose debunking he doesn't even address.

    Anonynmous: No, not psychobabble. Either you didn't know the man or you are the man, or are in his shadow. Fess up now.

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  4. I would have to agree. Sounds like a whole lot of psychobabble. Usually an over elaborate analysis about other people shows more about the analyzer then the patient.

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  5. Anonymous6.12.09

    Saturday, 12 September 2009
    Budd Hopkins: An Artist's Life
    Budd Hopkins. Art, Life and UFOs: A Memoir. Anomalist Books, 2009


    Commenting here about Budd's new book (sadly maybe interpreted as his memoirs) - Peter Rogerson's unsympathetic review seems to take on just one more twisted tone that Stanton Friedman has often warned us about - two of the four rules that debunkers often use are : A. Don't bother me with the facts, my mind is made up. B. If one can't attack the data, attack the people. It is easier.

    Rogerson's interpretation that Budd Hopkins's ordeal with polio early in his life being a large influence in shaping and selling these abduction experiences could be one interesting interpretation. But Rogerson fails to mention since it would diminish his preconceived position - it also reveals Budd's empathy for these persons claiming such abduction experiences.

    "Sculpting of other peoples memories into works of art that express his own pain." Rogerson's writes. Maybe in interpreting Hopkins's zeitgeist....perhaps Rogerson in attack is concealing Budd might actually have a great empathy to understand this phenomenon. Maybe Rogerson is concealing he really doesn't give a dam about abductees. Those 'fundamentally decent people' Rogerson closes his review about.

    These poor souls blindly following as Rogerson spins. Maybe Budd is simply investigating such incredible claims. Again we are reminded of Friedman's rules of debunking. Dr. John Mack, M.D. would become a powerful ally in encouraging further investigation into the abduction phenomenon. A stance those like Dr. Susan Clancy also from Harvard and others cannot tolerate.

    Those Rogerson often confuses as a religious following about abductions Hopkin's seems to encourage is really not true.

    ('Abductionism' as Rogerson writes - now it is a 'ism')

    Hopkins's research has been taken and interpreted in many ways , each for their own narrow use perhaps. Hopkins remains focused despite this in what he uncovers about the phenomenon. I too am annoyed in how the 'New Age' people, (completely unscientific) for instance spin their own interpretation of Hopkin's and others findings. Hopkins cannot control this despite what Rogerson's claims.

    Members of the UFO community collectively continue to ignore issues that the mainstream scientific community labels as relevant, the UFO community will continue to be largely considered uninformed and irrational.

    This for the most part is true. But their is great ignorance on both sides of the isles between . The 'scientific community' also fails to understand the workings of the phenomenon. I only have to state Dr. Susan Clancy as an example.

    Her blunder that most or all abductions are the result of 'sleep paralysis'. Is this the best the posturing 'scientific community' can offer us? I am very much pro science (in all it's disciplines in addressing this), but such conclusions based on Clancy's lack of homework out in the field is completely unacceptable related to facts.

    "I am a rational person, and so are many others trying to understand this issue. I know a number of mental health professionals, that are very interested in this phenomenon. Many are ufologists too! This question requires the skills of many disaplines in addressing it scientifically.

    Mental health professionals and ufologists have one thing in common. Trying to understand and trying to make rational of the irrational. It is the most challenging area of research, an area many scientists fear to tread for a number of reasons.

    Trying to make rational of the irrational. Maybe that is why we refer to it as 'alien'.

    Steve

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  6. I have just come across another review of Hopkins's book by Dan Schneider, at
    http://blogcritics.org/books/article/book-review-art-life-and-ufos/
    which echoes Peter Rogerson's and my own view of Hopkins's memoir, but pulls out more detail than PR does.

    Schneider has a rather less benign attitude to AbEx art than I do and a much harsher assessment of Hopkins's talent and place within the movement... but it's at least interesting that he places Hopkins's move from artist to ufologist to abductologist in its context as does PR and as would I.

    This isn't IMO a matter of following Friedman's Rules of Debunking as reiterated by Anonymous Steve --

    "A. Don't bother me with the facts, my mind is made up.
    B. If one can't attack the data, attack the people"

    -- rules, by the way, that dear ol' Stan is capable of following quite slavishly when batting for the other side. Hopkins does not bother anyone with too many facts that can be objectively verified, and has (as with the MUFON transcription project) refused to allow his raw data to be examined independently lest skeptics mock it or his investigative technique. The facts he does produce can be interpreted in rather different ways than he chooses. Some facts (such as the possibility of other interpretations) he denies altogether. A critique of Hopkins is not an attack on the man, but on the reliability of his findings. If he chooses, rather naively, to write a memoir that seems to some of us to reveal some of the sources and roots of his findings and proclamations, then pointing these out is not an attack on the man either, so much as a report of insights of which he himself seems astonishingly unaware.

    On top of which, may I point out, one can attack the abductologists' data, comprehensively, and many have. ("I have tried, Lord, I have tried.") Given that the data are as wonky as they are, one next question that arises is: Why do these guys think they are on to something? Hopkins in his memoir provides some answers, it seems to me, even if he doesn't realize it.

    I now await David Jacobs's retirement and perhaps equally revealing memoirs with some eagerness.

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  7. PS to my previous post:

    The full-length version (1200 further words of incision) of Dan Schneider's review of Hopkins's memoir exists at

    www.cosmoetica.com/B852-DES678.htm

    I am just preparing to enjoy.

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