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Bigfoot Found On Mars!

Posted by Regrette Etcetera on December 4, 2010

Bigfoot Found On Mars!

The Spatio-Visual Politics of Cryptozoology,

Military Cryptogeography, & Space Archaeology.

An investigation in 2 parts.

 

Part 1.

– “Bigfoot Found on Mars”: A Fauxist Favorite

– A History of NASA photograph PIA10214

– “Here Be Dragons”: Armchair Exobiologists love Photoshop

– A Detour into the Xeno-Domestic With Jonathon Richman: “Here Come the Martian Martians” & “Abominable Snowman in the Supermarket”

The Alien Super-Scientific Machine: Paranoiac Mythinformation & Resolution Revolutions


 

Part 2. (Forthcoming).

– Choreographies Of Telepresence: Martian Rovers, “Google Moon”, & Space Archaeology

–  Making Martian Indigeneity on the High Frontier.


“Bigfoot Found on Mars”: A Fauxist Favorite

Suiting Our penchant for all things apocryphal, for popularly maligned memeological hoaxes and hijackings, there are always some rather strange images circulating within Fauxist networks. One of Our longest-running favourites in the last year has been the image come to be known colloquially as “Bigfoot found on Mars”, as seen above.

First publicized in 2008, it features what appears to be a Martian Sasquatch-reminiscent rock formation (indeed an almost perfect instance of the blobsquatch) captured by NASA’s Spirit rover on the Martian surface. NASA photograph PIA10214 has since become the subject of both pervasive parody and vast internet debate. Meanwhile, what has kept this image cropping up for Us has been its interesting conceptual leverage – it exemplifies key tenets of Our works on Cryptozoology and Neocolonialism, reanimate Nature, Military Cryptogeography, Astrobiology, and apocalyptic exo-conservation politics.

On looking further into the image’s history though, We find that the Martian bigfoot was late to arrive on the scene, and in fact a host of labyrinthine stories and critical hoaxes from the cryptic realms of exobiology, exopolitics, and conspiracy theory to the annals of National Geographic and NASA, then lead us spiraling into Martian history, the search for life on Mars, and the voluminous publications of interpreters and their heady claims at an elusive photographic reality.

In what follows, We unpack these narratives, and look into:

–   The history of Mars as a speculative, productive space- as a cosmic Rorschach or Mirror.

–   The history of the hallucinatory NASA mistakes in the search for ‘Life on Mars’, and how their logic fuels conspiracies.

–   How the 20th century has indeed been a bad one for the Martian.

–   The field of Martian Anomaly Investigation (with its photoshop –savvy ‘Armchair Exobiologists’ and claims of ‘transparent Martian species’, Martian Subway stations and etcetera) and its attacks on scientific authority.

–   Figure-ground and signal-noise collapse in the search for aliens and artifacts, and the troubled reality-effect of science and photography.

–   Take a trip with Jonathon Richman into a domesticized xeno-cryptid dream.

–    How amateur exobiologists and anomalists (sometimes knowingly) navigate and promulgate the schizoid traps of postmodern Mythinformation,

–   How the figure of the alien constitutes the ultimate superscientific machine, and the trickster spirit of misinformation.

–  We take up the politics of tracing planetary surfaces, looking into Space Archaeology, telepresence choreographies and cartographies, and Panoptic vision.

–  The revival of nationalist frontier politics and forms of ‘Martian Indigeneity’, and the animating of cryptogeographic space with class, race and protest masculinities.

History of The Image

NASA photograph PIA10214 is a panoramic montage of a series of snapshots of the Martian surface that were taken by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit in 2007, when Spirit was perched on the western edge of the Home Plate plateau in the inner basin of the Columbia Hills range of Gusev Crater on Mars.

On December 7th, one Andrew D. Basiago, whilst perusing the broad westward expanse of the Martian surface that can be seen in the photograph for other indications of life, after enlarging the photograph on his new HP Pavilion Entertainment Personal Computer, was ‘shocked to discover’ in it’s depths evidence of life forms and artifacts on Mars.

Basiago, 47, founder and president of the Mars Anomaly Research Society, and author of exopolitics.com, thought, quite simply, that the enigmatic forms looked like a statue (see statement) or the fossilized remains of Martians fleeing a cataclysmic event or ‘Reptoid Predation. Basiago quickly published a number of verbose press releases, articles, a series of high-zoom blowup images of these pixelated fields (see below), and later contacted National Geographic (letter here) informing the world that he had discovered life on Mars, with all the pomp that such an apparently epoch-shattering event would warrant.


In the detail from PIA10214, Basiago saw “a male humanoid being with a bulbous head and a long, spindly body can be seen standing inside a rock enclosure”. According to Basiago, the humanoid is “wearing tan pants and is bare-chested and can be seen leaning against a rock wall at the back of the rock enclosure.  The scapulae in his upper back are evident as he leans against the wall”. He went on to produce a number of increasingly baroque suggestions as to what the image captured, (like the ‘transparent Martian species’ mentioned above) which We will explore further below.

