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Preview: Exhibition: Unexplained: the credulity of us all

The Unexplained


Credulity, it seems, never goes out of fashion. The Catholic Church was once happy to flog dubious relics of their original ET, Jesus Christ, and 500 years later the very reverend Mulder and Scully minister to an equally wide-eyed congregation.

X-phenomena apologists point to the frenzied interest in UFO sightings as a genuine, if naive, symptom of a millennial spiritual crisis, but this ignores the cynical encouragement of tabloid TV and film. The substitution of tawdry supposition for mundane investigation found in Mysteries with Carol Vorderman and the like nurtures this "strange but true" ingenuousness, not out of real interest in the paranormal but in the hope, one suspects, of producing an audience-friendly schedule-filler. Any vacuum of knowledge is quickly and inexpensively filled with bits-and-pieces science, cheap "reconstructions" and goggle-eyed "witnesses".

In this context, then, ought to be welcomed. This National Museum of Photography, Film and Television exhibition features the original images from various paranormal chestnuts. Amongst accounts of UFOs, alien abductions and cryptozoology, there are the Californian Big Foot pictures from the Sixties, a clutch of supposed Nessie snaps and footage of the alleged alien autopsy in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. So far out, so good.

Judging by its publicity, however, "Britain's first X Files exhibition" seems to have fallen victim to that tone of gobsmacked breathlessness with which its TV cousins gawp at anything slightly out of the ordinary. The exhibition breezily ranges from credible scientific posers to standard issue crank fare in the name of "the unexplained". For instance, investigations as to whether or not the Tasmanian devil is extinct take place a world away from the obsessive web of conspiracy and cover-up in which David Percy alleges that the moon landings were an elaborate US government hoax.

The truth is way out there.

Free. National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, The Art Mill, Upper Parkgate, Bradford BD1 (01274 203 300), to 19 April 1998

Mike Higgins