October 24, 2010

Bogies Buzz Manhattan


On the afternoon of October 13, hundreds of people reported seeing a number of unidentified objects in the sky over Manhattan’s West Side. Several filmed the phenomenon with their video phones and posted the footage on YouTube. Like most UFO footage, the quality leaves something to be desired—several blurry white dots seem to be moving in formation over the skyline, some joining and dividing as they do so. They were visible for several minutes, then they were gone. Government and military officials dismissed the phenomenon with the well-worn excuse, “it was balloons,” and that was that. They even pointed to a school on Long Island, where a cluster of Mylar balloons had been released during a party. Well, that was a simple-to-digest answer. There were a few snide little reports in the papers and on the radio, but by the following afternoon, all memories of the event seemed to have vanished as completely as the objects themselves. Everyone went on with their busy lives.

            But consider that “balloon” explanation for a moment. Ignore the fact that the objects in the footage don’t move like any balloons I’ve ever seen. Don’t ask questions like “how big were these balloons and at what altitude were they floating?” or “in what direction were the prevailing winds blowing that day?” Ignore everything and just accept that they were Mylar party balloons from Long Island. Back in college Grinch and I used to make very effective UFOs out of dry cleaner bags, drinking straws and cans of Sterno, so it’s certainly within the realm of possibility.

But why does the fact that they were balloons make it a good and comforting thing?

            Who’s to say the balloons couldn’t be carrying biological or chemical weapons? We’re told to panic about unattended shopping bags and people who don’t dress like us, yet here we have “balloons” floating through some of the most restricted airspace in the world, and we shrug it off. Twenty-four hours later, it’s like it never happened (unless of course you’re one of those UFO people).

            Convenient explanation or no, this wasn’t the first UFO sighting over New York City. There was, for instance, the famous “Brooklyn Bridge abduction,” which allegedly occurred in 1989 and was witnessed by a number of people. But that’s an extreme case. In just the last few months New York has been a hotbed of UFO activity. According to MUFON (the Mutual UFO Network), in Manhattan and Brooklyn alone, there were sightings in April, on May 14, on September 3, 20, and 29, and on October 3 and 10, all before the sighting on the 13th. Video of each is available on the internet.

            UFO sightings aren’t just for rednecks, white trash, and backwoods types anymore. Since 2002, in fact, there seems to have been an explosion in reported UFO sightings coming out of New York City. There were clusters of sightings in 2003 and near the end of 2007, and we seem to be in the midst of another right now, but you certainly wouldn’t know it listening to the news. A military jet flies over the city and the whole town goes apeshit; people see something they don’t recognize or comprehend, and it’s just an excuse to crack wise about drug use. It makes no sense.

            I’m not saying all, or even any of these objects flying over the city were extraterrestrial in origin. Far from it. There are a hundred other very earthly explanations (including balloons) I would consider seriously long before I made the leap to “creatures from another world”—but I would like someone to give me a reasonable answer. What are all these things people are seeing? If it was in fact balloons on the 13th, show me one of the damn balloons and prove it could move the way it did.

I’m honestly not expecting anyone to give me any real answers, nor am I expecting the people who see these things to demand any real answers—and that’s part of the problem.

Evidence of life is discovered on Mars and people blink and move on. Evidence of water is found on the moon, and they check out the latest celebrity tweets. There was a time when unidentified objects in the skies over Manhattan would have brought the city to a panicked, fretful standstill as effectively as an inch of snow. The stories would fill the papers for days. People would demand real answers (not that they would get any, but at least they would demand them).

            Gone is the sense of mystery, the curiosity, the recognition that we continue, as we always have, to live in a strange universe well beyond our understanding. It’s not an expression of enlightened sophistication, the knowledge that science can answer everything, because gone too is the belief that answers matter. People just don’t care. If they don’t recognize it, they ignore it. A weird smell settles over the city, some city councilman says “oh, it was probably just Jersey,” and we accept it and forget about it. Who’s to say the military or some unknown government agency isn’t conducting tests? They’ve admittedly done it in the past. I’m not saying that this is happening—all I’m saying is that if it was happening, it’s likely no one would care. At least not for long. Strange objects in the sky? Strange smells? So what?

I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn we were just being softened up for worse things to come. It certainly worked with security measures after the attacks. It’s for our own good, we were told, it’s all just a matter of keeping your families safe. After awhile people not only accept full body scanners and cameras on every corner—they demand more.

I’m not being paranoid here, I’m simply asking a few questions, while shaking my head in disbelief that people have at once become both so apathetic and so fucking gullible.

            You ask me, extraterrestrials would be a relief.


You can contact Jim Knipfel at this address:

With occasional exceptions Slackjaw generally appears weekly. For email notification of other Jim Knipfel publications (books, etc.) and events please join the Slackjaw email list here.