Like the majority of Martian anomalies, the figures were quickly dismissed as a natural rock formation resulting from erosion by wind, water, and time. Bigfoot was yet to hit the scene.

But it is not these dismissals that are of importance here, as We will see. Immediately of interest is that despite Basiago’s prodigious productions, correspondence, and the fulminations on exopolitics.com, all claiming that these images stood as evidence for an ET humanoid species, and indeed, civilization, the image quickly overstepped his assertions and control, and became known as ‘Bigfoot found on mars’, due to the resemblance of the form to that of the meme-glut still image from the 1967 –Paterson-Gimlin film (arguably the most well-known cryptid photo in existence) and was reported upon as such in the media (as above). Thus the image began to do the rounds on the majority of cryptozoological sites.

At left: The Paterson-Gimlin Film still

In that Basiago’s assertions- which We will continue to discuss- were deemed to be too complex, too deliberately weird and were largely abandoned in favour of a cryptozoological standard, a memeological monument, speaks volumes about both the conceptual power of the cryptid hominid in colonial space and the historical cessation of the Martian.

Whether of not Basiago’s assertions were knowing hoaxes and an ostensible critique of NASA’s objectives (which We believe to be the case), analyzing the image from both perspectives- that of the interpretative space of the anomalist, and that of the  using classical cryptozoological cliches and metholodologies etc., which We’ll explore in the following section.

“Here Be Dragons”: Of Martian Canals & Armchair Exobiologists

“The only pure myth is the idea of a science devoid of all myth”    Michel Serres

“Science acquires its staying power from a sustained struggle to keep down the demons of the supernatural with whose visions, however, it competes”     Avital Ronnell

“When I analyzed PIA10214, and saw what was there, I felt like Charles Darwin encountering the animals of the Galapagos Islands for the first time, except that my Galapagos Islands were on the Internet and my animals were on Mars.” Basiago


"Here Be Dragons": A cartographic tradition used to denote unknown realms and the monstrous inhabitants imagined to inhabit them

Medieval 'Map Monsters' awaiting the explorer

The fuzzy imaginative space of Mars has long harbored, fostered and facilitated the alien, the marginal. Its distance and elusiveness allowing a proliferation of projections and speculations even as terran ‘frontiers’ and ‘others’ became familiar. The Martian surface, as planetary antipodes, is a key cryptogeographical and cryptozoological terrain, physically accessible only by advanced tech and capital agglomerations, and redolent with menageries of didactic creatures, and symbolic artifacts.

Indeed, Mars began its visual-scientific career as a cosmic Rorschach blot in 1877, when the Italian astronomer Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli stared through a 9-inch Merz refracting telescope and declared that the spidery lines he saw etched on the planet’s surface were “canali.” What he meant was channels, but the English-speaking press, still hopped up on the recent opening of the Suez Canal, settled on the sexier term canals, implying an alien-architectural origin more suited to then-current desires. In the US, the amateur astronomer Percival Lowell widely publicized his conviction that the splotches and lines revealed by his observatory’s 24-inch telescope suggested vegetation and alien-made waterworks. (Lowell, “Mars”, 1895) Lowell’s ‘discoveries’ were to be soon followed in 1898 by H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, with its malevolent, techno-advanced martians, and the panic it’s 1938 radio broadcast so famously caused.

In this time of immense public interest in the scientific and narrative potential of Mars, forms of belief melded, produced etc. in the midst of an enormous amount of speculative work, science fiction, monster movies and news reportage variously construing the Martians as benevolent or threatening, pedagogic or mindless, humanoid or radically ‘other’,[1] depending on what cultural phenomenon they were attached to, however indirectly. Three brief examples, which each take account of this simmering popular imagination in differing ways, should suffice.

Firstly, Disney’s parodic piece on the ‘popular culture of Mars’, from 1957, playing out some generic motifs like the Martian as inhuman, scintillating/sexually threatening, as racial-compendium, and official ‘other’, speaks largely for itself in capturing the stereotypes of a pre-Sputnik Mars. (Sputnik was launched 2 months before its release).

The second example, produced by The Museum of Jurassic Technology (L.A) is the book “No One May Ever Have the Same Knowledge Again: Letters to Mount Wilson, 1915-1932”.

The book is made up of letters received by the Mount Wilson Observatory from members of the public. For decades after its construction in 1904, the Mount Wilson telescope was the largest in the world, and was central to astronomical research conducted by A. A. Michelson and Edwin Hubble. The lay public learned about their work through the popular press, and the observatory entered that stream of popular culture that made icons of science, space, and aeronautics. The letter writers urgently wished to share information and impressions with the astronomers, who were broadly seen to be casting the Eye of Science further into the cosmos. The title alone simultaneously reflects both the cessation (or culling) of possible popular, abject and parascientific knowledges regarding space, spirituality, and the Other, and conversely, the productive possibilities expressed by alien ‘contact’ and the great  astronomical ‘endeavour’.

