BOOK REVIEW / Little grey persons from fruitcakeland: 'Dark White: Aliens, abductions, and the UFO obsession' - Jim Schnabel: Hamish Hamilton, 16.99 pounds

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The Independent Online
IN THE small hours of 30 November 1989, Javier Perez de Cuellar, then secretary- general of the United Nations, was being chauffeured through the Lower East Side of New York when he was abducted by aliens and taken to their spaceship. By now pyjama-clad, he was subjected to an intimate physical examination before being returned to the folk whence he came. This bizarre rumour has filtered up from fruitcakeland to the semi-serious press. As a result, poor old Perez de Cuellar is harassed by fax, by phone and by persistent reporters.

The case of the missing secretary-general - the most sensational of the hundreds of alien abduction tales sweeping the United States - provides the centrepiece for Jim Schnabel's remarkably detached, almost academic study of the evolution of the flying saucer myth. He is right to look in detail at the emergence of the Perez de Cuellar legend because, except for the superstar element, it is typical.

The tale centres on 'Linda', a middle-aged woman who lives with her family in the Lower East Side. She was convinced that in her youth she had been abducted by aliens. She had also been plagued by ghosts and poltergeists.

Linda started attending a support group for abductees led by Budd Hopkins, one of several influential characters who make a good living out of the rapidly growing flying saucer cult. One day Linda told Hopkins that she had just been through yet another abduction. He 'regressed' her hypnotically - a standard practise among ufologists - and, bingo, she recalled the event in detail, including sexual interference.

There the matter would have rested but for a mysterious letter to Hopkins from two alleged police officers who claimed to have seen Linda and little grey persons float out of her window and into the spacecraft. In later communications, the two claimed they were members of the secretary-general's bodyguard.

Subsequently, according to Linda, these men (who, unsurprisingly, have never been traced) abducted her on several occasions and they, too, attempted to molest her. Then, under further hypnosis, she 'remembered' that she had been abducted by the spacemen yet again - and these latest ordeals had taken place in the company of the then secretary-general of the UN. Next, one of her friends, another of Hopkins's patients, revealed that she also had been abducted, along with Linda, Linda's son . . . and Perez de Cuellar.

Abduction tales such as Linda's are, according to Schnabel, increasingly common in the United States. There is usually an element of sexual harassment, the abductions are repeated and often the details reflect novels, movies or earlier accounts of abductions. (In Linda's case, Nighteyes, a sci-fi novel with a similar theme, had been published shortly before her crucial seizure.)

As well as pseudo-sex, pseudo-science is often involved. There is, further, a wimpish, pseudo-religious element to a number of the tales collected by Schnabel. Many aliens command us to make love, not war, to look after the planet and, above all, be not afraid.

In recent years, Schnabel points out, hypnotism and other dubious forms of regression analysis have been used in the US to 'rescue' lost memories of sexual abuse in childhood. Tales which Freud would have treated as oblique and symbolic expressions of deep drives, fantasies and neurotic symptoms are taken as literally true. It has, according to Schnabel, become usual for ufologists to employ similar hypnotic techniques and to give similar credence to the tales that emerge.

What is astonishing is that there is a vast audience out there that is only too ready to believe such nonsense. Schnabel's next book could focus on the believers, rather than the 'abductees' and the self-appointed high priests of what seems set to become America's next batty cult. Move over, L Ron Hubbard, here comes Perez de Cuellar.

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