Mar 23, 2018 I MJ Banias

UFOs, ‘SNL’ and Normalizing the Strange

My wife and I have made watching Saturday Night Live a ritual in our home. Say what you will about the quality of SNL today in relation to the ‘good old days,’ the show still has its finger on the pulse of American culture. As we sat on our couch this last Saturday night, beers in hand, host Bill Hader, and the SNL cast put on a sketch about alien abduction. My wife and I realized at that moment, when our eyes met, our perception of anything related to the subject of aliens or UFOs was no longer passive, and that SNL was playing a role in establishing this active participation.

Neither my wife nor I have ever had a strange paranormal experience. We have never seen a UFO, let alone been aboard one. We have never seen aliens or ghosts or Bigfoot. My personal and scholarly interest is that of the UFO community, the individuals who form the subcultural collective which engages with the UFO phenomenon and attached discourse. My wife, who has stood by me by some curious miracle, quietly, and with great patience, tolerates my Ufological interests. Yet, by association alone, or her polite way of listening to me talk about the latest UFO scandal or phone call I had to make to a UFO witness, the cultural impact of UFOs seems to have rubbed off on her.

When Roger, the Reiki healer, played by Bill Hader, explains why a tourist couple visiting Sedona should not hike up to the top of Spirit Rock because of extraterrestrial visitors, we both sat quietly through the entire sketch. While the sketch itself was a bit of a dud, compared to Kate McKinnon’s internet-breaking alien abduction sketch with Ryan Gosling, we both had the exact same question on our minds, but were being polite and refrained from hitting ‘Pause’ on the PVR.

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Sedona, Arizona

You can view Hader's sketch here.

Hader’s Roger, playing to a fairly common Ufological paradigm, goes on to explain that he often climbs to the top of the mountain to meditate and connect with his spirit and body. It all went south one night, however, when “she revealed herself…an alien lady with a head shaped like Mr. Peanut.” The alien “initiates intercourse…because they needed DNA for their little babies.”

However, due to the alien’s unfamiliarity with human anatomy, she flipped Roger over, “spread [his] cakes and blasted [his] Raisinette with a turkey baster.” Roger awakes in his bedroom after the experience with his pants on backwards, and on his pillow is a mint with a little note that read, “Great Job!” When the tourist couple inquires as to why they probed him, obviously pointing out the whole anatomy issue, Roger responds by saying, “I guess they had to figure out the lay of the land.” The sketch continues on with strange lights hovering from above, one of the SNL cast being beamed up to a UFO, and Roger getting to hold his new alien baby.

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Mysterious lights in the sky, or just some clever photography?

When the sketch concluded, I managed to speak first, “Is there more UFO stuff on TV, or are we just noticing it more?”

My wife responded with,

"I think we just notice it more. We are prone to noticing it more because it is now a part of our lives; I notice it more. When people talk about UFOs or aliens or something paranormal, I usually stop and listen. I’m tuned into it more, as if it is starting to matter to me. This is your fault."

Saturday Night Live is a cultural institution. As one journalist put it,

"with its weekly live broadcasts, the show can swiftly distill and cement public perceptions of current events."

From a pop culture standpoint, it still has significant cachet no matter how “good” or “bad” the sketches or cast are. In regard to its coverage of UFOs and aliens, the show usually sticks to the usual and simple fare, however, it does make some interesting ideological claims. Furthermore, it puts the UFO debate into the pop culture realm, but in an approachable way.

Four years ago, Hader was in a sketch featuring actor Jon Hamm in which he was an alien poorly disguised as a sports announcer named Greg. The sketch featured Greg 'infecting' various others and turning them into aliens in order to invade the planet.

I previously mentioned the famous Kate McKinnon and Ryan Gosling sketch, that aired on December 5th, 2015, which involves three alien abductees being interviewed by Pentagon staffers concerning their experiences. On September 30th, 2017, Gosling returned to SNL to reprise his role with McKinnon to be interviewed again by Pentagon staff due to the lot of them being abducted a second time. Coincidently, the famous New York Times article concerning a secret Pentagon program which looked into “advanced aerial threats,” in other words, UFOs, was published on December 16th of the same year.

It seems that the writers of SNL sketches do play to the conspiracy paradigm present in UFO discourse. The interviewers in both sketches are NSA agents and have been tasked with getting to the bottom of “three confirmed cases” of alien abduction. Furthermore, the abductees in both sketches have vastly different experiences. Ryan Gosling and Cecily Strong’s characters both enjoy peacefully divine interactions with the beautiful aliens bathed in light, while McKinnon’s character is on a different part of the ship, the lower decks perhaps, where little alien grays poke and prod at her, steal her pants, and stare at her while she pees in a bowl. As McKinnon puts it, she didn’t think she was “dealing with the top brass.” This is another common experiencer narrative; the stark difference between those who are contacted for some prophetic or higher purpose, and those who experience horrifying and frightening abductions.

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They're here...

This most recent alien sketch involving Hader plays upon the alien-human hybrid plot, which arguably gained great fame when Dr. David Jacobs published his book, The Threat, in 1997. While stories of breeding programs and the harvesting human ovum and sperm existed in the 1960’s, Jacob’s work showcased many individuals who claim to have taken part in such a program, and were continuously ‘re-abducted’ to see, hold and bond with their hybrid children, or to undergo more sexual acts.

More recently, the story of David Huggins hit the news cycle in mid-2017. Huggins claims to have engaged in sexual intercourse with a female extraterrestrial for the purpose of having a hybrid child, and a recently released documentary entitled Love and Saucers tells his story.

While many within the UFO community may get upset with SNL for turning these often frightening and heartbreaking experiences into a joke, the purpose of the show is to point to our collective cultural landscape and make fun of it. When SNL targets White House staff or some current cultural issue, we take it for granted. It is truly a right of passage for every American President to have one of the SNL cast to play him or her (soon hopefully). George W. Bush had Will Ferrel, Barack Obama had Fred Armison and Jay Pharoah, and Donald Trump has Alec Baldwin. Before every popular cultural event such as the Super Bowl, The Academy Awards, and St. Patrick's Day, the cast and writers of SNL put it through the ringer, and ensure we see the humor in our common traditions, ideologies, paradigms, and assumed truths. The purpose of parody and farce is to satirize, to allow us to giggle at something truthful and even scary.

I am not suggesting that Saturday Night Live is some Ufological savior. Nor am I suggesting that the butt of their jokes, the UFO community and the countless people who have had strange paranormal experiences, should relax and laugh a little. I think we need to appreciate that, for better or worse, we are becoming more comfortable with the realization that the “truths” we used to hold dear are beginning to shift and change. If the show is a cultural mirror, a silly twisted mirror, but a mirror none the less, with every UFO related sketch, our reflection becomes a little more otherworldly. With every UFO sketch that we laugh at, it is also informing the broader popular culture that UFO phenomenon is something worth talking about. Perhaps SNL is unknowingly normalizing the UFO phenomenon; if we laugh about it, we can also talk about it.

Perhaps the more we engage with the UFO phenomenon, the more it seems to show up in our regular lives on Saturday nights. Regardless of whether you are a fan of the show or not, SNL continues to question and poke fun at UFOs and aliens. In some way, it normalizes the strange in its various sketches and turns UFOs and the related phenomenon into something approachable.

MJ Banias

MJ Banias is the author of “The UFO People: A Curious Culture” and curates the popular Fortean blog “Terra Obscura" and YouTube channel. He has appeared on multiple radio shows and podcasts including Coast to Coast AM, and his work has appeared in Fortean Times Magazine, FATE Magazine and in the book, “UFOs: Reframing the Debate."

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