A couple of brief passages from the letters (retaining original spelling and syntax) will give the flavour:

“A New York professor was about to try Einstein’s insulation-of-gravitation theory. He thought he could walk on the air, if insulated, but I wrote and told him to be careful, and not try it on himself but try it on a monkey, because should he try it on himself and succeed, instead of walking on the air, the pressure of the air would shoot him up at an accelerated speed, and, according to Newton, a body once put in motion and acted on by no force continues to move forward in a straight line forever; so he might never return. We have not heard from him, but we hope our letter reached him in time.”

“The Planet mars is inhabited by human spirits like us can talk eat & drink wear clothes, but have great power. They are somethink people of this earth have never seen. They are kept to do work overhead. They also work our wireless gramophones, machinery, Moving Pictures Talking Pictures and all that sort of thing. All that sky is worked spirital… So I have been told & seen in half sleep trance.”

These letter writers grappled with science and technology in modes that encompassed not just the naive, and not just the ‘irrational’, but complex combinations of scientific understanding, popular belief, and ‘magic’, as indeed many scientific theories of the time would similarly appear today. Their perceptions seem propelled by fervent beliefs, desires and fears flowering in the imaginative space of an uncharted cosmos, and an unseen Martian, and often take the form of a more or less disguised challenge (whether in the form of ‘reminders’ or advice) to the knowledge producers (and space colonizers) of the observatory as representatives of empiricist scientific rationalization.

Let’s check in with Disney again to appreciate this mix of the productive, mirroring quality of Mars with scientific speculation:

This speculative production continued to jostle and coexist with advances in visual technology for almost a century, until in 1964, a NASA probe took the first pictures of the planet’s surface, shattering Lowell’s visions of Martian gondoliers. This trend was to continue with each subsequent advance in visual-electromagnetic technology, the visual illumination and surveillance chasing away the Martian, shrinking their physical habitat, and importantly, intruding upon and eroding the psychic-imaginative territories and their populations. (See: Hotakainen’s “Mars: A Myth Turned to Landscape” (2008) for more on this. And for an account of the history of ‘Martian Radio’- the speculative electronic realm of contacting martians, theorizing of martian signals, intelligibility, and so on- see Jeffrey Sconce’s “Haunted Media: Electronic presence from telegraphy to television”)

Despite such debunkings, the possibility of a (now bio-zoological) ‘Life on Mars’ persisted in the minds of some scientists into the 1960’s. Eventually, this led to NASA’s Viking missions to Mars in 1976, when the Viking spacecraft landed complex instruments on the planet to make direct tests for the presence of life in any form, including microbes of diverse physiological types. The results were negative. Again in 1996, NASA scientists created a media frenzy by announcing evidence for the presence of microbial ‘wormlike’ microfossils in a Martian meteorite[2]. After much hype, the “microfossils,” however, were soon shown to be inorganic artifacts. In 2006, a new and similarly dubious NASA claim of evidence for past microbial life on Mars appeared regarding another Martian meteorite which had crashed to Earth in 1911 (striking Egypt, where it ‘collided with a hairy dog’) in another case of mistaken identification of organic matter [3]. NASA hype continues to publicize Mars and other celestial bodies as possible locales of microbial life in the context of the expanding field of “astrobiology”.

In this sense, the 20th century was a bad one for the Martian, which is to say, for the scope and scale of human’s perceptions of them. 100 years ago, Martians were intelligent, energetic creatures, capable of undertaking vast public works, possessing ultra-sophisticated technologies, and even of launching myriad expeditions against Earth with wildly varying intentions, results and targets. By the century’s end, the multifarious Martians, now conceived as the harshly circumscribed term ‘Life on Mars’, have been reduced to mere microbes, cowering in dark crannies far beneath the planets frigid surface, waiting only to be poked at by NASA’s expensive remote-control golf-carts.[4]

Indeed, for some, Mars will always be inhabited, no matter what the data say. Occasionally one hears the opinion that somewhere on the planet there may exist a wet, warm place—a Martian Garden of Eden—where Martian life forms are thriving, that Earth-Mars biological transmission (panspermia) is seeding either planet [5]. Or, alternatively, that the Viking instruments did in fact find life—that the Viking data can be interpreted to mean that there are organisms living in the soil at a population density below the GCMS [gas chromatograph mass spectrometer] limit. The Rovers still sample,  and the field of Astrobiology- a gussied-up, better-funded Exobiology with a more avowed imperialist-instrumentalist agenda [6]– continues to grow and subdivide, despite the sheer paucity of forthcoming evidence.

Notably then, the ‘anomalous’ nature of official ‘finds’ of life on Mars- the mistaken resemblances, media alerts, sensor scale and category mistakes and so on- can thus be placed on a continuum with those of the Anomaly or broadly paranormal communities, rather than methodologically or qualitatively opposed.

Returning then to Basiago, who, in occupying the lovely, fuzzy peripheries of the anomalist-exobiologist world, would have us believe that all is not lost in the search for Life On Mars. Because in Our case, conversely, with every increase in visual resolution, some new oddity, some fresh anomaly inevitably emerges from the pixelated strata of Mars.

And so it has been since the 1960s, when NASA probes sent back the first shots of Mars, amateurs have filled their files with curiosities. These anomalies- whether appearing variously as worms, trees, UFOs, pyramids, subway stations, giant fungi, fossils, planetary genitalia, buried cities and etcetera– invoke both the imaginative history of Mars and the scientific drive, in re-routing its data and repeating, with a brazen, hallucinatory sensibility, the interpretative moves made by Mars scientists as discussed above.

One of Basiago's Blow-ups

For example, in 1976, when a Viking probe passed over a region named Cydonia, the orbiting craft took a fuzzy picture of a huge mountainous structure below. In a subsequent press release, NASA announced that this mound “resembles a human head formed by shadows giving the illusion of eyes, nose, and mouth.”

(Also: An interactive 3D rendering of the Cydonia ‘Face’)

 

The space agency was probably just trying to stir up public interest in an increasingly demystified Mars, and thus it’s Martian projects, yet it stirred up a hornet’s nest of speculation and conspiracy writing, making it clear that Mars still holds an enormous cultural pull. link to various theories- findings of more faces, pyramids, etc all of a similar interpretative looseness.

Diagram showing the the correspondence between Martian surface features and their apparent history as the 'Tharsis Pyramids'

Since then, numerous ‘anomolous’ features (enough to occupy a number of dedicated research groups and the archives of numerous ungainly websites) and blurry pixel-clusters have had their ‘day in the sun’.

Basiago, as a dedicated Martian Anomalist, situates his Martians and artifacts squarely within this history, saying “This evidence goes far beyond that provided by The Face on Mars at Cydonia and establishes with scientific certainty that advanced, intelligent humanoids exist on Mars”.

And like Basiago, there are many playing armchair exobiologist these days.

Like the 1997 NASA Mars Pathfinder rover- which broadcast images clear (&’ fresh’) enough to afford a convincing spatial sense of another world and achieved more than 45 million viewers logged in and over 80 million hits per day during the 1st week of the operation– an internet record and indeed defining moment for the internet- when Spirit began transmitting, Mars fans downloaded over 35 terabytes of visual data from NASA’s servers in less than a week. And they’re not just loading up on boring screensavers, as We’ll see below, they’re putting their image-processing software to the test, hunting the digitized Martian landscapes for signs of life, past and present, and publishing their reports. These may be the postmodern successors to the Mount Wilson letter writers.

According to EBTX.com, a Web site devoted to “figuring out the universe” and run by 56-year-old “E.B. from Texas,” amateur investigators don’t look for the sorts of general principles that attract most scientists. “We look to the anomalous features,” says E.B. The methods of distinguishing an anomaly (figure) from the landscape (ground), like the Martian Blobsquatch- which in the realm of high-res orbiter and rover scans often amounts to figure-ground as signal-noise– are suitably vague, often amounting to seeming resemblance, suggestion and narrative, and in this case, resulting in Basiago’s hominids being out-meme’d by the Paterson-Gimlin squatch.

The interpretative move of the anomaly, however vague the technique, then allows an anomalous doubling. While a Martian carbon dioxide-breathing, -140 celcius-proof humanoid-serpent family or Bigfoot (whatever their provenance) would indeed qualify as anomalous by anyone’s standards, Basiago again aims to use an distinctly ironic exopolitical leverage to further stretch the field.

Notably implicating standard tricks of the cryptozoological field (recourse to ‘mythic sauroids’, creative interpretation of fossil ‘forms’, and heavy reliance on the Blobsquatch- as discussed in an earlier Fauxist publication) in claiming that while “Many of the animals that appear in the NASA photo resemble the frogs, lizards, serpents, and tortoises of Earth. Others resemble the extinct reptile species known as plesiosaurs, which had long necks like snakes and round bodies like turtles”. So now there are Dinosaurs (and notably the Loch Ness Monster plesiosaur) on Mars. He then goes further, claiming that in fact, all evidence is potentially anomalous, opening up (again in deft Exopolitical fashion), the interpretation of what is a ‘lifeform’: “There is evidence of camouflage in some of the species”  (Figure-ground collapse) and finally that “One is transparent in form”. (Observable details on this particular species are understandably thin on the ground).

The fossil hominids of Basiago (indeed his fossilized catastrophic narrative) and the artifacts-in-ruins of the anomalists (like the Tharsis Pyramids above) implicate a radical deepening of time in their search. Thus, while the photographic overpasses, the landers and rovers arguably brought Time (history) to Mars, the anomalists complicate any linear geo-chronologies with their speculations. In some obverse of Conrad’s journey to Kurtz (“Heart of Darkness” (1902)- where geo-spatial movement connotes a Lyellian movement, regressing through moral-temporal strata- the ‘dig’ and the foray here reveals underlying strata laid down, as it were, from Civilization’s (or Humankind’s) future. Reaching back to the canali and gardens of the early telescopists, We investigate the possible boundaries of the field of Martian archaeology- the geologic timescale, amorphous ruins, and possibilities of interpretation in part 2 of this work.

That Basiago asserts the existence of transparent species and the ability to divine such from the data evinces his critical, parodic agenda. In an ironic re-enchantment of Martian space, a liminal haunting of the instrumentation-as-colonizing eye, Basiago deploys an anti-enlightenment cum Utopian desire  questioning the reality assumptions and authority of the military-industrial-space complex.

Whilst this anti/parascientific skew is foregrounded in much of the anomalist work, importantly, in the majority Imaginative Martians have turned into Interpretative ones. Rather than a Mars populated by didactic creatures of the imagination- as part of a larger galactic bestiary- the Anomalist’s beings are produced now from evidence produced by the military-industrial panopticon, from tele-operated machines on the Martian surface and the archives of NASA. The anomalists thus fight, in a comparatively literal fashion, to repopulate the realms of pre-colonial, utopian Mars-as-Outside.

However much the enthusiasts want to destroy or usurp these institutions and truth-structures, and however much their interpretative move of “That NASA photo blown up 400x sure could look like BF, therefore…” performs a noble myth-informational function, the net result of this speculative field surely enhances NASA’s power and agenda apace, as any news is good news when pertaining to a politically offensive, budget-consuming program driving carts on a distant planet looking for microbial residue.

For its part, NASA has learned to sidestep and incorporate such seeming controversies. “I think it’s great that we’re releasing raw images, warts and all,” says an extremely tactful Joy Crisp, project scientist for the Mars Exploration Rover Mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. “Everyone can make their own interpretation – artists, kids doing science projects, folks with different mindsets”. And significantly, “Everyone can be an explorer.” Or, as E.B. suggests, you can “experience the thrill of discovery (or self-delusion) for yourself.”

Joseph Skipper on MarsAnomalyResearch.com- the coruncopic archives of images and speculations on paredolia, rock forms, and shadows of the martian (and lunar) surface, and  perhaps the best one-stop shop for Martian enigmas- formulates the cryptozoo/geographic position succinctlty: “No one’s interpretation of the visual evidence should be considered established fact.” Skipper’s site includes scores of annotated images, as well as claustrophobic commentary that scrolls on quite endlessly.

In a report titled “The Real Smoking Gun as to Life on Mars,” he discusses one of his most important discoveries: Photoshop. The graphics program, which allows the 61-year-old Florida insurance investigator to sharpen detail in NASA’s images, “lifted the scales from my eyes”, changing ‘reality’ (the photographic reality which is Mars) into a penetrable, workable field. Indeed We find that such consumer image programs are de rigueur for anomalists and amateur exobiologists, and in merely glancing at any such site one encounters hundreds of zoomed, chopped, colour-morphed, inset and annotated images of the feature under question.

The following video is a good example of this process, containing as it does an almost endless sequence of different filter, spectrum and visual morphs on the martian BF:

These tools allow self-identified exobiologists a measure of control and creative input into the hitherto inaccessible cryptogeographic space and scientific method of Mars. And, by exploring and expanding official cartographies and data with a baroque, anti-reductionist, para-scientific lens, they introduce, with their noise, multiple spectrums, filters, a deepening, reviving, and burlesquing of the Martian possibility.

Besides finding evidence of life, Skipper also claims that NASA is tampering with the Mars images, removing evidence of alien life and civilizations, in what may be a Photoshop InfoWar. Notably, Skipper’s analysis of the BigFoot on Mars image- “Mars Rover Statue or Person?“- finds paths, graffiti and so on in the surrounding rocks and landscape. (See image below)

The layman’s visual equivalent of SETI (which significantly has also recently opened it’s data streams to public interpretation: SETI-Quest : “Contibute to the Search for Cosmic Company”) wrests authority over distant geographies and existential malaise from the institutions archival wastelands.

And thus, with these Photoshopping Philogelians in action, space scientists no longer have the last word, aka definitional authority. And indeed they give Barthes and Sontag a run for their tenure regarding the reality status of photographs, and thereby- now implicating Baudrillard- Mars itself. If anything, what We can entrust to these accessorized anomalists is the introduction of strange loops, and the implication that surface details, however surreal, always contain a deeper explication of what may be happening.

In this sense, they also manage to forcibly recover that elusive cryptid, FUN, from beneath the epic-dour military dreamspace of interplanetary Vision and even the pedagogic  of Crisp’s ‘kids doing science projects’. For example, in response to some of the Spirit’s images- which contain features that look like a bunny, a crab, or even a croissant– a Web designer named Jim Love put up MartianCrabs.com and asked web denizens to peg the true nature of the object themselves. In a week, more than 600 opinions poured in, ranging from the absurd (“a jumping corn chip”) to the beautifully paranoid (“All the photos are fakes!”).

Love says that roughly 15 percent of the reports seem to take the anomaly seriously. “But it’s hard to tell because so many are sarcastic.” And that’s what both the true believers and the hardcore skeptics miss. Anomalies aren’t just the result of our attempt to visualize the unknown. They are also fun. As steve2.net noted on MartianCrabs, the fact that the bunny was most likely “rover fluff” didn’t detract from its value. Why? “We like this kinda freaky visual nonsense.”

This ‘fun factor’, parodying the paradigmatically epic intents of NASA (and thus their mega-budgetary consumption) may seem to be amongst the few responses left to the expansion of the military-cryptogeographical, panoptic colonization of the universe, and imminent ‘migration’ of the rich-and-talented off–Earth…

Finding bigfoot trying to entertain her serpentine guests whilst the pesky jumping tortilla’s threaten to be-crumb their tracksuits in the intersticies of an orgasmic NASA’s nationalist techno-mythopoesis… or leveraging the possibly omnipresent transparent alien… returns Us to some of the beauty of the Rorschach-like, imaginative and Utopian potential of Mars. And indeed, we may not have the same knowledge again.

Basiago's "Evidence of Martian Gremlin in Spirit Rover Photograph" (2009)

 

A Detour into the Xeno-Domestic with Jonathon Richman

Staying for a moment longer with the ever-tyrannical Fun factor, We believe a short detour into another pop-cultural tributary. The ever-wonderful, often spooky, Jonathon Richman of the Modern Lovers, is known for his sophisticated-naïve songwriting. And two of his songs in particular capture the inversion of the martian and cryptid, removing the frontier narrative in acts of xenophilic diplomacy, which offer a comedic, loving take on the exopolitical work of Basiago and his Exopolitics group.

The threat of ‘the coming martians’ in “Here Come the Martian Martians” (1977- the Viking year) turns into a welcome, and domestic enquiry (finding out their favourite icecream flavours, helping them get around, and wondering if the martian schoolgirls will like him…),

Whilst  bigfoot’s ostensible hominid relative, in “Abominable Snowman in the Market”, is hanging out and disrupting the space of consumption, while Our Jonathon is trying to reconcile the scared shoppers (here suspiciously rendered as ‘housewives’) to his presence, and find out how to talk to him. Dig?


One wonders what Ms. Richman would say about the Spirit rover, or indeed Bigfoot on mars… For interest’s sake, and for a much longer detour, contrast these 2 songs with the following 39-part interview series with Basiago, in which he discussed his histories in various insidious CIA/PSYOPS programs:

 

The Alien Super-Scientific Machine: Paranoiac Mythinformation & Resolution Revolutions

“There is no longer any distance. You are so close to things that they no longer affect you at all.” Joseph Roth 1927

With the usual belief-in-God-as-Psychopathology and the ‘Global Terrorist’ nestled firmly in cheek, We ask: How pathologized is belief in alien beings? A number of surveys indicate that a majority of North Americans (65%- according to the ever-reputable CNN) believe in UFO’s. So much for the Enlightenment. And what’s more, nearly 50% believe that UFO’s have visited Earth, and have conducted their abductions, cornfield-geometrics, cattle-vampirisms and so on.  (Chupcabra-as-alien even gets a liminal look in).

Now, the question of whether or not UFO’s are ‘real’ is, alternately, too crude and to philosophically taxing to broach. As Keith Thompson points out in his smart if sometimes breezy Angels and Aliens: UFOS and the Mythic Imagination, in the end the Alien is nothing more than our attempts at interpreting it. Recognizing that each hypothesis is “a particular and limited question put to the UFO by particular observers with particular assumptions,” Thompson shows that mainstream ufology’s Holy Grail of physical evidence is not only boring but moot, and it is far more interesting to engage our own reflections in those almond-shaped white-less eyes that peer back from so many paperbacks and cluttered websites. And if We follow Thompson, the cryptid/alien ‘field’ (in both expeditionary and media senses), and evidentiary structure, namely the leverage Bigfoot on Mars and the Anomalies exert and how this is achieved becomes the most compelling part of Our investigation.

As such, it is perhaps most efficacious here to consider the UFO field as a theatre of the absurd, an intelligence whose ‘message’ seems almost intentionally tangled. The UFO/alien is realm in which evidence and hoax become indistinguishable, un-interpretable, and We need only to mention Roswell to invoke the microcosm of the strange loops information takes in its vicinity, and the preponderance of alleged leaks, cover-ups, infectious rumours, high-tech ‘hieroglyphs’, suspicious fact and synchronicity, simmering away in the Cimmerian realms of fringe media where the Alien prospers.

From this perspective, it is as if the UFO incarnates the trickster spirit of information itself, constantly flip-flopping the meanings and effects of signal and noise, to the extent that the UFO becomes impossible to extricate from a cultural field of visionary noise, a Hermetic ambiguity that animates and galvanizes and concentrates those info-critical currents and theories, and threatens the whole human informatic structure- recall how often UFO’s are reported to stop any and all electronics and usurp signals.

With this, We begin to circumscribe the obverse to the great myth of information (any-and-all-and-more information) as the new place for secular worship of the postmodern world. Most obviously, postmodern communication technologies themselves have become some of the central focuses (and indeed typologies) of psychopathologies and the various media-paranoias grouped under schizophrenia. Cases of paranoiac mythinformatic neuroses concerning Space were described by psychologists as early as the 1960’s, generally being framed as a product of the cultural obsession with Space. See for example: Kerry, R. J “Phobia of Outer space”, Journal of Mental Science 106 (1960) 1383-87. and also: Marks & Bebbington “Space phobia: syndrome or agoraphobic variant?”

That nefarious, quasi-telepathic forces are using communications technology as surveillance, electronic implants to colonize or monitor minds and so on, come to form saturating secular psycho-mythologies appropriate for the ‘outered’ electronic self, a self of open and exposed psyches in digital space and the archive and amongst the systematic and deeply invasive character of media and increasing cybernetic logic of control of all institutions.

When the alien/UFO, with its associated techno-experimental narratives of contact, abduction, medicine-invasion, breeding, and surveillance- their superscientific machinic nature, if indeed the ufo/alien ican be considered the ultimate superscientific machine, straight from the radiating heart of postwar technoculture- stand in as a (de)materialized figure of digital and panoptic culture, it can bee seen as further representing fears of being the subject (that is object) of techo-scientific invasion or endo-colonization.

In our current context, the liminal hairy-nature-man escapee that is Alien Bigfoot doubles this representation- in running from the camera, the autopsy, the institutional eye- and by standing in for a residual, resistant Other/Nature. Even for the nuts-and-bolts crowd, the overwhelming strangeness of the UFO makes it a fundamentally spiritual object. Holy, violent, and utterly goofy, the alien is the ultimate identity crisis.

Frederic Jameson, in discussing the resolutely alien intelligences to be found in various sci-fi works, and others dealing with the “impossibility of ‘contact with aliens’” (i.e even conceptualizing the truly alien), focused on a Foucauldian take on power/knowledge- in terms of the colonizing effect of exploring the ‘other’: “If we grasp even the intent to understand as an intrusive and aggressive power, we may abandon the Other… abandon it to some complete isolation as sealed and seamless as the future itself or even that radically different system we call Utopia”. This is perhaps literalized by Basiago’s transparent species- the landscape, the photograph itself is Other, is hallucination…

In this way, in the Martian context, these technologies perform an annihilation of space and time that also chips away at the boundaries of the self, and especially the North American self, built as it is on utopian frontier dreams and (conceptually emptied) WIlderness. The Rover’s telepresent, telekinenetic, teleprosthetic witnessing, gathering and zooming refocuses Utopian attention and production on this distant surface- of Mars, of the photograph, of a possible New Deal- and brings us to a place where we may be closer, more deeply epistemologically invested, to the Martian surface than the politics of an Earth right in front of Us. Recall Basiago’s statement that his Darwinian Galapagos islands are the internet.

Useful here is Leo Marx’s concept of the ‘technological sublime’. While the Wilderness interpretation of Martian space imbues the landscpape/images with a certain Sublime quality, with the Rover standing in for the Kantian/Burkeian viewer, or indeed the Lyotardian pomo-artiste (all threatened by the deadly ‘reality’ of the inviting pastoral), Marx’s conception of the replacement of nature worship with techno-worship-horror serves Us well in trying to explore the techno-facilitated nature of Martian reality/space, and the associated tele-presence epic of unmanned reconnaissance.[7]

Here, in the Information-Sublime, We have a second mythinformation-obverse. The package of ‘more signal, more noise’ (please) proffered by the UFO enthusiast, with its debunking of a hegemonic data-proprietary, epistemic boundaries and veracity, acts as an attractor or node for those adrift in what is an increasingly saturating info-environs. In dealing with this apocalyptic collapsing of time and space- Mars as postcard as God-scape as Global Village as anomalist’s evidence? – the alien cult seems particularly attractive to people who lose their way somewhere along the normative, capitalist routes of the information superhighway, and follow some beautiful byway into a fragmentary world of deep webs of suggestive correspondences, ‘marginal’ information, and conspiracy, where every piece of data that has strayed into their path then knits into an expanding web of paranoiac connection. In other words, like the 19th century Spiritualist, under the sign of the secular Info-Godhead, the anomalist-enthusiast irrationally mis-uses (scientific) data, and ‘Straight time‘.

Even mainstream science’s sop to ETs—SETI, the big dish search for intelligent radio signals in deep space—reflects the faith that signals can always be untangled from noise. Taken to its extreme, this information theory becomes information mysticism, a giddy flux that runs through one of the most universally reviled literatures currently produced anywhere: New Age channeling.

This results in more or less literalist cults of information. The UFO churches, the channelling fad (spiritualist TV) and Starseed transmissions at one extreme- where ‘messages’ received are uncritically celebrated as revealed truth even as the “messages” themselves often consist of bad SF plots or a noisy haze of New Age jargon (interestingly, some of the Evangelical Protestant ilk even hold that the angels in Revelation refer to global satellites)- and at another, the Exobiologist-Anomalists digi-scouring NASA’s data midden and finding transparent Martians and worrying about the ‘establishment photoshoppers who got there before they did’.

At this rhizome-nub of the spectrum, and in returning to the Fun-as-deconstruction pseudo-science element discussed above, We find that some of the best (most critical, most entertaining?) production works to mutate the authority of scientific style by soberly fusing cosmic-comic speculations and legitimate hard science in the style of Basiago’s more sober bretheren. Basiago’s own ironic, history-savvy sci-fi (of fi-sci) offers numerous suggestions toward just such a methodology.

Marginalized from the legitimacy and cash conferred by institutional research, the enthusiaasts desperately want to normalize the UFO into a legitimate object of study. They don’t want to hear that their urge to prove what they call the “ETH” (extraterrestrial hypothesis) using the tools of science is just one more metaphysical compulsion set before the feet of a radical enigma. They don’t want to hear that busting science moves like graphs, credentials, acronyms, and the language of hard evidence (dates, exact times, measurements) is just a fetish in the face of the void.

Most scientists would appear to hate this material not solely because they’re trained to, but because pseudoscience has a dangerous tendency to encourage the astrofurutist lumpen prole to jump the fence of technical languages and sneak around the arena of Truth, and even, like Basiago, to informedly take the piss.

—–

Stay tuned for Part 2. (Forthcoming).

– Choreographies Of Telepresence: Martian Rovers, “Google Moon”, & Space Archaeology

–  Making Martian Indigeneity on the High Frontier.


[1] See for example: “Mars: From Myth and Mystery to Recent Discoveries”

[2] In August 1996, a NASA report by McKay et al. (1996) announced detection of past microbial life on Mars as evidenced, in part, by observation of “wormlike microscopic fossils” in a Martian meteorite.

[3] At a 2006 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, McKay et al. presented new evidence of organic remains of life in another Martian meteorite, designated Nakhla. This meteorite fell to Earth in 1911 in Egypt, where it collided with a hairy dog. According to an account in Science (Kerr 2006), the McKay group believes: “The putative organics [in the meteorite] are in veins whose walls are peppered by tiny tubules extending into the adjacent mineral, olivine….They (have) argued that microbes acid-etched the tubules in the hunt for nutrients.” Andrew Steele [Carnegie Geophysical Laboratory] commented: “McKay has so many contaminants he has to eliminate. We do know Nakhla is contaminated with a lot of organics.” The Science account continues: “They include organic matter produced by abiotic means on Mars, organisms that invaded Nakhla after it fell to Earth in Egypt killing a dog, and organic agents used in the preparations of thin sections. Steele would take another tack: ‘In Nakhla, I assume it’s contamination. Prove me wrong.’” See here for one of the latest (2010) apparent NASA life discoveries.

[4] See for example: E. Imre Friedmann and Ali M. Koriem “Life on Mars: How it disappeared (if it was ever there)” Advances in Space Research Vol. 9. Iss. 6 1989, accessible here. Interestingly, the memorable Martian narrative of The War of the Worlds, the techo-advanced and world-threatening Martians fortunately, for Earth’s humans, begin to die rather suddenly en masse because they are susceptible to terrestrial pathogenic bacteria. The narrator of the novel explains this as the result of the “fact” that there are no bacteria on Mars. Consequently, Martians have no immunity and are “irrevocably doomed, dying and rotting even as they went to and fro. It was inevitable. By the toll of a billion deaths man has bought his birthright of the earth, and it is his against all comers; it would still be his were the Martians ten times as mighty as they are.”

[5] For an overview of the field, and its inherent politics and possibilities, see Our article on Panspermia. For specifically Mars-Earth panspermia, and technical information on the necessary forces, see Mileikowsky  et al. “Natural Transfer of Viable Microbes in Space: 1. From Mars to Earth and Earth to Mars” Icarus 145, 391– 427 (2000). Accessible here.

[6] See for example Gest, H.The ‘Astrobiology’ Fantasy of NASA”. 2006

[7] See also: Mosco, V. (2004). The Digital Sublime: Myth, Power, and Cyberspace. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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